31 July 2010

Ionian Dolphins 10 (25-31 July)

It was the first time that I participated in Tethys courses and the first time that I visited Greece. I had a very good time here and I enjoied so much the company of Tethys staff and other volunteers. I experienced a lot of things in these six days. I found Galaxidi a beautiful place, with amazing surrounding landscape and very gentle people. I liked life at ‘home’, sharing time and space with Philippa, Gabriela, Christina, Russell and Dimitri. And I really want to thank the Tethys team, Philippa, Stefano and Giovanni for the knowledge and the enthusiasm they transmitted. I am so happy to see that there are people who work with passion, doing very good work. I am very happy that despite the wind and the truck drivers’ strike at the end we had fantastic sightings! Seeing dolphins in their natural environment was a dream that came true. But I also enjoyed very much the visit to the archeological site of Delphi. It was really an unforgettable experience! Thanks a lot to everybody!

Valentina, Italy

27 July 2010

Dolphins of Greece 10 (16-23 July)

My expectations for this project were high, but it has exceeded them by miles! While I thought we would be allowed to help with the research, I never believed I would be as involved as we have been in data collection. The absense of an assistant meant that we, the volunteers, were needed to perform the tasks normally done by them. This enabled me to feel that I was truly contributing to the research that will hopefully help to save these beautiful animals. The atmosphere was much more relaxed than I had expected. I felt that we (Team X) and Marina developed a great rhythm, both in data collection and everyday life. It made every moment fun! We were also so lucky to have six sightings of dolphins in six days. The first day in Kalamos (day 6) brought us face to face with a group of about 30 striped dolphins, a species which is not normally found there. They approached the boat, surfacing a foot from the side and swimming along under the front. I do not have the words to describe our encounter, but it was one of the best moments of my life. Now I understand more about the threats to the aquatic ecosystems I am more desparate than ever to do whatever I can to help. This project has shown me that a career in marine research is the only one for me! Thank you to Marina, Tatiana, Karen and Tim for making this so special. I do not believe it would have been the same without you and I will never forget this week.

Fran, U.K.


One day before leaving now, just this morning, one of my team mates asked me if this Earthwatch expedition to Vonitsa, Greece, had lived up to my expectations... Without any doubt I replied to him, that it had in fact far exceeded the expectations. The unique experiences that we lived during these seven days will remain forever in my mind. The sense of collaboration of this team, four strangers coming from different parts of the world and effective led by Marina Costa, our team leader, allowed us to effectively participate in the understanding of this research and the nature of the dolphins, the hands-on collection of data, and the excitement of being in contact with this beautiful environemnt. We were lucky enough as to be able to see dolphins all these six days. I am already thinking about the ways I will share my experience with my colleagues and students. I am looking forward to my next expedition. Thank you, Marina, Fran, Karen and Tim for your presence in this place here and now. It has been a pleasure meeting you all.

Rosa, Canada


First of all I have to say how privileged I was to be involved in this project. Even though we were only involved in the research process for six days, the lessons I have learned in Vonitsa will stay with me forever. I too enjoyed being fully immersed in the research during the time we were here. From the different species of dolphins we encountered to the different transits we traveled to try and find the dolphins. Every day was a new adventure. Thank you to Marina, our fearless leader, for providing just the right balance between work and play. You definitely provided us with opportunities to laugh as well as providing us with insight into your work with cetaceans all over the world. Thank you also to Tatiana, Fran and Tim for all the memories. We really made a great team. I consider this expedition to be the start of a lifelong process of continuing to learn and educate others about the beautiful animals that live in the ocean and the things that we can do to make sure that they are there for future generations to enjoy.

Karen, USA

25 July 2010

The Mediterranean Risso's dolphin: getting one step closer to a fascinating and neglected marine mammal

The Risso's dolphin has been studied in several locations around the world, but information on this cetacean species remains relatively scant. Risso's dolphins are not particularly shy or elusive and can be studied with relative ease in areas where continental slope waters are close to shore. In the Mediterranean Sea they are relatively widespread but not abundant and their occurrence can be unpredictable, possibly due to wide-ranging movements. This factor, together with generally low densities, has precluded sustained, focussed investigations of their ecology and behaviour.

Even within the few Mediterranean areas where Risso's dolphins are known to be consistently present, only limited information has been obtained. In large parts of the region there is nothing more than a few sightings or strandings to indicate their presence. In sum, the distribution, ecology, status and trends of this species in the Mediterranean remain somewhat mysterious. On one hand this hampers conservation, but on the other hand it offers scope for novel studies.

In the Mediterranean Sea, modern field studies of cetaceans began in the late 1980s and this has resulted in rapid advances in knowledge of several of the species known to occur regularly in the region. The Risso's dolphin, however, remains one of the least-known cetacean species in the region and has been the subject of few dedicated studies. A regional IUCN Red List workshop in March 2006 concluded that the Mediterranean subpopulation of the Risso's dolphin is ‘Data Deficient’.

A recent scientific review of the ecology and status of the Risso’s dolphin in the Mediterranean Sea, published in the renowned journal Mammalian Biology, sheds new light on a largely neglected species. This work - funded by OceanCare and WDCS The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society - was conducted by a group of five scientists led by Giovanni Bearzi, President of the Tethys Research Institute. The second author is Randall R. Reeves, Chair of the IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group. One of the main purposes of the review is to identify knowledge gaps and areas where focussed studies should be conducted to inform conservation efforts aimed to protect Risso’s dolphins in Mediterranean waters.

Risso's dolphins occur in continental slope waters throughout the Mediterranean basin and around many of the region's offshore islands and archipelagos. No synoptic estimate of abundance is available for the Mediterranean region, but densities and overall numbers are low in comparison to some other small odontocetes. Diet consists primarily of cephalopods, with a clear preference for mesopelagic squid.

The paper by Bearzi and colleagues reviews available information on the distribution and ecology of Risso's dolphins in the Mediterranean and identifies factors that may negatively affect them in this region. The principal known threat to populations in the Mediterranean is entanglement in pelagic drift gillnets. Other potential problems for Risso's dolphins in the Mediterranean include noise disturbance and ingestion of plastic debris.

Inclusion of Risso's dolphin habitat in networks of offshore protected areas would be one way of addressing threats to this species in the mid to long term. Indeed, various MPAs have been proposed to protect the habitat of deep-water cetacean species (including Risso's dolphin) in Spanish Mediterranean waters and there are prospects for Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance (SPAMIs) in areas beyond national jurisdiction. If effectively managed, deep-water or offshore protected areas could have long-term conservation benefits for Risso's dolphins. Pending the implementation of such area-based management strategies, any actions taken to mitigate immediate and well-known threats to cetaceans and other large marine vertebrates in the Mediterranean region, particularly entanglement in pelagic gillnets (driftnets), are bound to benefit Risso's dolphins. Considering that driftnetting is already illegal in EU waters, what is most needed is strict enforcement of that ban and its extension to the high seas and to waters under non-EU State jurisdiction.

Bearzi G., Reeves R.R., Remonato E., Pierantonio N., Airoldi S. 2010. Risso’s dolphin Grampus griseus in the Mediterranean Sea. Mammalian Biology. DOI: 10.1016/j.mambio.2010.06.003

These Risso's dolphin mother and calf photographed in the Ligurian Sea show the characteristic morphology and pigmentation of the species. Photo © Caterina Lanfredi / Tethys Research Institute.

24 July 2010

Ionian Dolphins 9 (18-24 July)

This has been a time that I have personally lived a life-long dream knowing that I will never be the same on this journey through life. There are no words that can be spoken to describe this experience-- only a change in the deepest part of my heart and soul. I leave, believing that together the world can change. Until we meet again.

Karen, USA


It was the third time I participated in Tethys courses. And it was once again a great occasion for me to learn more about dolphin behaviour, research protocols, field methodology, overfishing etc. Meeting dolphins was really an energetic experience. But I am still hesitating what was more imporant for me here during the course – dolphins or people... Of course I am happy that I met dolphins (three times) during our field study this week, but for me it was a really nice time first of all because of Tethys Team and other Volunteers. Giovanni - thanks for your huge knowledge, your lectures, enthusiasm, values and ideas you share. Silvia – thanks for your great work on the sea, your practice, passion and beautiful smile. Panni - thanks for your support all the time, your notices and your patience. Riccardo, Karen, Philippa – thanks for your company, your sense of humor, the atmosphere you have created. With that kind of people I still believe – we can change something.

Jakub, Poland


I don’t want to be repetitive and boring saying things like: “this has been a life-changing experience so amazing that truly touched me changing my life and the way I look at things, people and generally the world”. I won’t say that because there is no need. It has just been a really invaluable and enriching exeperience for me. After having undertook these two weeks of research with Tethys I discovered and learned many new things about dolphins, the threats that they are facing and the research that is conducted in order to solve these problems. However, I have to say that what I really learned is that the future of dolphins doesn’t depend on them but... on us, and our relation with the environment! (...) I cannot express the gratitude that I have for the researchers and all the staff of Tethys but especially for the people who I worked and lived with in these two weeks. A special thanks to Silvia and “smiling Panni” for the patience and the effort that you put to help us, unexperienced volunteers. Keep going like this: you have been really amazing and inspiring for me. Without you this project wouldn’t be the same and without any doubt it would not work as well as it now does.

Riccardo, Italy

23 July 2010

22 July 2010

Whales "attacking" boats?


A presumed 'attack' by a right whale to a small sailing boat is having considerable media coverage in these summer days.

This, however, looks more like an accident made up by the press than a habitual or intentional behaviour. Some even suspect the image with the whale might be a smart PhotoShop product, i.e. an ex-post representation of a real event.

The cetacean species known to intentionally attack and occasionally sink small boats is the killer whale, possibly because boats do not respond to warning signals by the whales, who may be engaged in critical activities when a boat approaches too closely and suddenly. The animals may just try to react to an intrusion, behaving in the same way as several other large and wild mammals would (e.g. elephants, rhinos, hippos or apes). Killer whales do that because they, too, are wild and large mammals who care about their territory. Sinking boats is a rare event anyway, considering how often boats disturb killer and other whales - either deliberately or not - in virtually all oceans.

While I did not investigate the occurrence of right whale 'attacks' in the past, I remember a similar report involving a whale calf (either a right whale or a similar species) one or more years ago. As far as I can recall that was most likely an error by a playful calf, not an attempt to harm humans. In any case, such behaviours may have meanings other than deliberate attacks. If there was any aggressive intention, it remains to be seen why the whales reacted as they did (had they been harassed for too long?).

More generally speaking, I am often disturbed by the morbid interest shown by the media in depicting wild animals as dangerous beasts. In Italy, there is plenty of stupid TV programmes of that kind, totally uninformative as well as non-educational for children. Titles such as 'whale attacks boat' may work well in the media marketplace but they encourage irrational ancestral fears rather than inspire awe and appreciation for wonderful and disappearing animals. I've also seen media articles featuring 'attacks' by jellyfish, as if jellyfish (animals devoid of a central nervous system) could possibly have an intention whatsoever.

Giovanni Bearzi

17 July 2010

Ionian Dolphins 8 (11-17 July 2010)

This was my first time in Greece and I can safely say that this week was by far one of the best of my life. I study environmental conservation at university so I was aware of the problems that the seas and oceans are facing but having this experience has truly been life-changing for me. Seeing the dolphins out in their natural environment, playing, communicating... was amazing and brought tears of happiness to my eyes but also sadness knowing that humans are destroying them carelessly. Before coming on this trip, I was wondering what area to specialise in when I graduate but now, just after one week here, I am certain of where I want to head. Silvia and Panni were a pleasure to be with this week, thank you so much for everything, I can’t find words to express my gratitude to you both. Silvia, you have transmitted your passion to me and the way you talk about the world is really inspiring: how we can change everyhting if we truly want to. Panni, sorry for being so useless with Photoshop!! Thank you for your help, patience and smiles; it was like having a big sister around this week. I will never forget this place and hope to return in the very near future... the people, setting and atmosphere made me feel like I was in paradise for a few days. Well done Silvia and Panni for all your hard work, I promise I will pass on all the knowledge from this week to all my family and friends.

Laura, France


After a long year studying hard at college I needed reminding about why I was doing this, and by participating in this project I was reinspired about what I was aiming to achieve in my future career in Marine Biology. Watching the dolphins swim and jump made me even more passionate about doing my part in helping the marine species. Studying biology as an A level gives an insight into diversity and conservation but after seeing the documentary “The End of The Line” I realised just how severe the problems mankind has caused. I absolutely love what this project is doing and am thankful that Tethys allows volunteers to help, because it is an amazing experience to participate in, and I would definitely recommend this to anyone. Silvia and Panni are very friendly and hold a lot of passion for their work was something to look up to. I will definetely miss being able to see the dolphins in the wild, along with the beauty of Greece, but I will not miss the early morning wake ups. Thank you for everything, I still cannot believe my luck at finding out about this project.

Dominque, U.K.


With the observation of dolphins, a dream turned into reality. It was so great, that we could help with the real research and we’ve got more background information about their actual situation and all the problems related to overfishing... Thank you for this great week which enriched my life!

Mirjam, Switzerland

16 July 2010

Unidentified dolphin species in the Gulf of Corinth

On July 14th, Tethys researchers and volunteers were surveying the bay of Galaxidi when at 8:20 AM a dolphin was spotted on the horizon.

The research boat immediately reached the dolphin position and the team got ready with all the scientific equipment: cameras, stopwatches, palmtop, behaviour forms etc.

Since the beginning, researchers understood the exceptionality of the sighting. The dolphin was alone and floating at the surface in a really relaxed mood. As the boat approached the animal, everyone was surprised by the unique pigmentation and 'happy face'.

Stationary behaviour was recorded for the entire sighting, suggesting that the dolphin was probably sleeping, so researchers decided to let him sleep undisturbed.

Thanks to photos of the dorsal fin and the entire body, researchers are now are trying to identify the species of the animal; they will also investigate whether the animal is resident in the area or transient.

Click on the photo and help the Tethys team to identify the species ;-)

Silvia Bonizzoni

11 July 2010

Ionian Dolphins 7 (4-10 July 2010)

While waiting to be picked up on my first day of the Tethys program, I didn’t quite know what to expect and I was a bit nervous. But then a bright green van came puttering down the street and two women jumped out to help us load our bags. These two women, Silvia and Panni were there with all of us from the very beginning helping us in every possible way, answering all of our questions and lending a hand whenever we needed. My anxiety quickly melted away as I got comfortable in the house and created amazing friendships with all the other volunteers. Our mornings out at sea will stick with me for the rest of my life. The way the beautiful and playful dolphins glided through the water, jumping gracefully as Silvia snapped pictures. Also, the feeling of being a part of a program that I know one day will make a huge difference in the way people treat the ocean and the wildlife within it. I send all my thanks to Silvia and Panni for making this experience an amazing one and being the wonderful and caring people they are. And lots of love to all of the team, you are a fantastic group of girls and I know that wherever I go in life, I will never forget you and my week spent participating in this program.

Siobhan, USA


As I sit at the typewriter, I am gently rocking inside, not only from the days of sways and swells, but from the passion and spirit that infused our week with Silvia and Panni. Coming with two teenaged girls, this was all an unknown adventure that I hoped would refresh my own eco-energy and open their world a bit. Well, it has done far more than this. Silvia and Panni, and the other wonderful young women in our group have been beautiful, intelligent, inspiring role models for my daughter and niece, and for that I am more than grateful. And for me, words do not really capture the gratitude and admiration I have for the important work you do. I know there are constant hurdles and it must be like constantly running up hill, but you are making a great difference in your part of the world that is reaching around the globe. Plus, the camaraderie, delicious meals and time off swimming, relaxing and even watching the World Cup (yeah Netherlands!) in gorgeous Galaxidi were just icing on the cake. Thank you for the unforgettable energy and experience!

Merry, USA


After spending one semester abroad as an exchange student in Spain, I was eager to close my schoolbooks and to ‘work on the field’. In other words, to DO something useful for the environment, to work manually, to work outdoors, to interact with nature and to meet people from all over the world. The Ionian Dolphin Project was my first volunteering experience abroad and definitely opened doors for me to participate in future volunteering projects, for the professionalism and friendliness of Silvia and Panni made my first volunteering experience with Tethys Institute more than enjoyable. I am extremely grateful that this organization allows anyone to volunteer in their projects, since I have no professional experience in dolphin monitoring and conservation, an openness echoing the message that ‘anybody can make a difference in preserving our planet.’ Thank you very much to all of you who participated in the project in Galaxidi, this has been an unforgettable journey and although I was happy to leave my books behind, I am grateful to have learned so many things about dolphins and marine life!

Marie-Eve, Canada


Hmmm... well I have always wanted to come to Greece and as soon as my mom asked if I wanted to go to participate in Tethys I answered with an enthusiastic yes. As the trip approached I grew more and more excited. The Parthenon! Santorini! Oh my gosh! Tethys was just a stop over between bigger, better things. I could not have been more wrong. What I have experienced here has changed the way I view the world. My mom has told me time and again about all the problems and issues in the ocean, but the problems never really hit home before now. Witnessing how spirited and graceful dolphins are just captured my heart. Learning about how humanity is destroying them broke it. I swear I will never eat an unstable fish again and I will do my best to pass on the lessons I learned here to everyone I know. But the dolphins are not the only reason why I loved it here. Panni and Silvia are some of the friendliest, most genuine people I have and ever will meet. There was never a moment when we were not smiling or laughing. Just knowing Panni makes me want to go to Hungary. I know she got upset when we did not always correct her, but honestly, her English is amazing. Most of the time there was nothing to correct. And Silvia’s passion for all sea life is contagious. I absolutely loved learning everything she had to offer. I will miss everything about this place, from the bunk beds to the green van to the long walk to the dock to the ice cream to the dinners. The only thing I will not miss is remembering to throw out my toilet paper to giggling at that one hot Greek god. Thank you for everything. My life and heart will never be the same. I am so fortunate to have been given this opportunity.

Aislinn, USA


I came to Greece in order to gain experience and knowledge on the field of marine research, in a place as far from home as possible. Working with the Tethys team in Galaxidi with Silvia, Panni and Giovanni was a refreshing change and a recharge of my enthusiasm and admiration of cetacean wildlife. I saw everything I came to see including striped and bottlenose dolphins, species I had never seen before. I am still shocked by the size of the dolphins bowriding and displaying aerial acrobatics. I also encountered sea turtles, tuna and birdlife. Unexpectedly, I met wonderful friends from all over the world who share the same passions and concerns as me. Fortunately I was able to stay for two weeks, working with two different teams. Panni took us out and showed us the best of what Galaxidi had to offer in the beautiful setting of the small town. I have learned so much during my stay. A thousand praises and Thank you to the team!

Kate, New Zealand

09 July 2010

Tethys research in the Amvrakikos Gulf featured in New Scientist

A couple of weeks ago, the online news editor from the renowned New Scientist Magazine - Rowan Hooper - joined the 'Dolphins of Greece' Project in the Amvrakikos Gulf.

Hooper, thanks to an EarthWatch initiative, had the opportunity to spend nine days shoulder-to-shoulder with Tethys researchers Joan Gonzalvo and Iva Popovic.

After his experience, Hooper wrote an article about the dolphin situation in the Amvrakikos Gulf and in the waters surrounding the island of Kalamos where Tethys is studying dolphins since 1991.

Read the article: Dolphins make their last stand in the Mediterranean.

07 July 2010

Sealife in the Gulf of Corinth

(click on photo to enlarge)

Tuna feeding at surface on schooling fish prey, and shearwaters trying to get their share.

Gulf of Corinth, Greece, July 6th, 2010

Photo: Silvia Bonizzoni / Tethys


For more information on the work done by Tethys in Greece, please see: Ionian Dolphin Project

03 July 2010

Ionian Dolphins 6 (27 June - 3 July)

In the picturesque Galaxidi with its deep turquoise Mediterranean waters, to be with a group of environmentalists, conservationists – researchers and volunteers alike – is like coming home. With such a diverse group it's soul nurturing to discuss the facts and findings to the problems we face globally. Every person’s input and perspective adds value to the process of Change. I believe the Tethy’s experience leads us, as an educated consumer, to raise awareness among other people and together to take a step towards doing the right thing. Whether it be from your own conscience or complacency, join Tethys to open your eyes to another world, another reality. Not enough good remarks can be made to the Tethys team! They are absolutely amazing people.

Jamie, USA


Dear Silvia and Giovanni, the dolphins of the Gulf of Corinth are an amazing part of your life. But you offer so much more to your volunteers. If every volunteer picks up a bit of the "Tethys Spirit", you will make the world a better place.
Dear Panni, you have been such a great caretaker to us. You are a very aware assistant and therefore a great help for the team.
Thank you very much.

Arnold & Dagmar, Germany


I came on this trip with my wife Chloe as she had previously volunteered on a dolphin conservation project in Brazil and I liked the sound a week of being on a boat looking for dolphins in the sunshine. I wasn’t disappointed – the weather was great, I loved being out on the boat in the Gulf, and although we only had two sightings from five days, it was fantastic. Off the boat, we were well looked after by the team – the plentiful supplies of fresh fruit and veg (and Peroni) went down particularly well! In terms of the discussions we had, it was disheartening to hear of the serious decline in marine life in the Med and especially the massive depletion of fish stocks. This was something I was aware of in the North Sea, but hadn’t really appreciated the worldwide scale of the problem. It’s something I will go home and try to spread the message about. After the third lecture we did feel we had to cheer Giovanni up though, so gave him a few examples of some good ecological work going on in the UK! This week has been a real tonic and a total change from the pressures of my own job. Many thanks for making it such an enjoyable experience.

Allan, Scotland


Ever since first seeing dolphins bow riding a Hebridean ferry as a child I have wanted to spend more time observing them. What made this project special was the small boat which enabled us to be at the same height as the dolphins. I was able to lean over the side of the boat and see the dolphins swimming alongside and under the boat and see them prepare to jump which is impossible from a bigger boat. The landscape around the Gulf of Corinth is beautiful, on the days when we did not find the dolphins it was a pleasure being out on the water. On the roughest day when we could barely leave the bay we stopped for a coffee at Itea which is such a great way to travel. We spent the afternoons reading or swimming and listening to the thunder storms in the nearby hills. The team looked after us really well with their generous welcome, thoughtful advice and thought provoking lectures on the work of Tethys and the challenges to marine conservation. Many thanks.

Chloe, Scotland