12 May 2010

Dolphins of Greece 3 (5-12 May)

This week leaves me feeling privileged, humbled and challenged.

I consider myself privileged to have been introduced to the Amvrakikos Gulf and to the dolphins by somebody who knows them so well and who is dedicating his life and energy to monitoring them and working for the preservation and restoration of their environment. Thank you, Joan. I also feel extremely privileged to have been able to participate in meaningful and rigorous research and to have been able to contribute, albeit on the most simple of tasks, with Joan and Panni as they start another season of intense work.

Much of the time when we saw dolphins, I could not speak – I was completely overcome by these beautiful, healthy, magnificent animals. My feelings were a mixture of overwhelming awe, respect, marvel and total calmness, which was not what I expected. Watching the dolphins in their environment without our presence affecting them - to observe them feeding, socialising {sometimes intimately!}, travelling, communicating – was incredible – one runs out of superlatives, but I felt totally humbled and totally blessed. I love all aspects of this place, the sky, how the mountains change from hour to hour and day to day, the islands, the water, the dolphins, the flocks of solitary {!!} pelicans, the bats flitting around at dusk – just the peace, and the knowledge that the dolphins are still out there and, hopefully, with the work of Tethys and dedicated men and women, like Joan and Panni, will thrive here for many decades.

Thank you Joan and Panni for sharing your space for the week, and of course, thank you to Posi for providing some canine company, evening acoustics and much amusement!! Joan, Panni and my dear co-volunteer, Nina, are very special people and this has been a very happy week – for the things I have seen and been part of, the company and friendships formed and being part of something bigger, and hopefully longer-lasting than myself. I’m really happy that Nina and I are continuing our Grecian ‘odissey’, which means we can continue to talk about this amazing week and I think both of us will leave a bit of ourselves here anyway…

Karen Musk (UK)


“Splashes on the horizon,

Tails in the air.

Peace, with dolphins breathing.”

This has been my first volunteering experience in conservation, and it has been so much more than I ever expected it to be. This is something I have wanted to do for years and in finally plucking up the courage to go for it, I leave with far more than some pretty photos, a sun tan and a tick in a box! I leave with an appreciation of the delicate interplay between individuals within a highly social community, between a species and their environment, and between mankind’s economic agendas and the impact of these on fragile ecosystems. I also take with me new friendships: Karen, Joan and Panni, this team has felt more like a funny little family than anything else! I very much look forward to these friendships developing.

Life at the Vonitsa research station on this expedition has struck the perfect balance between practical fieldwork and project support, educational and relevant discussions, free time, delicious meals and warm conversation around the dinner table (with just the right amount of micky-taking)! Joan, you have created a lovely home for us here – thank you for sharing this space and your time with us so openly. Bear-like in the mornings (heehee), you foster a warm and positive atmosphere within the team by simply being yourself: we have laughed so much (about things that I dare not elaborate on here..!) and talked about so many things. Your enthusiasm, commitment and knowledge of this field is as broad as it is infectious – I defy anyone to not take away a more responsible attitude to the treatment of marine life, nor a deep interest in the life of cetaceans (or a taste for the capuccino freddo!!)! Panni, you are such a warm, open and caring girl – thank you for setting the scene for the lovely atmosphere that has developed over the week. You have been so good in training us with the palmtop and with processing the photos to be able to identify individuals – it seems you’ve been doing this for years, you are a very good and patient teacher. Your enthusiasm for learning new things and taking this forward into your career is commendable and I wish you all the best for your future endeavours (and I mean it about getting in touch if you need help with applications etc!). Posi – thank you for your unswerving enthusiasm (for food and walks) and for providing such material for laughter..! (although I don’t thank you Joan for using this material just when I’d always taken a mouthful of food! Cheeky!)

Our days on board ‘The Baby’ have been exquisite: we have been so lucky with our sightings, seeing such a range of behaviours demonstrated and by so many individuals. The allocation and organisation of training, responsibilities and activities within the team out on the boat have been impecable: proof of the long term experience the project managers have. All procedures are well practiced and organised in a safe, inclusive (and fun!) manner. I feel like I have significantly broadened my knowledge of research techniques for this type of work, and I plan to take these forward in my own career now. And Joan, I am sorry about getting so excited about the sightings that I end up all over the boat, especially with my head in the frame... oops!!

The last two sightings have been, well, too rich for these few words to fully illustrate. Being in the middle of the beautifully smooth Amvrakikos Gulf waters, surrounded by dolphins: we have witnessed intimate social behaviour, the affection between familiar individuals; we have watched dolphins use their bodies to corral fish to the surface to feed, seen mothers with their young so close by; we have seen playful breaching in breath-taking displays. We have come to recognise individuals, and have seen how these are like old friends to our captain! And all the while it has felt a privilege to be there, to be accepted by these facinating creatures – and especially at times to be the subject of playful curiosity!

Today, when Joan switched the boat engine off and we were alone with the sounds of the Gulf, we had a time that I will never forget. Hearing nothing but the breath of our group of resting dolphins, the ripple of the water as they surfaced and the gentle lap of the waters against the hull of the boat, I realised that I was in their world, and that I was there only because they allowed it. It was an honour.

Nina (UK)

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