30 September 2009
Dolphins of Greece, 21-29 September
This was truly the experience of a lifetime. I was the lucky winner of a drawing at my company, Petro-Diamond, for an Earthwatch expedition. I chose “The Dolphins of Greece” for a few reasons, the first was... I wanted to see Greece. I did not see myself coming to Greece on a vacation, so I wanted to take the opportunity to visit this beautiful land. The second reason was because I have always found dolphins to be interesting, more interesting than the other creatures of the sea, almost like they have a kinship with humans somehow. I have been forever changed in my appreciation for these beautiful animals. Joan and Aina were so patient with the team the first day at sea out of Vonitsa, we were a bit overwhelmed with the number of dolphins all around us. It was such a wonderful sight!! Dolphins everywhere... literally everywhere that you looked. It was difficult to stay focused on the project at hand and not be in awe of what was in front of you. Once we were back at the house, we began the cropping, grouping and matching... so many differences in a dorsal fin, who knew? Well, I know now.
I will forever view the sea differently and have a deep appreciation for sealife and especially the beautiful dolphins. The meals together were a highlight, planning and prepareing and cleaning up after them, all of it was a delight. I would like to thank Joan and Aina for the hospitality that they showed us during our stay (Posi was a great addition to the group considering I miss my dogs that are at home in Cali). Joan was truly entertaining (funny and straight-up... love that) and a good sport to host us for most of our expedition without an assistant. Also, thank you to Earthwatch for giving me the opportunity to have this experience. Lastly, thank you to my team... I truly felt that we worked well as a group in the boat and back at the house! Thank goodness that we had playing cards, and David to teach us every game known to man!!
This morning we woke up ready to make the most of our last day at sea, and after poor weather kept us moored in the house for two days prior, we were ready for it. As the boat shuttled out past the marina this morning, we headed toward the open gulf in search of dolphins, one last sighting, one last day to help with the conservation efforts of Tethys Institute and our research leader, Joan Gonzalvo. I looked down at the water beside me, to the left side of the rubber inflated boat. The clarity of the water became more opaque as we headed further out, but was still translucent enough to allow sightings of dolphins bowriding, a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ scenario that I was lucky enough to witness on our most recent sighting. It wouldn’t occur today, but I kept my eyes peeled, in case. I also kept an eye further out, where the sea appeared as a dark teal that deepened in color as the depth of the water increased. Ahead of the bow, the dark water wrinkled just enough for small waves to sift up and back into the water again, hosting small spots of sunlight that sparkled like diamonds laid upon a velvet cloth. The sun beckoned freckles forth from the pale skin of my nose and I basked in the warmth, as I kept my eyes trained on the water. ‘Just one’, I thought, ‘we just need one sighting and the rest will follow’. Finally, Joan shouted out, ‘One o’clock! Far out!’ And the boat throttled faster toward the direction of his outstrectched hand. We continually thereafter spotted a small group, maybe between four and six dolphins. By now, we had been through the routine of spotting and counting these animals, but the sightings were just as awe-inspiring, watching sleek slate grey beasts rise and fall soundlessly out of the iron sea.
Toward the end of the day, I glanced over my shoulder at our boat’s stern – the water beyond us had taken on an icy blue appearance that seemed as flat as glass below the mountains of the region, giant monoliths that faded into the mist like shadows. I shook myself from the mesmerizing sight. Someone had spotted our guy, one single solitary dolphin traveling alone, with no telltale marks yet, but the ability to capture our hearts. I snapped several photos with my personal camera, unable to tell from the glare whether it was a good shot or not. Luckily I did end up with one good shot of the cetacean emerging from the sea – one single solitary shot - but a million memories will linger in my mind. From trying out my greetings in Greek with the locals to snapping photos of the grapes hanging off their trellises; avoiding jelly fish at the beach with purple centers that remind me of brains; traveling to Lefkada and Poros for day trips; cooking together and sharing meals; this has been a well thought out and wonderful trip. On this eighth day, I didn’t spot any sea turtles, but rumor has it, they’re around. When end of the work day was near, we witnessed a pelican to the far right by a small rust colored island covered with a dusting of nubby logan green bushes. This was a nice bonus. Finally we turned the boat south and headed back to Vonitsa, tired and mentally fatigued, but content. By now, we’d witnessed mothers and their calves, groups of dolphins feeding and leaping, often swimming so close together in small groups of two or three that from a distance they almost appeared to be the same animal. From time to time members of our team glanced at each other, exchanging smiles, watching the dolphins living peacefully and seemingly unperturbed, with no need to put on a show for us - this was the real thing. It was something only we knew.
I’ll never forget this experience, these people and the wonderful Greek people of Vonitsa. Joan, you were right – and every mishap that happened to me along the way was worth it. I’ll second the opinion of past volunteers- the videos impacted me tremendously and I’ve already begun to share the Whaletrackers links with friends and family. To Earthwatch, Tethys, and my teammates: Thanks for everything. One of my favorite responsibilities was jumping from the boat to shore with the ropes. Thanks for letting me. PS –I had the best seat in the house at the bow of the boat!