Early this morning, the research boat exits the small, sheltered harbour of Galaxidi and dares to get into the jaws of a roaring, exceedingly wavy Gulf of Corinth.
In these circumstances, one generally holds out little hope of spotting anything of zoological interest. The greatest a researcher could hope for would be an overly-energetic tuna, tired of being systematically out-witted by a sardine, thus making a dramatic break for it into the external environment in the hope of finally breaking the sardine’s spirit.
Or even, in these kind of bone-breaking, face-showering waters, the sight of an elegant Cotylorhiza jellyfish would give a group something to coo at for a minute or two. So this is the mind-frame we set out with. Unbeknownst to us, however, the marine life inhabiting the Bay of Galaxidi had other plans.
Passing through the nearby fish farm, the research boat chugged over to the fish nets for a cursory scan. A dark triangular movement and soft puff of air suddenly yet silently announced the presence of an old friend – Nemo, the lone ranger bottlenose dolphin we’ve come to know and appreciate. On a straight beeline for the fish farm, Nemo was lumbering his way towards an all-you-can-eat buffet of wild fish, currently swarming around the nets to claim their thieved share of pellets cast out for the farmed sea bream.
On a surprising side note, calmly bobbing away in between Nemo and the boat, appeared a sea turtle, indignantly ignoring our paparazzi-esque array of cameras. However, these sightings were but a precursor to the Star Act of the day’s marine extravaganza.
Upon returning from the fish farm, almost subconsciously tracking the usual route back into the harbour after a long hot day out on the sea, a volunteer’s voice suddenly chipped into the concentrated silence, with child-like excitement claiming to have seen a dorsal fin. With one look at each other, Silvia Bonizzoni and I telepathically communicated the same thought. “Waves”, we said with our eyes, and calmly averted our view back to the harbour. A brisk backwards glance, however, immediately brought my disbelieving tail back between my legs.
At first sight, only a dark, small dorsal fin was visible to the naked eye. After a tense breath-held minute, the unmistakable elongated bill of a swordfish breached the surface, and a full bodied leap took it clear of the water, pointing towards the skies in dramatic splendour. In truly spectacular fashion, the mighty 3m long aquatic soldier thrust its entire body into the air, four, five, six times, displaying in clear communication its right to the freedom of the waters.
Gasps of awe and excitement reaped through the air each time the great sword protruded defiantly above the surface, the body slamming back down onto the water like a clap of thunder. Displaying this gasp-inducing activity almost directly in front of Galaxidi harbour, the animal seemed to be openly stating its refusal to be domineered by the anthropogeneous world.
Xiphias gladius, a name conjuring images of the gladiatorial might of Greek and Roman legend - this species has become an icon of the seas. A representative of the oceanic army defending itself against the blood-thirsty predator that humanity has sadly become. Swordfish are fished extensively in the Gulf of Corinth, and can be seen proudly displayed on every menu in the surrounding towns and villages. Having rarely seen evidence of their continued presence in this area, the Tethys research team were ecstatic to receive such glorious confirmation of their prevalence.
Simply to have seen a fin, or a blurry shape beneath the surface, would have sufficed for me to claim excitement at having seen a swordfish, and feel the warmth-of-heart that only conservationists can understand at confirming the continued presence of a threatened species. This, however, was akin to witnessing a glorious battle cry. A soldier of conservation, jousting the air in defiance of its kind.
Philippa Dell (Research assistant, Hellenic Dolphins)