07 June 2010

Dolphins of Greece 4 (30 May - 6 June)

What an amazing experience. Every day was an adventure, whether going out into the Amvrakikos Gulf, out to Kalamos or just trying to cook dinner! On our first morning we set off in search of turtles by the mussel farm and after circling around for about 45 minutes and only seeing a couple of heads, I began to wonder how lucky we were going to be with the dolphins. Then, just a few minutes later we were surrounded by dolphins, pandemonium broke out on the boat with everyone shouting their sightings, the first volunteer got a taste of the dreaded netpad, and…….I was hooked! Seeing these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat was awesome, particularly the breaching, with every day better than the last. The afternoons spent cropping and matching photos of fins were far more fun than they should have been, thanks to my fellow volunteers (Jan, Melinda, Chris and Bob) and Iva`s enthusiasm and wicked giggles. The fun she and I had with “Banana Fin” will live long in the memory! Along with the fun, I also had my eyes opened to the problems of pollution, water diversion and over-fishing, not just for the dolphins but for the ocean at large. As well as the experience itself, it is these messages that I will take with me and try to disseminate back in the office and in my presentations to local school and business group back home.

Finally, I would like to say thank you to Joan and Iva for a fantastic week. Joan is so dedicated to his work and shows a real passion for the dolphins and a willingness to share this with us; never losing patience with the questions, nor the random direction and distances that were being yelled out so enthusiastically, but so often incorrectly! Then there was his wicked sense of humour, which so matched mine..……let`s never grow up Joan! Iva was such a fun girl too, always laughing (especially when I nearly fell out of the boat with the netpad in the storm at Kalamos!) and always making me smile, with her 3 fleeces and never a hair out of place! Thanks guys.

Paul (UK)


Yet again, another wonderful Earthwatch experience (my second, certainly not my last!). I learn so much on these trips. Things that I could never learn anywhere else and that are made even more compelling because of the PIs and assistants relating their own personal experiences and knowledge. Joan and Iva were no exception, sharing their passion and dedication to the sea and its inhabitants daily. (...) Throughout the week was lots of laughter, interesting conversations about all kinds of things, people from different places in the world sharing their stories and of course, the dolphins! Amazing to watch and wonder about these beautiful fi…… oh, mammals!! Every day but one we saw incredible feats of acrobatics and grace in the air and water (sometimes even some human acrobatics as we hung on for dear life with sudden boat acceleration! Or twisted around into unlikely positions as we tried to keep dolphins in sight.) The bow riding, breaching, surfing and simply seemingly playing of the dolphins was more than I could have asked for. Even the day we didn’t see any dolphins (our first day in Kalamos) was a stark reminder of what happens when an area is so overfished it can no longer sustain life – there were no birds beyond those just flying by, no signs of life at all in comparison to Amvrakikos – just people on sailboats on pretty, blue but empty water. It was truly a feeling of success when the second day in Kalamos (our last day of the trip) as we were heading in at the end of another no sighting day when we spotted 3 dolphins and kept them in sight despite rough water, thunder, lightning and spraying water. An exciting and dramatic way to end our trip. A great trip and another earthwatch experience that has left me inspired and exhilarated! Thank you Joan and Iva!

Janis (USA)


What a great experience. I was most impressed with our leaders, Joan and Iva, for their effort, dedication and generosity towards preserving the dolphins in a manner acceptable to the local community. This is a tremendous challenge, since the dolphin’s decline is tied closely to growth in the region and to fishing as an important income source. This trip gave me a good feel for the amount of effort involved and the level of need and urgency that society must understand and pay heed to, in order that we take the appropriate actions to save not only the dolphins, but other species also. I thank Joan and Iva for an outstanding effort to include us in their work and to educate us as to what mankind is doing to the seas and its creatures. I appreciate that the message is balanced – that there are alternative strategies that can meet the needs of the people, if not of corporations. They demonstrated that dedication is required and that broad support is essential to their mission.

There were two moments I will not forget. The first was a short period on our second day in which we were tracking a number of dolphins and they were appearing all around us, some at very short distance. There was a lot of shouting and excitment as Joan simultaneously maneuvered the boat, snapped photos, and gave instructions. Ten several dolphins jumped into the air directly in front of the boat. Wow. The second memorable event was a video conference Joan had with a class of students in the US who decided they wanted to do something to save the dolphins. Very impressive!

In summary, this was a great experience in the sense that it made me realize the urgency and magnitude of the challenges facing dedicated researchers such as Joan and Iva, along with their coworkers. And this is only one species from the sea that we need to take action on. The experience will allow me to build a much more effective class lesson for my students, as well as drive me to do much more to preserve what mankind is likely to lose if we don’t take preventive measures. I also enjoyed the other four volunteers on this project: Paul, Chris, Janis, and Melinda. I hope we’ll stay in touch.

Bob (USA)


Another amazing Earthwatch adventure! And another part of the world and earth that I need to worry about. ... I appreciate and so enjoy the perfect combination of education, contribution to serious fieldwork, a fabulous sense of humor, and the sense of comradary and teamwork that is built so quickly. Joan was always willing to share his knowledge and make sure we were getting the most from our experience. His concern and compassion for the dolphins is evident; he made sure we left the expedition with a broader understanding not only of the dolphins but of the fragility of the ecosystems of the oceans worldwide as well. His charm and sense of humor made it all fun! I especially apreciated him fixing and bringing me tea when I wasn’t feeling well...way above the call of duty. Iva’s enthusiasm for learning and her patience with all of us (including Joan) is comendable. Her guidance and smile were essential! It’s not always easy to work with volunteers, but Joan and Iva have mastered it! The experience couldn’t have been better.....a fabulous breaching dolphin and photos during “high seas”, thunder and lightening...who could ask for more?

Chris (USA)


“Enjoy the beauty of the dolphins,” Joan said as we raced back and forth across the water. Traveling unprepared in a world of ecological challenges can be quite a shock to one’s sense of self in the context of what I may leave for future generations. It can often be a confrontation with what I believe to be true about myself that rubs me raw. That is how I view my experience in Vonitsa with the dolphins in Amvarakikos Gulf and at Kalamos. Previous to this Earthwatch trip I had spent time reading about oceans, learning to dive, eating responsibly, and donating money to some organization whose literature stated they were saving the oceans. I was sure that if the oceans died humans were doomed. And, I was doing my part. As this Earthwatch experience comes to a close, I have come to recognize how truly uninformed I am about my relationship with our oceans. Joan’s intense commitment and passion for marine life, the oceans, and people makes the urgency of the conditions on this planet very personal. As the days passed, Joan’s demand for us to yell 9 o’clock, 60 meters, 3 dolphins became more important to the team. Of course, his requests were always followed by “please” and “thank you” or “hold on”. When I sorted out the difference between sea state four waves and the dorsal fins of the two departing dolphins at 6 o’clock, 200 meters, in the rain on the last day, I felt I was a part of something important. Locating the dolphins became a small piece of the larger puzzle. And at the end of the day the team knew it was important. Iva, our research assistant, was a blessing. Her intelligent patience with our clumsiness made this trip all the more enjoyable. She steered us in the right direction and made sure we were prepared to participate. Our lack of skill with the “netpad”, our hand-held computer, did not deter her. The “net pad”, an invention of torture, deliberately designed to sort out the higher order mammals among the team. Needless to say I have a limited future in “netpadding”. She was a perfect complement to our team.

For me personally, I cannot recall laughing more. Joan, Iva and my team brought their best game to each adventure. I counted on Bob for insight, on Paul for focus and purpose, on Chris for serious laughter, and on Jan for the very best questions. The company of good people with a purpose can hardly be matched by anything else one can do for a week, if not for a lifetime. As time passes it is the sound of Joan’s voice, filled with excitement at seeing each dolphin, and the generosity of Iva’s refreshing candor that I will miss most. Hopefully, I will carry the learning with me as I go. I cried when I watched °End of the Line.° I rarely cry. Maybe anarchy is not the answer, or maybe it is? How does one get the attention of those who are making decisions with our lives without going over the edge or reason? Something has to change the greed of my generation or my children and their children will have little left. I struggle with this and what I can do. I imagine the struggle is what I am taking away from this experience and the measure of me might well be determined by what comes of it. There is still time today.

Melinda (USA)

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