22 November 2010

Movements of bottlenose dolphins in Greece

Based on work done by Tethys in the coastal waters of western Greece, new information on bottlenose dolphin movements has become available.

A recent paper published in the Journal of Ecology reports movements of nine individual dolphins observed across three different study areas and photoidentified up to 265 km apart.

Image: Location of the three study areas in Greece, and movements by nine bottlenose dolphins. From Bearzi et al. 2010.

Bearzi G., Bonizzoni S., Gonzalvo J. 2010. Mid-distance movements of common bottlenose dolphins in the coastal waters of Greece. Journal of Ethology. DOI: 10.1007/s10164-010-0245-x 
ABSTRACT: While bottlenose dolphins in Mediterranean waters often display a high level of site fidelity, movements across distant areas can occur. Such movements have important implications in terms of population viability, particularly in basins with low bottlenose dolphin densities. We report movements of nine individuals photoidentified up to 265 km apart in western Greece. Four showed a certain degree of site fidelity to one area across several years, but were also found elsewhere, with two individuals moving between two areas. This study provides further evidence that animals appearing to be ‘resident’ within a given area can temporarily leave and range widely.

27 October 2010

Northern Gulf of Evia: end of phase 1

Today we completed our first phase of work in the Northern Gulf of Evia, Greece—a project funded and administered by OceanCare in the context of a collaboration with Tethys.

We did 1,343 km of navigation encompassing the whole Gulf (an area of 1,265 squared km), resulting in 13 encounters with bottlenose dolphins, 3 with monk seals, 5 with large (80+ cm) tuna, 20 with flying fish, and one with a sea turtle.

Giovanni Bearzi and Silvia Bonizzoni

21 October 2010

Dolphin and octopus

Today a bottlenose dolphin was making awkward surfacings that attracted our attention.

Initially we though the dolphin was playing with a Cotylorhiza jellyfish—something these animals do from time to time. I took a photo from a distance to find out.

Back at the field station, we did some photo editing and found that it wasn't a jellyfish, but a small octopus. The cephalopod had managed to escape the dolphin's attempt to turn its eigth arms into raw proteins and carbohydrates.

The dolphin was trying to get rid of the octopus attached to its head.

20 October 2010

Dolphin pathologies

Living in an area with high inputs of toxic contaminants, and spending much time foraging in polluted waters near appalling industrial plants, it is no surprise that some bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf of Evia show physical deformities suggestive of tumours—such as the one shown in this photo.

Luckily, this dolphin (nicknamed 'Bubbo') still shows a normal behaviour and is often seen socialising with others while moving from fish farm to fish farm.

19 October 2010

Above and away

While following a group of dolphins, we look at the sky and see a flock of about 150 grey herons Ardea cinerea with a few great egrets Casmerodius albus.

For a few moments, we forget about the dolphins and get lost in the blue sky as the birds fly above us and away.

Click on photo to enlarge

18 October 2010

Dolphins and fish farms

It looks like at least some of the bottlenose dolphins inhabiting the Gulf of Evia have a daily routine that includes spending a few hours foraging near one or more fish farms.

They seem to have become acquainted to human presence, noise, air pollution and dirty water. Apparently, they just care about fish: the wild fish attracted by pellets and nutrients that can be found around the cages.

The dolphins are not afraid of the tangled web of ropes, buoys and cages. They seem to be at home in there, and they engage in occasional socialising.

17 October 2010

Industrial dolphins

Bottlenose dolphins surfacing near the smelting plant of Larymna embody the striking contrast pervading the Gulf of Evia: wildlife at its best and human impact at its worst.

15 October 2010

Close encounter between dolphin and dolphinfish

In the Northern Gulf of Evia, a lone bottlenose dolphin stops near a piece of white cardboard floating at the surface.

The dolphin shows an awkward 'buoying' behaviour while apparently staring at something below the cardboard (photo). Silvia and I think this may be a weird individual — perhaps with some physical problem? But then the dolphin resumes his normal surfacing behaviour and moves away.

We approach the cardboard and — surprise — we find a 30cm long common dolphinfish Coryphaena hippurus hiding below. These colourful fish often station below floating debris, and later on that day we find others swimming under a wooden box (photo).

Apparently, the dolphin found the dolphinfish and stopped to inspect, possibly while making up his mind on whether that could represent a suitable prey: to eat or not to eat?

No — the dolphinfish was too large to eat, but still a beautiful animal deserving a close scrutiny.


12 October 2010

Rain rain...

On a grey October day, we wait for the rain to stop to continue our work at sea.

11 October 2010

Stormy weather

Today's dolphin survey attempt in the Gulf of Evia was frustrated by wind and rain.

10 October 2010

Smiling again

After 3 monk seal sightings in 3 days, our fourth day of research in the Gulf of Evia finally offered a bottlenose dolphin group.

The animals were found after eight hours of nonstop search, when it felt like there were no cetaceans anywhere.

A few jumps, and we were smiling again :-)

Silvia Bonizzoni

09 October 2010

Dolphins of Greece 18 (2-9 October 2010)

I have had a wonderful week, seeing so many different dolphin behaviours and many sea birds including flamingos, cormorants and terns. Marina and Joe have made it special with their enthusiasm and anecdotes of a broad range of experiences in the field. I shall return to work refreshed and with an enhanced understanding of the importance of dolphins in their ecosystem.

Kate (UK)


It was an amazing week from several points of view – to meet so different and interesting people and to work together in such a wonderful project. I learned a lot about the dolphins, their life and behaviour, about the sea – how big, how great and at the same time how unprotected it is. When you learn something new, that really touches your mind, you start to think in a different way and consequently you change your deeds. Moreover, you try to share this experience with the other people and hopefully can make the surrounding world a little bit better. I also hope that the data we have managed to collect will be helpful for the further scientific work. This week in Vonitsa impressed me a lot and I would like to say thank you very much to Marina and Joe and all the people from our Team.

Eugenia (Russia)


Thanks to the weather, to a great team, to the dolphins and to Greece. It was a wonderful time and experience I have got. I do not think I would be able to get such an experience anywhere else and I hope I made a tiny contribution to the process of improvement of the environment. Let’s hope that the next teams and generations see how beautiful it is. Dolphins are wonderful creatures and have their right to survive as all the rest creatures in the world. The project was organised on very high professional level, exactly what was required for the effective work and team building exercise. My personal gratitude to Marina and Joe, for their professionalism and kind attention to the team, they were able to create the right atmosphere to give the feeling to every member of the importance of their contribution. The whole team was excellent, and everyone had a chance to use his or her knowledge and experience. I learned a lot, I hope to continue to cooperate with Earthwatch institute to take part in future projects. I wish all the best and every success to Tethys in their difficult and generous task. Thanks again and all the best!

Sergey (Kazakhstan)


Our week in Vonitsa has been amazing. Marina’s enthusiasm for her subject (botany excluded?) and life in general made all the week a joy, not just the dolphin recording and watching. Flamingos, seagulls, schools of small fish boiling the sea waters, exploring islands and local community living, all added to the experience in which watching dolphins bow-riding was the highlight. Joe’s helpful, good-humour and interest in the work encouraged us. He and Marina worked (worked well together to make up the whole brilliant team) with an interesting group of fellow volunteers. Thank you to all who made the week possible.

Judith and George (UK)

07 October 2010

Dolphin researcher dealing with a bad knee

Following an injury and many years jumping on inflatable boats, Giovanni recently got his second run of surgery on his left knee. Thanks to such surgery he can now walk again, but more standing on choppy waters would not be a good idea. Therefore, Gio recovered an old seat from an abandoned car, built a wooden stand, and installed his "masterpiece" on the Tethys inflatable. This allows him to remain seated during surveys on wavy seas, while enjoying an appropriately high eye elevation. Gio claims the seat is comfortable and he is happy to have returned to work at sea.

Silvia Bonizzoni

06 October 2010

Monk seal # 2

Second encounter with a monk seal in the Gulf of Evia (see previous post). This animal was observed for an hour engaging in food search in a murky bay, not far from an industrial plant. She performed dives approximately 4-6 min long followed by about 30 sec of ventilations. During those 30 sec spent at the surface we could watch the seal in all her beauty while she was elegantly swimming, staring at us from time to time (photo). While she did not seem exceedingly wary of the boat, she never came closer than 30-50 m. This is a wise behaviour, considering that monk seals in the coastal waters of Greece are still sometimes seen as vermin, and shot.

Giovanni Bearzi

05 October 2010

Monk seal lunch

Our first day of work in the Gulf of Evia did not have dolphins to offer, but an amazing and unexpected encounter with a monk seal who was having lunch at the surface. The seal had a large octopus in his mouth and he was forcefully and repeatedly shaking it with the head out of the water, producing splashes that could be seen from far away. We speculated he intended to kill the octopus before eating it. We approached at slow speed up to about 50 m to observe this unusual behaviour, and the monk seal did not appear disturbed. He finished his lunch, gazed at us, then moved away. We managed to capture some phases of the octopus lunch, but most photos were blurry due to the distance, except for the one shown here, which even when magnified was sharp enough to capture the fierce look of this large and critically endangered marine mammal.

Giovanni Bearzi

04 October 2010

A new dolphin investigation begins

We started a new investigation in the Northern Gulf of Evia (click on image to zoom out).

After having spent a part of the summer dealing with all the logistical aspects, Silvia and I finally moved to a convenient location in the central part of the Gulf. We set up a new field station and managed to get appropriate mooring facilities. We are now ready for work at sea.

OceanCare kindly provided funding to start this new enterprise, and lent a new 100HP engine. Work in the Gulf—done in the context of a collaboration between Tethys and OceanCare—should be conducted between autumn 2010 and spring 2011. Depending on the results, we will decide how the project may unfold in future years.

Some information on dolphins in the Northern and Southern Gulfs of Evia was produced in 2003 by researchers Zafiropoulos and Merlini (*), who reported a high density of bottlenose dolphins in the Northern Gulf. Since then, however, no systematic research was conducted.

Our new study intends to complement the existing information and if possible contribute a preliminary estimate of dolphin abundance, as well as information about status and threats, which may support management action.

The work is also intended to provide insight on dolphin ecology and behaviour in different habitats. It is an exciting opportunity to get to know more about dolphins living in the coastal waters of Greece and allow for comparisons among areas exposed to a variety of human impacts, based on work that is now being conducted in four study areas (the other three being the Amvrakikos Gulf, the Inner Ionian Sea archipelago and the Gulf of Corinth).

Giovanni Bearzi and Silvia Bonizzoni

(*) Zafiropoulos D., Merlini L. 2003. A comparative ecological study of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in South and North Evoikos Gulfs. 8th International Conference on Environmental Science and Technology, Lemnos island, Greece.

03 October 2010

Bug bite

I set out at the beginning of this experience with the aim of broadening my understanding of cetaceans and hoped to use it to gain more of an insight into the field of Cetology. I’ve always held a deep fascination for the sea and all its inhabitants. So, when I was lucky enough to be offered this opportunity to get to know it a little bit better, I was really thrilled.

After almost 8 months of waiting for the time to depart on this journey, I arrived in Vonitsa, like a sponge, ready to absorb as much as I could. I will be the first to admit that I might have glamorized the whole concept of studying dolphins in my head, during the last 8 months. However, Joan was quick to bring my head out of the clouds and put feet back down on the ground. Right from the very beginning I learned that working on a project with volunteers involved three separate but equally important skills. The first being able to help in the data collection whilst conducting surveys and then be able to analyse the photos of every encounter. The second, was being able to communicate and connect with the volunteers in a way that provided them with the means to play their own role in the projects development. The final skill was taking care of the domestic affairs. I was surprised to see the amount of effort that had to go into keeping the day-to-day functioning of the project running smoothly and tried my best to keep it that way. Although, whether I succeeded in that final respect is up to Joan. Still, all this effort paled into insignificance whenever I reflected on how lucky I was to be in a position where encounters with wild dolphins were an almost daily pleasure.

The peak of this joy was on the 18th September, in Kalamos of all places. It was business as usual at the Tethys field base. Arising early with the sunrise, we left bleary-eyed from our base in Vonitsa, in the Amvrakikos Gulf. We drove to the nearby area of Kalamos from where we were to embark on what most of us had resigned ourselves to as a survey without much hope. As we cast off from the Mytikas, Joan the principle investigator (a title given to him, much to his own distaste) drove our small rib into an ethereal mist shrouding the nearby island of Kalamos. A former watery Eden, up until 1997 had a healthy population of 150 common dolphins. Sadly, however, the population suffered a dramatic decline, from about 150 to 15 in just 15 years. This was primarily the result of overfishing, which led to the depletion of their prey. However, a mere ten minutes into our survey, Joan calls out excitedly, “Dolphins, three o’clock, horizon!” We all spin round and gaze expectantly at the area that Joan has steered the boat towards. We stare intently for the next thirty seconds and with no dorsal fin sighted, we thought perhaps Joan had been mistaken. Then, they surfaced again! Black shapes arching majestically out of the water, around 500 metres straight in front of us. Delighted, there was a collective intake of breath as the sheer size of the pod that we had found became apparent. At least 10 individuals were cruising along in front of the boat. However, the best was yet to come. Joan calls out “They’re common dolphins!”. Utterly astonished, we all jumped to our stations, Joan and myself yelling out instructions. Joan’s excitement, infectious. Elated calls from our volunteers began raining in providing us valuable information on dolphin numbers and location with respect to our boat, by putting into practice the well rehearsed procedures, originally taught role-playing on the beach back in Vonitsa and honed during a week spent observing the bottlenose dolphins of the Amvrakikos Gulf. We were lucky enough to remain with them for the next three hours, trying to collect as much data as possible on this important encounter. We watched with delight as they lounged about, just stretching near the surface. The day was topped off by a sighting of a newborn common dolphin, who like any regular kid, was bursting with energy keeping the adults from resting. However, despite the feeling of euphoria on board, the passing-by of two large bottom trawlers, heading to their fishing grounds, provided a sobering reminder that lessons had still not been learnt.

During the journey back to port, the atmosphere onboard the zodiac was palpable. Each member talked animatedly about such and such a sighting that they had had, despite the fact that we had all seen the same. Finally, it was with a feeling of great satisfaction, contentment and pride that we all disembarked from the boat. We drove back to Vonitsa exhausted, but with the knowledge that we had all witnessed something special.

For me personally, this experience was the culmination of three years of hard work in getting to where I hoped to be and sheer good luck that I had been offered this opportunity. I write this with two weeks of this incredible adventure to go and feel incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to meet such a wide range of people from all over the world; to be able to work with such a beautiful species in their natural environment; and to have been taught so much by Joan and Marina, who, together, offer a staggering amount of knowledge and insight. They have both, each in their own unique and completely different way, conveyed a feeling that will be hard to forget. I fear I have been bitten by the same "bug" and it will be with a heavy heart that I finally leave to return to England, but also a content one, knowing that this experience has been everything that I could have wished it to be.

Joe Treddenick

02 October 2010

Gulf of Corinth: the 2010 research season ends

The dolphin research project in the Gulf of Corinth has recently concluded its second research season, scoring a total of 61 dolphin sightings.

We had many pleasant encounters with marine life. 

We saw all four cetacean species that inhabit the Gulf: bottlenose, striped, short-beaked common and a single Risso’s dolphin.

And also 402 encounters with jellyfish Cothyloriza tubercolata, 23 with loggerhead turtles Caretta caretta, 82 with tuna and 5 with swordfish.

Happy and satisfied about the work done this year, we are grateful to all the volunteers who participated in the field courses, helped us with the research and shared with us every single moment at sea. 

A big THANK YOU to our 63 volunteers who came from 16 nations: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, UK, and USA:

Frédéric, Laurence, Jillian, Christine, Kate, Sacha, Joanna, Ellis, Ann, Nathalie, Khai Lin, Amanda, Valentina, Rachel, Iris, Graham, Joy, Chrystelle, Lisbet, Katrine, Cornelia, Kate, Jamie, Dagmar, Chloe, Allan, Marie-Eve, Merry, Aislinn, Siobhan, Mirjam, Laura, Riccardo, Dominique, Emily, Karen, Jakub, Valentina, Christina, Russell, Gabriella, Dimitiros, Claudia, Nicole, Andrea, Frédéric, Alison, Suzanne, Marta, Nathan, Steven, Laura, Beatrice, Kathryn, Joana, Ana Caterina, Philipp, Lydia, Yasmine, Gabriele, Lois, Pierandrea, and Jennifer (in order of participation).

Silvia and the Hellenic Dolphins team 2010

30 September 2010

A special dolphin booklet

We received a beautiful parcel sent by our volunteer Dagmar Knäbel, who participated in the 'Hellenic Dolphins' expedition in 2009 and 2010.

It contained a nicely printed booklet featuring photos by Dagmar herself and depicting our work on dolphins in the Gulf of Corinth.

Watching amazing photos so professionally presented and getting back to the days spent together on the water brought moments of pure pleasure.

Thank you Dagmar—we really liked your gift. It will have a special place in our library.

Giovanni and Silvia


Click on image to enlarge

Have a look at Dagmar's booklet

29 September 2010

Dolphins of Greece 17 (21-28 September)

Thanks to the staff (including Posi) for sharing your dolphins with us. I am glad we had a couple of wonderful weather days to witness these special animals and I hope the data collected continues to benefit their health.

Jean (USA)


Participating in field research has been extremely interesting, with the help of Joan, Joe and especially the dolphins. The week has certainly caused me to re-examine my place in the whole ecosystem, from scuba diving to home aquariums to fishing and multiple other aspects of my daily life that I didn’t think about much in the past. Thanks to all who made this week possible.

Kim (USA)


The weather didn’t cooperate very well but due to the extraordinary efforts of Joan and Joe we were able to maximize the experience. I appreciated the detailed explanations of the nuts and bolts of marine research. I look forward to reading the forthcoming papers.

Tom (USA)


This was my opportunity to return to Vonitsa and the dolphins for the second year. I have dreamed of this week for the last 12 months, and memories did not fail. The quiet pace of Vonitsa with the freshest of air, combined with sparkling water and socializing dolphins…  a truly special experience. Thank you, Earthwatch and Tethys. May all our best wishes come true for the creatures of our oceans!

Karin (USA)

21 September 2010

In opposition to dolphin captivity

In this interview, Dr. Lori Marino — a neuroscientist and Senior Lecturer at Emory University — convincingly explains why dolphins do not belong in a concrete pool.


The site also features a defense of dolphin zoos by Dr. Paul Boyle Senior Vice President of Conservation & Education for the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.

20 September 2010

Slide Show: Inner Ionian Sea Archipelago

View some of the best photos taken in the Inner Ionian Sea Archipelago, Greece.

View Slide Show

19 September 2010

Dolphins of Greece 16 (12-19 September)

Thanks for the great time in Vonitsa. We had 4 days of dolphin sightings and they were all different and special. The most beautiful day was on Saturday when we saw 10 common dolphins around Kalamos island. That made me very happy and gave me a feeling that there is still hope. To live so close with the other volunteers was a bit scary in the beginning. But I feel that we are a wonderful group and we became close friends. I laughed so much the last week. I am sure that we will keep in touch. I loved being with you all on that trip. Joan, you are a wonderful (and very handsome) instructor with a lot of knowledge and passion. Thanks for everything. I had a wonderful time. Joe, keep on going. No matter in which direction. Keep on travelling. Thanks for everything.

Vanessa (Germany)


This was my 28th Earthwatch expedition so I knew it would be another great experience and indeed I was very ,very pleased with the whole project. We had splendid sightings and an amazing turn of good fortune when we were able to study a pod of common dolphins; something which had not been observed here for several years. It was a delight to have a team with volunteers from Switzerland, Germany, Australia and 2 of us from California. The friendship and camaraderie was excellent and I feel we will be keeping in touch. The actual work was VERY interesting, and even when no dolphins were observed we were surrounded by beautiful scenery and splendid weather. Meals were excellent and quite often we succumbed to the temptations of local restaurants. Joan, our team leader, showed incredible knowledge about the dolphins, seeming to be aware of their location and able to predict where they would emerge. He is able to memorise their positions, location, numbers in groups, all in a whirlwind of action at times. Joe, too has a splendid grasp of all the activity . A wonderful opportunity to observe dolphins, create new bonds of friendship , AND … very important… help protect these amazing creatures.

George (USA)


I want to tell you how much I enjoyed this exciting meeting with the dolphins. When I saw "my first one ever" my heart missed a beat! I will not forget being surrounded by these elegant, wonderful animals. Great to see newborns with their mothers, too! Special thanks go to Joan and Joe. On this team I got more exciting information than on any of my previous 12 Earthwatch expeditions due to Joan and his great knowledge and outstanding love for dolphins. Joe was very helpful and patient. As we were a team with only 5 members, we were very dependent on each other and now, at the end of the project we can say goodbye to real friends who we shall never forget. We had happy days together and laughed a lot but with my poor English I could not fully understand and follow all the jokes. Back home at Zurich with my memories, I will still be close to the project and I hope it will continue with your affection and care for the dolphins. Thanks so much for this wonderful and memorable experience!

Anneliese (Switzerland)


Vonitsa and it’s dolphins have been all I expected plus more. Seeing the animals in their natural habitat was wonderful. Joan, sharing your knowledge of the dolphins helped me to better understand their nature and not expect what the aquariums show us. Especially exciting was seeing the common dolphins on our last day. Your enthusiasm as well as Joe's let us know how special this sighting was. Joe, you were so helpful and friendly, thank you. Good luck to you in whatever you decide to do. The village has been so friendly, the environment so pretty and the weather collaborated to make it a perfect Earthwatch experience. Of course the team members were one of the top ingredients; we all worked so well together. I will recommend the project to my friends.

Nikki (USA)

18 September 2010

Ionian Dolphins 16 (12-18 September)

This is the last team of the Gulf of Corinth 2010 season, and a most lucky one: all the four cetacean species inhabiting the Gulf of Corinth have been sighted (including the rare Risso's dolphin, see post by Philippa Dell). And then sea turtles, a 2m-long dead tuna floating adrift, and thousands of beautiful Cotylorhiza jellyfish, with the additional blessing of sunny weather and pleasant temperature. A terrific closure for an outstanding research season.

Giovanni Bearzi
Project manager and science coordinator, Coastal Dolphins


Cetacean research, meaning several hours on an inflatable surrounded by dolphins and the occasional sea turtle or 2m tuna  = WOW. Being on the water, learning about cetaceans, the local ecosystems and their conservation; it’s been incredible. We’ve been lucky, our team were the first to see  all four dolphin species here, I even got to name ‘our’ Risso's dolphin, ‘Papou’, Greek for Grandpa. At times words can be so inadequate, incredible and lucky don’t do it justice. I’ve spent most of each day stoked, beaming from ear to ear. The respect that I feel for this planet and the creatures that inhabit it is stronger than ever. That includes the humans here, corny as that may all sound. A huge thank you to the generous, and hilarious, Tethys' team Silvia, Philippa and Giovanni; and to my only slightly crazy team mates, Yasmine, Lois, Gabriele and Piero have been fabulous. I’ll be spreading the word.

Jennifer, England


Observing Nature is the best show you can find.

Pierandrea, Italy


I’ve been on several vacation/volunteer dolphin trips and not once have I been lucky to go out all scheduled days and, on top of that, lucky enough to see all four kinds of dolphins. It almost makes up for “THE HILL”. Keep doing the work and change will happen. Good luck.

Lois, USA


Ciaooo! It will not be so easy to express in a few words all the thoughts passing by on my mind during these days... but anyway: I will remember the professionality and passion of all researchers (Giovanni, Silvia, Philippa and all other guys of the Tethys team) spending their days with us and the dolphins. I will be so proud to diffuse to all my friends all things learnt during our surveys suggesting them to partecipate to this project. And I will remember terms such as Arial, Stationary, Percussive, New Station... I would be so happy to continue to work as a volunteer on this project, even if my feeling with NETPAD is no so good eh eh eh. ANYWAY:  thanks a lot! Ah!!!! I am forgetting the most important thing: a special thanks to Yasmine, Jennifer, Lois and Piero for all the days spent together. Goodbye, and see you asap!

Gabriele, Italy

17 September 2010

The Comfort of Others

Searching for dolphins in a rough sea can often be a frustrating activity for a cetacean researcher, with every wave and white-cap a constant source of distraction. At some point, however, the reward for hours of concentration can be presented before you, as the research team in the Gulf of Corinth found yesterday morning. At the sudden appearance of an unusually large dorsal fin, I progressed through a process of alarm, confusion, and eventual enlightenment as the Principal Investigator, Silvia Bonizzoni, began to emit ultrasonic squeaks, bouncing up and down behind the steering wheel.  We had chanced upon a sighting of the elusive Risso’s dolphin! 

Sightings of Risso’s dolphin are hardly common in the Gulf of Corinth – researchers at the Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute of Greece have documented only two individuals in the entire area. The Tethys team themselves have spotted this species only once prior to today’s sighting, identified subsequently as the same individual sighted yesterday. Thus it is perhaps understandable that professionality climbed out of the boat and swam off for the initial few minutes of the sighting, as Silvia and I proceeded to jump about the boat, exclaiming in barely-restrained elation.

Observing this magnificent creature, even for a short period of time, reveals the true extent of their behavioural complexity. Throughout the duration of the sighting, this large dolphin was exhibiting what could only be described as ‘play’ behaviour, nosing up underneath a Cotylorhiza jellyfish, flipping it back and forth between caudal and dorsal fin. The true purpose behind this activity is unknown - due to our regrettable inability to communicate with the individual – however, it may be theorised that this behaviour arises as a result of social exclusion from its own kind, or simply a reflection of the complex ‘personality’ traits exhibited by higher order mammals in this way. However anthropomorphic it may seem, the Risso’s was visibly enjoying itself, albeit to the extent of the unfortunate jellyfish.

The most striking point of interest taken from this sighting was the presence of the single Risso’s dolphin amongst a mixed group of striped and common dolphins. The astoundingly high level of interaction between the Risso’s and the other dolphin species indicated how deeply integrated the individual has become. Gliding side by side, the striped, common and Risso’s dolphins give a lesson in the achievement of peaceful co-habitation.

Border disputes and territory skirmishes mean nothing to these animals, as newborn striped dolphins hurtle themselves across the water surface in and around the larger un-related animal. The trust exhibited by the striped and common dolphins towards the Risso’s – in tight formation for the majority of the sighting - leaves the observer incredulous. The individual exhibited apparent protective behaviour over the smaller dolphins - encircling the boat, remaining in a constant shielding position between our vessel and the focal group. The animal maintained an aura of both dominance and care, ensuring the safety and security of those individuals that have welcomed it into their social network in the absence of its own kind.

What struck my pensive mind during the sighting was the juxtaposition of this inter-specific trust and integration, with the equivalent human context above the sea. We humans instigate whole dossiers of law and legislation before any form if immigration program can be established in a country. In our world, sociality is often divided by race, religion, borders and resources. Life for us is to be fought, not shared. The marine mammal microcosmos, however, is apparently untouched by such forms of division. Whilst our people are torn apart by petty disputes, these animals have found a way to co-exist and benefit from that which is necessary to all living creatures – the comfort of others.

Philippa Dell


Relevant literature:

Frantzis A., Herzing D. 2002. Mixed-species associations of striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba), short beaked common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) and Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus) in the Gulf of Corinth (Greece, Mediterranean Sea). Aquatic Mammals 28(2):188-197.

15 September 2010

Slide Show: Amvrakikos Gulf

View some of the best photos taken during the expedition in the Amvrakikos Gulf, Greece!

View Slide Show


All photos © Tethys Research Institute

11 September 2010

Ionian Dolphins 15 (5-11 September)

What an amazing experience... after selfishly taking 6 months off work for a holiday through Europe I needed to satisfy an inclination I have had for my whole life to learn more and somehow contribute to wildlife conservation. Spending a week in Galaxidi contributing to dolphin research seemed to be the perfect opportunity. Living in Australia I have constantly been surrounded by the ocean - but lacked the knowledge to truly understand the amazing creatures we have encountered during this stay. Not only have Silvia and Philippa heightened my passion for marine conservation, but also given me the necessary information that as a teacher in Australia, I can use to educate my peers and students (in particular about supporting sustainable fishing methods). It has not only been the practical aspects out in the ocean tracking and analysing dolphin behaviour that has been a highlight - but the lectures and discussions which have motivated me to somehow make a difference on my return home to protect our oceans and all the marine life that inhabit it (though not quite sure how to do this yet). Tethys: you are doing a brilliant job... it's people like you that actually make a difference in the world and I am certainly one of many who appreciate it - just don't always know how to help. So hopefully being a part of this volunteer program is a small step. One day someone will listen and make a change! Thank you so much for an amazing experience, amazing people and a week that I will always remember.

Lydia, Australia


Ein wirklich ungewoehnlicher “Urlaub”: Ich hatte keine Ahnung, was mich hier erwartet; und jetzt blicke ich auf eine sehr schoene und interessante Woche zurueck. Ich hatte tatsaechlich viel Glueck: eine wirklich nette Gruppe und Crew, viele Delfine, Schildkroeten, Quallen, ..., interessante Diskussionen – viel gesehen, gelernt und gelacht. Danke dafuer an alle! Im Idealfall hat mein Aufenthalt hier auch irgendwo, irgendwann etwas geholfen – sei es bei der Arbeit hier, sei es durch Weitersagen, die Bilder, die Eindruecke,...; ich gebe mein Bestes ;) Was mich wirklich beeindruckt hat, ist dass Silvia nach so langer Zeit immer noch so viel Freude an der Sache hat – ihre Freude ueber einen gesichteten Delfin ist wundervoll! Macht weiter so! Ich wuensche euch viel Erfolg dabei.

Philipp, Germany


Etudiante en science de l’environnement, les recherches du Tethys Institute m’interressait beaucoup et en venant en Grece a Galaxidi je n’ai pas ete decue ! Parcourir la mer a la recherche de dauphins est une experience incroyable que je recommande a ceux qui se preoccupe de la sauvegarde de notre si belle planete et de sa magnifique biodiversite. Le dauphin est un animal tellement impressionant, attachant que les menaces qu’il subit sans cesse sont d’autant plus importante. Il est temps d’agir et avec ce projet, l’equipe du Tethys Institute fait un travail genial! Silvia et Philippa sont des passionees qui partagent leur savoir, qui nous font rire et decouvrir un monde magique! Je ne garde que de superbes souvenirs de cette magnifique experience.

Yasmine, Suisse


When I decided to become a volunteer for Tethys research group in Galaxidi, I did so because I thought it would be great for my future as a marine biologist and would help me be 100% sure about becoming a marine mammal researcher. Now, after this amazing experience, I can say this week surpassed my expectations and that I’m completly sure of what I want to do with my professional future. Seeing dolphins and other cetaceans in captivity can be very exciting, but seeing them in the wild, in their natural habitat makes you feel incredibly lucky and makes you feel the need to help them in every way you possibly can. At the end of the week, it wasn’t only about being a researcher or seeing dolphins, was also about the people involved, the other volunteers and the researchers, and being inspired by them to continuing figthing for our oceans and trying to do the right thing for the planet every day.

Joana, Portugal


As long as I remember I wanted to be a marine biologist because I fell in love with dolphin and with all marine mammals. So, when I discovered Tethys and this project I thought it would be perfect for me to get some tips from professionals and to find out if this is what I really want to do. It ended up being so much more than that! I learned so much about dolphins, overfishing and so many other things that I was not aware of. I knew that several fish species were on the verge of extincton because they are overfished, but I didn’t realize that the situation was that bad! Now I really want to fight and do everything I can to change this situation. Now that this amazing week is over I have realised how lucky I was. We saw dolphins every day (except in the last one) in situations that were not very common, saw sea turtles almost every day, the volunteer group was really amazing (and so, so funny), and Philippa and Silvia were awesome and very patient with us. I just hope that I can come back and that one day, in a not very distant future, I can be like Silvia and Philippa and do this kind of research for a living!

Catarina, Portugal

10 September 2010

Dolphins of Greece 15 (3-10 September)

7 wonderful days in Vonitsa. Watching wild dolphins was my long-time dream and finally it came true. I hope future generations can enjoy such experience. I want to study more about dolphins, animals, the whole environment, and act to achieve sustainable earth. Joan, I could hardly understand your jokes, but I liked to see everyone laughing at them. You are so good at creating a cheerful mood. It was a pleasure to be with you. Thank you very much for everything! I will never forget that boat! Joe, I was so lucky to meet you at the bus terminal by accident. Thanks a lot for your kindness. Good luck in your future!

Emi (Japan)


We had an absolutely, amazingly, wonderful time! The project is extremely well organized from the second we arrived to the moment we had to leave. We quickly learned that we were not here to just quietly watch dolphins. We were here to be a part of a real field research project! While our hearts broke to hear about the decline of dolphins around Kalamos, we treasured the precious moments with the dolphins of the Amvrakikos Gulf. Watching a juvenile dolphin jump in the air and groups of dolphins glide through the calm water was pure joy. Listening to the dolphins exhale, especially the “asthmatic” one, truly touched our souls. Of course, the last day was the most fantastic; as we were surrounded by dolphins, Joan switched off the engine and exclaimed “THIS is Amvrakikos!” and time stopped and for that moment we felt his passion for the dolphins and this beautiful place, which will stay in our hearts forever. We know the dolphins' future is in great jeopardy, as is their ocean home, and we promise to do what we can and to tell anyone that will listen about our experience. Because no matter how dismal the situation maybe, we can never stop being their voices, so that in the future, we can still loudly yell “dolphins, one o’clock, 50 meters!”. Joan and Joe, thank you so very much for creating such a wonderful experience. We hope that we can stay in touch and our paths will cross again.

Daniel & Alexandra (USA)


This has been an extremely privileged opportunity. To be so close to the dolphins, sea turtles and to understand the consequences of human activity in the resources that Mother Nature provides. Mostly I could only watch silently in awe or go “wow, look at those amazing creatures” instead of pointing out “dolphins sighted, 6 o’clock, 50 metres” which must have exasperated Joan countless times. The facts of the dwindling marine life are quite saddening to know, and this expedition serves as a reminder that we are all so small, and connected like parts of a chain of something larger. Be it cetaceans, land animals or other resources, we must all do our bit to love our environment a little more… so that we build a world based on love and respect for all that nature provides us with. Thank you for sharing so much knowledge Joan and Joe, it has been an experience which all of us will carry and cherish for a long time.

Min (Singapore)


I had a great time here in Vonitsa. I love this quaint, Mediterranean town and the valuable research that Tethys does. I chose this research expedition to explore a new country and to gain practical experience in marine biology – mission accomplished! I am also grateful for the “league of nations” environment that this project fosters. It was a pleasure to learn about Spanish, British, Japanese, and Singaporean culture. This will be the first of many Earthwatch research expeditions for me – perhaps I’ll even join “Dolphins of Greece” again! Best wishes in all your future endeavours.

Adria (USA)

09 September 2010

Slide Show: Gulf of Corinth

View some of the best photos taken during the expedition in the Gulf of Corinth, Greece!

View Slide Show


All photos © Tethys Research Institute

04 September 2010

Ionian Dolphins 14 (29 August - 4 September)

When our work of dolphin researchers and conservationists seems ultimately irrelevant and frustrating, when harsh criticism and internal fights strike, and everybody tells you—you have not done a proper job, you should have done more, you suck. Then, reading the comments left by project participants in our field diary brings a blow of fresh air. Looking at their photo albums is enlivening, even if I have not spent a single day with the dolphins this year. This suggests, perhaps, that I should keep doing work from behind the scenes to the best of my possibilities, beyond my own shortcomings and biases. I should let more of these fine people participate in one of our dolphin projects and be amazed by marine wildlife. Participants in this team left the field station and each other with tears on their face. I was hiding in my cave, but could share a part of the empathy. And I, too, could share the enthusiasm when the crew came back from the field every day. Once again I could see dolphins, seabirds and waves through the eyes of my youth.

Giovanni Bearzi
Project manager and science coordinator


Well, that was pretty good, wasn’t it? What began as a simple excersise in getting a bit of extra field experience for my ecology degree quickly became one of the best overall experiences of my turbulent life to date. From the people that I have met here to the superb education that I have been given on cetacean behaviour and the state of the seas and fisheries, there has not been a moment that I haven’t thought to myself “Damn it Nathan, this is awesome”. I have felt Galaxidi to truly be my home for the past two weeks and am happily embracing the Greek way of life – whenever I am sitting on my backside doing very little and somebody has the audacity to ask me to do something, my response shall forever be “I am busy”. And hopefully I’ve picked up some Italian cooking ideas along the way… My thanks go to the Tethys team – Silvia and Phillipa have been excellent teachers, guides and friends and they have been able to answer most of my largely irrelevant questions, while only persecuting me when it was absolutely necessary for comic effect. A special mention must of course be given to bottlenose dolphin 'Nemo' for giving us something to watch on bad weather days and to my fellow volunteers who have been superb companions with whom I would love to travel and work again. I have every intention on keeping in touch with Tethys and supporting their projects in whatever way I can and I wish you all the very best of luck in the future. Until we meet again,

Nathan ‘Adrian’, UK


This has been one of the best experiences of my life. The town of Galaxidi is incredible, and the relaxed atmosphere is perfect for all of the hard working researchers and volunteers. The first day in the field was exhilarating - from the first meeting of Nemo, to the amazing swordfish who decided to breach in front of the boat. Nemo continued to impress the rest of the week, and the last day was in fact my favourite – the striped dolphins and the several common dolphins amongst the group did not disappoint (and of course Nathan scaring us out of our wits). Because of their passion for the sea and for cetaceans, Silvia and Phillipa are two of the most beautiful, intelligent women that I have ever met. The researchers at Tethys are doing an amazing job on their projects. All of them, and the four other incredible volunteers have given me hope that there are still people who care enough about the seas to protect them. Thank you all for such a great experience, and I look forward to seeing you (or your work) in the future.

Katie, Canada


I was terrified about coming to Greece on my own, but I can assure anybody that is thinking about doing this that there is absolutely nothing to worry about. The Tethys team are amazing, and with their colourful sense of humour and friendly, laid back attitude they made everybody feel at home straight away. The trips out in the boat were amazing, and we were very lucky with the variety of wildlife we saw. It is rewarding to feel that working with Tethys and learning about the research might contribute to marine conservation. I am definitely going to do my best to spread the word at home. The other volunteers and Silvia and Phillipa were all great to work and live with. I hope we all stay in touch.

Laura, England


When I was coming here, most of my thoughts about it were worrying if I would be able to get to the place all right, but I really needn’t have worried. Everyone was willing to help me and entertained my obvious questions. The first time out on the boat was absolutely amazing, seeing the dolphins’ complete freedom in the sea, unburdoned by the the things that plague humans. Words aren’t really enough to convey my experiences here, and nothing I say could really do it justice. I will always be grateful for this experience, the wisdom I’ve picked up along the way and the wonderful people I have met. Every day has been a wonderful experience and a gift, and trying to explain things to my friends and family at home just won’t be enough to articulate just how amazing this experience has been. I’ve made firm friends, and enjoyed learning about the regional differences in our speech. I’m sorry that my accent has been difficult to understand at times, but I’m glad that I provided amusement with phrases that are perfectly normal to me. I’m not sure what else I can really say, words aren’t enough. I came here a jaded court reporter, coming from a stressful job and this has definitely changed me for the better. Philippa and Silvia haven’t seen the last of me!

Suzy, Ireland


Il Dolphin Field Course è stata un’esperienza anticipata da intense aspettative: la curiosità verso il posto in cui avrei trascorso questa settimana e nei confronti dei ricercatori e dei ragazzi che avrei conosciuto, che mi avrebbero coinvolto nelle ricerche a cui sogno di potermi dedicare in futuro e, infine, ovviamente l’entusiasmo al pensiero che avrei incontrato i cetacei nel loro ambiente naturale e li avrei conosciuti meglio! Nessuna di queste aspettative è stata delusa: ho provato un grande stupore al mio arrivo a Galaxidi, un posto così caratteristicamente greco, dove la vita scorre ancora ritmata dall’andare e venire delle barche dei pescatori e dove la luce rosata del tramonto illumina la costa montuosa sfiorata dalle sfumature blu del mare. Ho conosciuto ricercatori veramente coinvolgenti e disponibili, grazie ai quali ho potuto vedere oltre e comprendere i problemi che mettono a repentaglio questo meraviglioso angolo del pianeta, così come molti altri e ho avuto l’occasione di parlare e divertirmi con ragazzi provenienti da paesi differenti! E… l’avvistamento di un branco di stenelle striate con delfini comuni nel golfo e quello di un tursiope (il ‘nostro’ Nemo) che banchettava agli allevamenti di pesce lungo la costa sono stati momenti che non posso descrivere a parole: è troppo emozionante stare sul gommone, tutti a scrutare le onde col fiato sospeso finché un urlo di gioia sovrasta il soffio del vento e… li vedi lì! E’ stato sempre necessario un attimo per riprendere la concentrazione e prendere i dati e le foto, che ogni pomeriggio abbiamo poi trasferito sul computer analizzandole e discutendo tematiche relative alla ricerca e alla conservazione dei cetacei. Credo che quello che ci è stato offerto sia l’approccio ideale perché non trascura né l’aspetto dell’emozione umana né l’aspetto della precisione scientifica e penso siano entrambi necessari, ovviamente perché senza i dati non si potrebbe condurre una ricerca, ma anche perché senza l’emozione non ci si potrebbe sentire coinvolti in essa e il coinvolgimento è il primo passo verso la sensibilizzazione di cui l’uomo ha così bisogno nei confronti dei problemi ecologici che affliggono il nostro meraviglioso ma fragile pianeta. Silvia, Philippa, Katie, Laura, Suzy, Nathan… thank you so much for everything!!!

Beatrice, Italy