30 June 2009

Dolphins of Greece, 21-29 June

Ok, so some of us get a bit confused about 9 o’clock vs. 3 o’clock, 8 o’clock vs. 2 o’clock, but we yell it out with great enthusiasm! My favorites from our group were the “Over there, by the bird!” and “Look, by the blue buoy!” Fortunately, Joan (almost always) kept a sense of humor about our novice ways. It was an incredible week and I am sad to see it come to an end — even two days of rain couldn’t dampen our spirits or our opportunities to experience the amazing bottlenose dolphins of the gulf. To see newborns and juveniles and their protective moms was beyond description. My favorite “moment” (of many wonderful moments) was to sit quietly amongst a large group of dolphins, to listen to their breathing, to the unique sounds they make as they feed, and to hear and see how they communicate and coordinate with one another. Nothing can compare; it was an almost mystical experience that I wished could continue for hours. I have learned much not only about the dolphins, but also about the complex interrelationships between fishing practices, pollution, fish farms, and the survival of the many species in our oceans. Thank you, Joan, for being such a great teacher and for your passion. The work Tethys and Earthwatch are doing will make such a difference. Thanks also for the opportunity to be a very small part of your efforts. I highly recommend this trip to anyone with interest in dolphins and our oceans!

Lynda, USA


Just to have the opportunity to be on the water in this gorgeous location is a pure pleasure, but this total experience exceeded my expectations in all regards. To be surrounded by feeding dolphins while seagulls circled overhead and terns dive-bombed for fish was a magical experience I will never forget. I leave this trip with an increased respect for both the research and the researcher—how Joan could drive the boat while answering questions and at the same time manage to photograph all those animals was awesome. We now know how difficult it can be to identify an individual dolphin, but then Joan made it look so easy. When he could instantly identify a totally unmarked dorsal fin as the juvenile offspring of “Gindra” it made me realize how well he knows the 150 dolphins of Amvrakikos Gulf. And the sea turtles on the last day were amazing! The video selection was a good thing. Never before have I considered what the fish eat that I consume. More “food for thought...” Five people who had never previously met managed to form a good team. I thought I would die when I realized we would actually need to PLAN the meals as well as cook and clean, but that, too, turned out to really contribute to working as a group. Finally, Posi was much appreciated, because every once in a while you really need to pet a dog!

Karin, USA


I thought I had made a mistake to come to Vonitsa after I filled out the enrollment forms. I felt I was joining a boot camp, but my experience in Vonitsa turned out to be pleasant and exciting. I learned a great deal about the research done with the dolphins and turtles. The videos shown were informative and mind awakening. I learned more than I had expected and I am glad I came. Joan is very serious with the training and research, which is very important for the type of work done. I am confident and trust that my contribution was for a great cause and effort. I understand the results of this research are made public to the Vonitsa’s community. It is critical to bring awareness to and get people involved in the project, so they feel part of this effort (it is their town), bring possible solutions, and make the project successful. Thank you to ALL of you for doing this job and for bringing awareness of this wonderful world of the dolphins.

Lilia, USA

28 June 2009

Delphi's Dolphins 07, 21-27 June

My mother called me one night at school explaining that there was this research program in which I would be allowed to travel to Greece, and help researchers collect data about the dolphins in that area. Of course, upon hearing her words I was screaming “YES I WANT TO GO!’’. I didn’t know what to expect really, this was all going to be a new adventure, and it was. Between the spiders, the storm, and the dolphins I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Galaxidi is a small little town, that within a day you love as if it were your home town. The atmosphere and people are a real joy, and the bake shop is beyond wonderful (chocolate covered baklava!). The Tethys program is the same as everything else I have said, wonderful. The team here is so welcoming and eager to learn more about you and share their information. They are also the most fun group of people I have met, the conversations and laughs will always keep me smiling. And though we had a hard time finding the dolphins, when we did it was simply amazing. They were jumping and socializing right next to our boat. It was like nothing I had ever seen. I mean you can see dolphins on tv, and in magazines, but to see real wild dolphins beside the boat was incredible. This will definitely be one of my most memorable trips. Between the people and the animals it was above and beyond anything that I could have hoped for. Thank you for everything!

Emma, New York/USA


It’s hard to explain in words just how amazing this week has been... you just have to experience it! Everyday has been its own unique adventure: from the sighting of more than twenty striped dolphins and one common dolphin, to the exhilarating ride back to harbor (you are a great captain Silvia!), the predatory events and the rescuing of the sea turtle whose flipper was wrapped in fishing net (Lila, you lucky turtle!). Galaxidi, the town people, the food and my fellow volunteers were and are equally amazing. And, of course, a great big thank you to the Tethys team, Giovanni, Silvia and Aina, your hospitality and teachings are second to none and I have such admiration for the work you do. I can’t wait to come back!

Neysa, Chicago/USA


Thank you Silvia and Aina for all the things you teached us and these breathtaking moments we lived. This week was very intense... I will always remember these dolphins playing around us when we were on the boat. I’m going to talk about this dolphin’s project to my friends and I’m pretty sure many of them will want to participate as well.

Emilie, France

27 June 2009

Sea turtle rescue off Galaxidi

Yesterday, June 26th, while we were looking for dolphins, Susan (one of our Tethys volunteers) spotted a sea turtle at the surface far away.

We reached the sighting spot and found a loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) entangled in fishing gear. We decided to try to free her from the net, but as soon as we approached with our inflatable, she started to dive. We could see her under the water surface trying to dive deeper, but the net hampered her movements.

For some minutes we lost her. The sea was a little wavy and chances to see her underwater were low. We had almost lost hopes when the turtle surfaced again.

This time we were quicker. We approached her again and I jumped into the water to hold her. She wanted to dive, but with the help of Aina (our research assistant from Spain) and our volunteers, we managed to take her on board. She was really big! About 80 cm long and 60 cm wide.

We covered her eyes to calm her down and we freed her from a green rope 75 cm long that was wrapped around two flippers together with a piece of nylon gillnet including seven floats. The skin was not injured and as we finished removing the rope and net parts she could move her flippers properly.

We made sure she did not have any other problem. She looked fine, apart from a 10 cm wound on the carapace, probably caused by a a former collision with a boat propeller. The wound seemed to have completely healed and a few small barnacles were already attached to that area.

Then we leaned her out of the boat and released her. She dove immediately, but this time she was really quick and disappeared from sight in the blue waters of the Gulf of Corinth.

Some photos of this event can be viewed here

Silvia Bonizzoni

25 June 2009

Il whale watching batte la caccia

In questi giorni l’IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) ha reso noti i risultati di uno studio sul giro d’affari del whale watching. Nel 2008 più di 13 milioni di persone in 119 paesi hanno scelto di fare questa esperienza durante le loro vacanze, per un fatturato stimato in 2 miliardi di dollari, il doppio rispetto al 2004. Chi sceglie di viaggiare e conoscere il mondo sceglie sempre di più il whale watching, tanto che nei giorni scorsi è stata avanzata una proposta.

Il cuore della questione è che, secondo molti esperti, la commissione internazionale per la caccia alle balene (IWC, International Whaling Commission) dovrebbe cambiare nome in commissione internazionale per le balene (International Whale Commission). Non sarebbe solo una questione di linguaggio ma un cambiamento sostanziale delle finalità di un'organizzazione che, quando nacque nel 1946, aveva l’obiettivo di regolamentare l’attività di caccia delle balene in modo da garantire che le popolazioni di questi animali non venissero sfruttate eccessivamente. Fu una delle prime operazioni di gestione internazionale delle risorse degli oceani, alla quale aderì anche l’Italia. Fino alla prima metà del novecento la vendita di carne, grasso e olio di balena ha trainato l’economia di molte popolazioni costiere in tutto il mondo, poi le balene sono diventate sempre di meno e alcune specie, come la balenottera azzurra, sono state cacciate quasi fino all’estinzione. Complice l’utilizzo di navi sempre più veloci e di moderni arpioni esplosivi. Nel 1986 è stata ratificata la moratoria internazionale sulla caccia che Giappone, Norvegia e Islanda non hanno mai rispettato, nascondendosi dietro a pretestuosi scopi di ricerca scientifica. Solo un cambiamento sostanziale delle finalità della commissione internazionale (e quindi del suo nome) potrà cambiare il destino di questi animali e rendere la baleneria un’attività illegale in tutti gli oceani.

Mauro Colla

24 June 2009

Don't watch this one

Earthlings is a documentary about mankind's dependence on animals for pets, food, clothing, entertainment, and use in experimentation.

The film documents the suffering of animals and some of the dreadful things we do to them. It was made in 2003, but it is still as shocking as it can be.

Few are able to watch it until the end. Most don't even make it to the first few minutes. You don't really want to know about these things.

Don't watch it, and keep pretending that there is no link between what we eat, what we wear, and the unbearable images in the film.


Earthlings website and trailer

Earthlings documentary online

22 June 2009

Delphi's Dolphins 06, 14-20 June

Since I was a child I admired cetaceans and dolphins especially. I always wanted to be a marine biologist however I did not follow my dream and became a finance analyst. Thanks to Tethys my dream became true: at least for one week in Gulf of Corinth, I could taste the life of researchers and it was the most exciting experience in my life and I definitely will try to come back next year. Having an opportunity to see dolphins in their natural environment was a great privilege and I am very glad that we were lucky to spot an amazing group of 25 striped dolphins. They were really playful and curious like kids, coming very close to boat, swimming under the boat, watching us, and they managed to splash water at us a couple of times. I was having the time of my life.

Zuzana, Slovakia


I tried not to expect too much when I came to Galaxidi. I didn’t want to be disappointed and to be honest I really had no idea what to expect. I signed up for the project as dolphins have always fascinated me even as a child and I couldn’t think of a better way of encountering them than to volunteer in research aiming to conserve them. The experience this week was much more interesting and personal than I could have imagined. Our first sighting was of 3 striped dolphins and for me that was enough to learn the importance of conserving the dolphins and above all protecting our entire environment. Also, for my own joy that sighting would have been more than enough. However we were so incredibly lucky as to come across a group of about 25 lively enthusiastic striped dolphins on Wednesday (afterwards we realised that there was also one common dolphin in the group, not so common now). To be allowed to experience their playfulness, beauty and above all freedom in these yet unspoiled surroundings was more than a dream, it was surreal. The dolphin is not a clown, was not born to perform for humans, never chose to work for the dolphinariums all over the world. It is an animal and like we humans our entitled to our freedom so are they. Hopefully someday everybody will realise this. I hope that others who volunteer will experience the same feelings and thoughts as I did and not only enjoy this wonderful time but in their own little way make a contribution to changing the way the world is heading right now. Greece was not unknown to me but on Thursday night we accompanied the team to a dinner with friends in a little Greek village. While the day turned to night, the meat was on the fire, the goats were running by and the company was great. All in all an unforgettable greek night. I couldn’t thank the team enough for the whole experience.

Rebecca, Holland/Ireland


I was in the Gulf of Corinth dolphin project for 2 weeks and I had the best time! I was so lucky the first week and even luckier the second as I saw all three species: short beaked common dolphin, bottlenose and striped dolphins! I was lucky as we had two sightings of a group of 20-25 striped dolphins within the two weeks and I got amazing footage of the dolphins bowriding and socialising. It was an amazing trip to see them and then be able to recognise one individual that we had seen the week before!! In the second week it was a bit rough out at sea but I still enjoyed the wave hopping. Thanks to Silvia Giovanni and Aina! I had a brilliant time. I will definitely be coming back soon. Thanks guys!

Hilary, Ireland


How to explain? You expect to see dolphins, and it becomes reality. I had two sightings of three and 25 individuals. The group was really amazing, dolphins were coming from everywhere, looking at us, jumping, and even showing off for one of them. I really enjoyed it. But I was also curious about the lectures and help that we could give when being back at home. I liked the analysis part of the job and even if I collaborated only a few days during this project, I appreciated explanations about mission’s goals, methods and analysis given by the staff. Hope you will enjoy the results of your research!

Emilie, France

21 June 2009

Dolphins of Greece, 11-19 June

I want to thank Earthwatch and Joan for a remarkable experience. Participating in your project has been an opportunity to visit a beautiful country and to contribute, even on a small scale, to a study that impacts our lifetime and future lifetimes. I am leaving the project with more knowledge than I had when I arrived, and I appreciate this. Once again, thank you, Joan, for sharing your knowledge with us newcomers and for appreciating that volunteers provide extra eyes and hands for your research. Best wishes to you and Tethys as you continue your efforts.

Joyce, USA


My heart is full. This has been a wonderful experience. Being on the gulf and being able to observe the dolphins engaging in their natural behavior is a treasure that I will carry with me and share with others. I am also grateful for the opportunity to learn how to recognize the individuals and to crop photos, match and catalogue those individuals. I believe in and agree with what you are doing. Keep up the good work. I also have to mention that I was very grateful to have Posi to come “home” to each day. “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. We must learn to live by these words if we hope to see a positive difference in the state of our Earth. Being a part of projects like these gives us insight into how our every day choices has a definite impact on all aspects of life, and living beings. Thank you again for the opportunity to help make a positive difference. Efkharisto poli!

Arlene, USA


Life Changing trip... The lightbulb is certainly on now thanks to this Earthwatch project I had the opportunity to volunteer on. We learned so much! My mind was like a sponge drinking in all that Joan had to teach us during our time here. The documentaries after the computer work were very educational and I will never buy food the same way ever again. Had never seen a fish farm before coming here. The experience of the symbiotic relationship of the seagulls and the dolphins was beautiful. The town and the people of Vonitsa were wonderful. I had a great time with my team members. The learning curve with the computer work was very slight and therefore a fun experience in recognizing the individual animals by their fin. Great Trip! Would highly recommend an Earthwatch group to others. I plan on another project for next year... maybe whales? I am looking forward to the links Joan said he will send to us so we can continue our education and that of our family and friends about these beautiful mammals.

Patty, USA

20 June 2009

All good things come to an end

Isn’t it strange how six weeks sometimes feel like a small eternity? That’s at least the impression I have as my time here in Amvrakikos Gulf is drawing to an end. Once immersed in the pleasant routine of combined field and analytic work, everything else fades away and you feel like you have been here forever. Although a cliché, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this experience has paved the road for a new chapter in my life.

Professionally, I have learnt and developed tremendously, and have no doubt that this is my ‘path in life’ (to throw in another cliché). Personally, I have had a lot of fun and enjoyed every day out at sea. ‘Conservationally’, I hope that my work will make some kind of contribution to cetacean research.

On my last day we also made a second survey of the site of Kalamos, and the comparison with Amvrakikos is rather striking. This place looks like a paradise, but is unfortunately a paradise in decline, for dolphin-lovers at least. Listening to Joan describing the situation of 10 years ago, it is difficult to believe that hardly any cetaceans or marine mega fauna remain.

Being able to follow your beliefs and passions as part of your work is a privileged few are entitled. I thus feel doubly grateful for having had the opportunity to work with Tethys as a research assistant. A special thanks is due to Joan and Giovanni, whose guidance and support have made my time here not only possible but also challenging and exciting. Bon courage for next week Joan!

Christina Geijer

19 June 2009

The science of whales?


Thanks to this short documentary posted on YouTube, titled 'The Science of Whales', we learn that whales are magnificent and tasty fish.

We are informed that these animals are 'scientifically delicious' and that, surprise, 'whales do not develop immunity to harpoon'.

The whales' natural predator? The scientific whaler, of course.

If the English translation was accurate, this would be a gem.

However, comments by some YouTube viewers suggest that the subtitles in English have been intentionally manipulated to make this promo look totally unintelligent and whaling even more outrageous than it already is.

Giovanni Bearzi

HOME is still there

It appears that the amazing film HOME has not been removed from the web after June 15th, as anticipated. It can still be viewed online, and those of you who have not had a chance so far should consider viewing.

The movie is avalable in English, German, French, Spanish, Russian and Arabic.



16 June 2009

Andrea Catherwood joins the Tethys team at Vonitsa

What an incredible experience. Looking out across the Ionian sea at such a idyllic Greek postcard perfect scene it isn’t hard to believe there are dolphins here, but I was still unprepared for the huge thrill of observing them at such close quarters as they feed, socialise and occasionally perform aerobatics.

I feel totally immersed in another world both on water and at the field station where we live. I admit to taking a nerdish delight in learning to crop and match the photos of dolphin fins that are used to identify the dolphins we see each day and that help with the research being done to try and protect these vulnerable animals. It’s a long time since I absorbed such a lot of new information and enjoyed myself so much at the same time.

The chance to live and work with a scientist as knowledgeable and charismatic as Joan Gonzalvo is a real privilege. His passion for marine mammals and protecting their habitat is infectious. The arguments against pollution and overfishing that are ruining this precious environment are overwhelming. I hope that through the work of Earthwatch and their partner organisations the dolphins will survive here in the Amvrakikos Gulf and elsewhere, but that depends on real action to reverse current unsustainable levels of commercial fishing which have, for example, decimated the nearby dolphin population at Kalamos by robbing them of their food.

I don’t want to show the photographs of this amazing trip to my children when they’re older and say ‘Did you know that back in the olden days there used to be dolphins in the Mediterrenean.’


Andrea Catherwood is a British broadcaster and journalist writing a travel article for the Independent on Sunday newspaper.

15 June 2009

Time to go on a global diet

My biggest concern is overfishing, which precedes all other human disturbances to marine ecosystems, including pollution, degradation of water quality, and anthropogenic climate change. But when we talk about overfishing, we are really talking about overeating. Almost all ocean fishing exists to feed humans or something we eat (such as farmed fish). Of all the flesh consumed - chicken, beef, pork, mutton, and seafood - the latter accounts for the greatest amount eaten globally. In fact, fish is one of the last wild foods most people eat with any regularity. The human appetite, a combination of population growth and demand for fish, is at the root of the global fisheries crisis. It’s time to go on a global diet.

Jennifer Jacquet

From: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/seafood/testimonials

14 June 2009

Rescue, let die or euthanise?

Cetacean stranding events keep occurring around the world. The most recent happened a couple of weeks ago, a mass beaching of 55 false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) in South Africa.

It's hard to accept that these things can happen. We would like these animals to swim free and healthy in the blue ocean, rather than die by the dozens on a beach for misterious reasons.

Lots of volunteers - probably inspired by the feeling above - typically intervene and struggle to save the animals. They pull, push, keep wet, shelter from the sun, lean these magnificent creatures, but most of the time to little avail. When hope vanishes, controversial issues come to the table: is it better to decide for euthanasia or to let the whales die on their own?

We would want to do our best to save them, as we are naturally inclined to do with the featherless and mostly hopeless baby bird that falls from its nest. Yet, some are convinced that large stranded whales should be euthanised to minimise suffering before the inevitable death. If they have been stranded for a long time, they may already suffer from irreversible problems. Attempts to refloat the whales after this point would only make things worse.

Paul Jepson, senior research fellow at the Zoological Society of London's Institute of Zoology, talking about beaked and sperm whales, recently said “Once they strand, everything goes wrong very, very quickly… They have muscle damage and kidney failure, which is exacerbated by dehydration. There's no chance for these animals, they're past the point of no return and need to be euthanised."

Should we only try to save the small cetaceans, and forget about the large ones once the 'point of no return' as passed and damage is ireversible? Should we struggle to save them until they exhale their last breath? Is it better to euthanise dying animals or to let them die on their own, as they have been doing for millions of years?

These questions remain open and probably a 'right' answer - beyond and above individual opinions and ethics - does not exist. Decisions must be taken on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all the complexity and based on the most sincere intention to help. At times, such decisions may be hard to take for those who really care about the animals.

Silvia Bonizzoni

Photo: Dead whales on the east coast of Tasmania, by Peter Mathew

For more information:
Killing beached whales is kinder, experts say
Beached whales will be euthanised in future
South Africans euthanize dozens of beached whales

13 June 2009

First survey of the year at Kalamos

On June 8th, we carried out the first survey of the year in the area of Kalamos. It felt good to navigate these waters, where I had my first dolphin sighting ten years ago, after four years without personally doing any survey in this area.

However, no dolphins were spotted across more than 3 hours of survey under good sea state conditions. This was no surprise, considering the negative dolphin population trends that we have been describing over the years.

During the survey, countless anecdotes about the numerous sightings I had in these crystal-clear waters came to mind. It is hard to believe that an area that was so full of marine life just a decade ago has become such a desert. Surveying the area of Kalamos will help us keep in mind that bottlenose dolphin abundance in the Amvrakikos Gulf cannot be given for granted. Dolphins can and sometimes do decline in relatively short periods of time, and we must ensure that those we are studying in the Gulf won’t face the kind of anthropogenic impact that affected the area of Kalamos, former common dolphin paradise.

Joan Gonzalvo

12 June 2009

Dolphins of Greece, 1-9 June 2009

I’m not much of a writer but after being here for almost three weeks I feel like I have so much to say. The problem is to gather the words to say how I feel. It has been so amazing the whole experience… it has just been out of this world for me. I have learned so much from my two groups but especially from Joan and Christina. Joan has a talent like I have never seen before. The way he spots the dolphins, tracks them and monitors their every movement (with the help of his excellent volunteers). Christina is always eager to learn. During her spare time she even likes to write every one's recipes down so she can experiment herself. I wish I were staying for another three weeks so I could keep having new experiences with the dolphins, with the new groups and with Christina and Joan. I would like to know more about overfishing and how it is affecting these amazing creatures in our ocean although Joan did an excellent job of explaining. Even after just the first week I felt like going outside and screaming my lungs out at all those fishermen who are destroying the marine life and natural habitats with their intrusive fishing gears and to all the greedy ones who just will not stop until everything is gone... It is very nice here in the Gulf of Amvrakikos. We saw dolphins every day except one. But that could soon change; on our last day we went to Kalamos and we did not see one dolphin. There the water is crystal clear compared with Amvrakikos but their decline there was due to over fishing and Tethys researchers actually witnessed it. It is really sad to see such an amazing animal disappear as if it was never there… Luckly bottom trawlers and purse seiners are not allowed in the Gulf of Amvrakikos or who knows what the situation would be... I’m glad I could help out on this course and will definitely be interested in doing another course like this one in the future. When I’ll get home I am going to spread the word about pollution, overfishing and the effects they have on our ecosystems. I would like to thank Joan and Christina for this wonderful and amazing experience that has really opened my eyes to a lot of things.

Rory, Ireland


I booked this expedition way back in November 2008. As the date got closer, I got more nervous as I had no idea what to expect... what kind of people would I be living with for over a week, would I see any dolphins and would I mess up any of the data that would be collected for the research? I am glad to say that I was put in a varied group of people from different backgrounds and with different experiences. I think it is fair to say that we all got on and will have fond memories and stories to share with friends and family back home (however, though we all respected each other, I would have preferred more privacy in the living quarters but that’s the prude and ‘Sloanie’ in me) but it does not compare to (or take away) the exhilirating feeling of being in Joan’s Zodiac at quite high speed looking, finding and observing the dolphins. That is, by far, the best part of the expedition and I don’t think there is anything in my life that could ruin those moments. Plus, I think I did OK with the science bit. The next challenge for me is how to apply what I have learnt from this trip into my day-to-day living when I return to reality. Finally, I have a lot of respect for Joan with his dedication to his work. It can’t be easy for him to have all these strangers turning up almost week-by-week but I think it is fair to say that those who have chosen to participate on this trip value the underlying reason for his work.

Khadiza, U.K.


This was my first experience of an Earthwatch project and my first experience of doing anything like this. I wasn’t sure what would be expected of me, or how capable I would be of performing the required tasks.
I’m pleased to say that Joan and Christina were very thorough and patient in their instruction and I soon felt like I was providing useful work for the project. It was sometimes difficult to remain focused in the boat, due to the beauty of the animals we were observing and Joan had to bring me back to earth with comments such as: “Exactly where is WOW” and “Over There! We will dump someone Over There!” After the initial culture shock for some of us at the sleeping arrangements, the accommodation proved comfortable and we soon fell into a (mainly) harmonious existence. The communal cooking and meals were fun and it was also enjoyable to visit some of the local restaurants. I was constantly impressed by the commitment and professionalism of all those that work on this project, full or long term, I’m not sure I could handle it.

Jeff, U.K. (Greek resident)

09 June 2009

Generational amnesia

Papworth S.K., Rist J., Coad L., Milner-Gulland E.J. 2009. Evidence for shifting baseline syndrome in conservation. Conservation Letters 2:93-100.

Reading the article above after watching the extraordinary movie HOME leaves little space for hope.

Not only generational amnesia exists, but generally speaking young generations may be scarcely interested in the past. They don't know, and they don't really want to know.

Our four volunteers (three in their early twenties, one 18) went to bed because they were tired while we were watching HOME at our field station in Greece, during one of our dolphin courses. The two researchers in charge stayed and watched it in awe. I would not call our dolphin research and conservation courses an unbiased sample of humanity, and yet 4 people in 7 were not interested and left.

I wonder if even these wonderfully educational movies are just preaching to the converted, and if they really manage to prompt some people to change their behaviour and realise what we (including you and me) have done and are doing to the planet.

I remember the films Koyaanisqatsi (1982) and Powaqqatsi (1988), that based on the technology and knowledge of the time intended to convey a similar global conservation call -- to little avail as it seems.

Giovanni Bearzi

P.S. Only five days left to watch the movie HOME online:

Image: Evidence for shifting baseline syndrome from Papworth et al. 2009 (click on image to enlarge)

Jellyfish watch

The CIESM (International Commission for the Scientific Exploration of the Mediterranean Sea) has recently lunched a jellyfish monitoring programme, called JellyWatch, that looks for reports of jellyfish swarms in the Mediterranean Sea.

The main goal of this project is to gather baseline data on the frequency and extent of jellyfish outbreaks in the region. Individuals can contribute to this database by sending digital photos of jellyfish aggregations, and reporting location and other relevant information.

A nice identification poster can be downloaded here.


For more information:

08 June 2009

Scientists need artists

Randy Olson’s incoming book Don’t Be Such a Scientist delivers the message that "scientists need artists".

What kind of artists?

I would dare to say: people like Chris Jordan, with his mandala-mind devoted to raising environmental awareness.

Filmmakers like Yann Arthus-Bertrand, who can really make us wow and appreciate what we have and what we are losing.

Communicators like Annie Leonard, who can turn exceedingly complex scenarios into simple and understandable stories.

Thinkers like David Orr, who tackle the heart of the problem and propose real solutions rather than palliatives.

These are the bright minds and voices that our planet desperately needs, and that conservation biologists need, too, if they are to convey any message that is actually heard.

Giovanni Bearzi

Photo by Chris Jordan

07 June 2009

Food dilemma



Chris Jordan's watercolor depicting 20500 tuna: the average number of tuna fished from the world's oceans every 15 minutes (click on image to enlarge)

Possible solution:

Eat less meat. Eat less fish. Eat 'organic' and sustainable food when possible. Eat mostly plants.

If you can afford it (not everybody can), just don't eat animals. They will be grateful.


Read more:

What happened to your clients? Um. We ate them.
by Jennifer Jacquet

Bearzi G. 2009. When swordfish conservation biologists eat swordfish. Conservation Biology 23(1):1-2. (84 Kb)

06 June 2009

Please, don't be such a scientist

Randy Olson’s new book Don’t Be Such a Scientist delivers the message that "scientists need artists".

He delves into the principle of "arouse and fulfill", suggesting that while scientists are great with the fulfillment part, the power of art can help arouse the interest of the broader audience.

In an age of information overload, the communication challenge is even greater for science. Drawing on communication theory, storytelling dynamics, and his own observations from a career in science, Olson makes the case that while accuracy is forever important, a priority must be made by the science community to grab the public's attention.

To be published in September 2009 by Island Press.


05 June 2009

Get more stuff

George Carlin's 'Stuff Story' - a comedy routine from 1986


Dall'Amaca di Michele Serra, Repubblica, 4 giugno 2009 (segnalato da Massimo Demma):

L'appello del capo del governo a "consumare di più" (ripetuto più volte, l'ultima ieri) è un inno inconsapevole alla precarietà dei nostri fondamenti economico-sociali (...). Non si può pretendere che proprio il signor B possa d'un tratto riflettere sulla sobrietà o sulla decrescita come vie d'uscita dal pazzesco tunnel nel quale ci siamo infilati. Lo fa molto di rado anche la sinistra (e sarebbe il suo mestiere), perché mai dovrebbe farlo un anziano miliardario di destra? Fa comunque molta impressione rileggere o riascoltare (l'altra sera su Blob, per esempio) il celebre discorso di Bob Kennedy "contro il PIL", nel quale spiegava come la smania di quantità rischi di cancellare ogni qualità. Era il 1968, quasi mezzo secolo è passato, è arrivato il famoso Duemila e noi siamo ancora qui a sentirci dire che per salvare il mondo dobbiamo svuotarci le tasche e riempire i cessi.


Sempre Michele Serra, nel 2006:

Perché, tra i fattori che spingono a consumare di meno, non si mette mai in conto anche una possibile saturazione, e quel vago senso di indigestione che le società benestanti si portano in seno? Ci sono consumi ormai di massa (certe vacanze, certi vestiti, certe seconde case, certe terze automobili, certi quarti telefonini) che magari hanno segnato il loro tempo, e ai quali si rinuncia non solamente per la contrazione del potere d'acquisto, ma per sazietà o noia. (...) ognuno di noi conosce almeno qualcuno che ha scelto di lavorare un po' meno e spendere un po' meno, per vivere meglio. In che statistica va a finire, questo occidentale che ha deciso di rallentare per respirare, e magari addirittura per pensare a se stesso?


Maurizio Pallante, Presidente Movimento della Decrescita Felice:

La decrescita è elogio dell’ozio, della lentezza e della durata; rispetto del passato; consapevolezza che non c’è progresso senza conservazione; indifferenza alle mode e all’effimero; attingere al sapere della tradizione; non identificare il nuovo col meglio, il vecchio col sorpassato, il progresso con una sequenza di cesure, la conservazione con la chiusura mentale; non chiamare consumatori gli acquirenti, perché lo scopo dell’acquistare non è il consumo ma l’uso; distinguere la qualità dalla quantità; desiderare la gioia e non il divertimento; valorizzare la dimensione spirituale e affettiva; collaborare invece di competere; sostituire il fare finalizzato a fare sempre di più con un fare bene finalizzato alla contemplazione. La decrescita è la possibilità di realizzare un nuovo Rinascimento, che liberi le persone dal ruolo di strumenti della crescita economica e ri-collochi l’economia nel suo ruolo di gestione della casa comune a tutte le specie viventi in modo che tutti i suoi inquilini possano viverci al meglio.


Vedi anche: The Story of Stuff

04 June 2009

HOME by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Yann Arthus-Bertrand became famous through the “Earth from above,” a photographic portrait of aerial shots of our planet. Three million copies of his book have been sold and his free, open-air exhibitions have been seen by more than one hundred million people.

The movie HOME carries on this tradition. This feature will be made up of aerial images which have been filmed in more than fifty countries around the world. A voice-off will offer constructive hindsight into the major environmental and social challenges facing our world.

The worldwide release of the movie will be organized by EuropaCorp on June 5th, 2009 – World Environment Day – in cinemas, on television, on DVD and on the Internet around the world. The aim of this simultaneous worldwide broadcasting is to enable as many people as possible to watch the movie together.

The objective of HOME is not to make a profit. Its only benefit will be to contribute towards increasing awareness of our responsibility towards the planet. Profits will be donated to Goodplanet.org


In occasione della Giornata Mondiale dell’Ambiente, il 5 giugno 2009, viene presentato contemporaneamente in più di 100 stati del mondo, un grande film dedicato al pianeta Terra. Per l’Italia il film sarà proiettato gratuitamente a Torino, alla sala 1 del Cinema Massimo alle ore 21, grazie al Festival CinemAmbiente.

Il film è composto da immagini aeree filmate in più di cinquanta paesi del mondo. Una voce fuori campo commenta il filmato, mostrando i grandi cambiamenti ambientali e sociali che la Terra sta subendo. Un progetto ambizioso e di grande impatto, che rende ancora una volta possibile scoprire la meraviglia di un pianeta magnifico, sottolineandone al tempo stesso
l’evidente fragilità.

Il film, che è stato prodotto senza fini di lucro, si pone come obiettivo quello di essere visto dal maggior numero di persone possibili. Non saranno solo tradizionali proiezioni quelle che avverranno contemporaneamente il 5 giugno, ma Home sarà trasmesso anche da molte televisioni e, grazie ad una partnership con Youtube, attraverso internet.





02 June 2009

Monk seal: metaphor for the Mediterranean ecosystem

I wish I could write of the unforgettable moment of my first encounter with a Mediterranean monk seal; however, I don’t remember it, just as I don’t remember the moment I saw a dog or a cat for the first time in my life. Probably it was during one of the fishing trip days my dad used to take me on four decades ago, when the term “endangered” had no meaning for the marine life in Turkey. This was probably the main reason why I don’t remember my first seal; they were not so rare during my childhood...

Read the nice Guest Editorial by Ali Cemal Gücü "Monk seal: metaphor for the Mediterranean ecosystem" in the May 2009 issue of The Monachus Guardian

Photo by MOm / V. Paravas

It is human greed that the monk seal ultimately has to withstand – a force that ambushes conservation efforts whenever there is a conflict between protection and exploitation.
Ali Cemal Gücü

Dolphins of Greece, 21-29 May 2009

Connectedness makes me feel content, gives me hope, drives me to do and be more than I ever might otherwise—and this Earthwatch experience has been all about that, in my mind, giving me so much connection to things I have lost touch with over the years. Idealism about a better future. Curiosity about other ways of life. I see the connections better now between what happens at fisheries and what I eat from the supermarket. I understand a little more what about the connection between articles in magazines, documentaries, and public policy and what goes on behind the scenes in terms of what scientists are doing in the field.

The dedication of the staff is so inspiring. That they are also especially charming and interesting was a bonus, but I see now how that kind of openness and ability to connect with others makes them ideal for the human side of this important work. I’m sure it is a struggle for Joan to make friends with the locals, but he seems to be up to the task. Most importantly, I feel more connected to the effort to help these animals and these ecosystems.

I am now more motivated, better armed with powerful information, to take the message to friends and family and neighbours that we all have to work to solve the problem of over fishing our oceans. We can do something and we have to do something. Now.
All my hopeful expectations for this trip were fulfilled. (Well... Joan never once let me drive the boat or shoot with that camera of his.... ☹. And I would not have minded seeing a loggerhead up close....) And none of that which I feared came to pass: It wasn’t too hot, I didn’t get sick on the boat (there was that one agonizing morning when I was afraid to say that I needed to fare il pee pee—hell, I was prepared to jump overboard, but thankfully this wasn’t necessary), the group dynamics were very enjoyable and enriching (I’d forgotten how much I can appreciate the energy of young people!), and we saw LOTS of dolphins doing their thing in the wild.

Personally, I was also very jazzed by the pelicans—they were like parasailers coming in for a landing, their wings are so wide.
This experience has opened my eyes. I think of how I take so much for granted—eating fish whenever I want really (and I used to feel so good about that! I mean, it’s not red meat, right?), throwing my clothes in the dryer, jumping into a hot shower without a hesitation—and I am determined now that I can no longer live in this way without at the very least being mindful of my footprint. How can I make a difference, what can I do to be more conservation minded? This experience has given me some answers, some motivation, and for that I am exceedingly grateful. Thank you, Earthwatch and may I live up to my own expectations for myself now when I return to the States.

Laura, USA


My first impression on the Zodiac - “Oh, this is what it is like to be a Somali pirate!”, but here we were not chasing boats to hijack, but rather chasing dolphins to understand them, and how they are affected by their habitat and how they adapt to its degradation. The work being done by Joan and the Tethys Research Institute is a beautiful example of how science can provide knowledge about the fascinating creatures with whom we share this globe, but also how that knowledge can be translated to affect public policy regarding the environment and the creatures who live in it. I felt privileged to be able to be a small part of that effort. Because the dolphins live at the top of the food chain (like tuna and swordfish) they can serve as a “bellweather species”, who serve as a proxy for the health of the environment (in addition to being a fascinating to watch).

What impressed me was how Joan and his colleagues have taken the information they acquire and not just turn them into publications to appear in scientific journals, but also use it to try to make a difference for both cetaceans and people alike. Their understanding covers the interrelationship between the dolphins themselves, the dolphins and their environment, and the political and cultural forces that lead to the degradation of the environment in notable. Their efforts at education, not only to the volunteers, but to the local community and to the larger public is impressive. I thought that during this trip I would learn about dolphins, but I learned so much more, especially about the ecosystems of the oceans.

I am a scientist so the process we went through everyday was new but familiar – a protocol and a procedure, different ways of coding data, and then crunching the fine detailed information to get a larger picture. But here the rewards were so tangible - sighting dolphins and being able to track them, seeing mothers with their newborn dolphins (who over the course of one small week learned to dive like an adult), and after days of struggling in which all dolphins fins looked alike, finally beginning to see distinct patterns. All of this added up to the huge satisfaction during the final day of being able to distinguish between two newborn dolphins (who we affectionately named “batboy” for his rakishly sweptback fin and “son of stubby” for his rounded fin, reminiscent of one of the adults).

And then there are the people who make this all happen. Joan has my deep admiration and respect. He clearly is a thorough and thoughtful scientist, who has a larger vision (and plan) for how his systematic scientific endeavors can have an important impact. His good humor, patience (and at times appropriate impatience), ability to communicate, knack for teaching and team building, and overall joy for life and the life of an activist scientist are infectious. And given my experience training graduate students, it was a real treat for me to watch him work with Christina – leading her, guiding her, and challenging her. And it was equally enjoyable to watch Christina as she learned the ropes, becoming more comfortable and familiar with the procedures, and also how she pushed back at Joan, asserting her independent viewpoint when appropriate, and stepping into the role of not just a student, but a partner. I admire her courage because all her mistakes and missteps were pointed out in front of a bunch of relative strangers. To retain such good humor under those conditions takes a special type of person.

And I also feel fortunate to have such good groupmates – Rory, ever so polite and considerate (with really sharp eyes and a really good way of catching the dolphins on video, although sometimes I could not understand everything he said in his thick Irish brogue) and Elah, who willingness to be open to experiences and just “be” in the world seemed a calm antidote to the chaos on board when the dolpins arrived – because they made the trip all the more special.
I have learned so much in these past 9 days, and I am already thinking of the ways that I might build on what I have experienced to try and make a difference.

Marie, USA


I was looking forward to being the first volunteer to participate in the program twice, but i was beat to the punch by the very lovely volunteer, Elah, whose entry is next. This experience has truly been one to remember. This is only my first session here and I already feel as if I’ve learned enough to change my views on the way I live my life. Although I’ve never been much of a fish eater (as the other volunteers have learned from barely being able to swallow what I’m sure was delectable shrimp made by Joan) I wouldn’t soon become one. After watching many documentaries on overfishing and discussing with Joan and my fellow volunteers of the current state of our oceans, I realize that we are responsible for changing how we manage our day to day lives regarding what we consume.

I’ve had an overall fantastic experience and am glad that I get to be here for another nine days.
I would also like to mention Joan. Obviously without him a program like this could never exist. It’s with enthusiams and passion that he conducts his work and manages his volunteers. I’m deeply envious that he gets to wake up every morning and do what he loves and that he is able to share his experiences with the volunteers in the hopes that they retain and pass his message along.

Rory, Ireland


Before I get into the specifics of what I’ve learned during the past two session, I would just like to start off by saying that this has been a truly amazing experience. Aside from being able to go out and see dolphins every day (albeit, every day save one) there were quite a few bonuses. Never having been to this part of the country before, the volunteers were able to take in the stunning scenery with fresh eyes as well as appreciate the beautiful sight that is a newborn swimmings alongside it’s mother and a few dedicated protectors.

However, I was pleasantly surprised that as a volunteer I wasn’t solely along for the ride. I felt as if I was helping to conduct valuable research rather than being made to do useless busy work and paying for it. Instead I was granted an experience that I will be talking, if not bragging about, for years to come.
Although I specifically chose this program because it was in Greece and specialized in dolphins, during my first session there were two Earthwatch employees here as well. One who chose this project because she is a marine biologist, and the other who was randomly assigned to this program. Just after one day, it became quite obvious that the latter had gotten just as into it as me; a life long, die-hard dolphin fan.

Aside from going out on the inflatable each day, we were granted a significant amount of free time which, for me was mainly devoted to napping. However, I was pleasantly surprised by all the other little activities made available to us by this quaint town. Aside from sleeping, I had the option of taking walks to mini island, grabbing a beer or coffee with the other volunteers or just plain lazing about on the beach. I got a wicked nice tan if I do say so myself. Aside from that I would like to say that this situation is quite neat. The other volunteers, Marie, Laura and Rory and Christina, Joan’s research assistant, are amazingly nice and are here for the same reason I am; to learn about dolphins in their natural habitat and the threats the oceans face (Joan can answer any question posed to him), and just enjoy my time doing something I love in a fantastic environment.

I also want to throw out there that in the past twenty days (for me), I’ve eaten some of the best food in my life. As well as experienced the best coffee. After each little excursion, as I’m sure others have been privee to, we stopped for coffee at the same restaurant where Joan knows everyone and had the fabulous cafe freddo. And no offense to the dolphins as they are majestic creatures, but the coffee, I believe is a note worth ending on.

Elah, USA