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

02 September 2010

The emergence of compassion

The following article has just been published online:

Perception of a cetacean mass stranding in Italy: the emergence of compassion

Giovanni Bearzi, Nino Pierantonio, Silvia Bonizzoni, Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, Massimo Demma. 2010.

Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems. DOI: 10.1002/aqc.1135


1. The view that whales are malicious monsters has been pervasive throughout history. Conversely, the idea that these animals experience suffering has emerged only recently. One way of investigating perceptual, as well as behavioural, shifts is assessing general public reactions to mortality events involving wild, rare and charismatic animals.

2. Here, the responses of 118 individuals to questions regarding the mass stranding of seven sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) along the Adriatic Sea coast of Italy in December 2009 are reported through interviews taken at the stranding site and in the direct proximity of the dead animals.

3. When asked why the whales were stranded, 44.1% of the respondents suggested anthropogenic causes and 21.2% non-anthropogenic. The remaining 34.7% mentioned a generic ‘disorientation’ or stated they did not know. When asked how they felt about the whales, 68.6% expressed feelings of compassion or care towards the animals. Clearly non-compassionate attitudes accounted for only 4.1% of the sample. Finally, 21.2% expressed feelings that were ambiguous in terms of being suggestive of compassionate or non-compassionate attitudes, including 11.9% amazement, 4.2% deprecation and 5.1% powerlessness.

4. These results are in stark contrast with information obtained from accounts of similar events that have occurred in historical times, up until the first half of the 20th century. For centuries, responses to cetacean live strandings—typically including killing and harming of the animals—were either utilitarian or characterized by feelings including fear and a desire to ‘subjugate the beast’, with no apparent concern for their suffering and death.

5. It is concluded that attitudes towards whales—today strikingly revolving around sadness, compassion and a sense of loss—have changed dramatically over time, with a steep turnaround in the 1970/1980s. Full appreciation of the ongoing evolution in public perception can channel marine conservation efforts and assist in the design of response strategies to marine mammal strandings.


A pdf copy can be obtained from the journal's web site:


or from the first author:



Photo by Silvia Bonizzoni: A sperm whale dying on the beach of Foce Varano, Italy

01 September 2010

A Sword-Wielding Soldier of Conservation

Early this morning, the research boat exits the small, sheltered harbour of Galaxidi and dares to get into the jaws of a roaring, exceedingly wavy Gulf of Corinth.

In these circumstances, one generally holds out little hope of spotting anything of zoological interest. The greatest a researcher could hope for would be an overly-energetic tuna, tired of being systematically out-witted by a sardine, thus making a dramatic break for it into the external environment in the hope of finally breaking the sardine’s spirit.

Or even, in these kind of bone-breaking, face-showering waters, the sight of an elegant Cotylorhiza jellyfish would give a group something to coo at for a minute or two. So this is the mind-frame we set out with. Unbeknownst to us, however, the marine life inhabiting the Bay of Galaxidi had other plans.

Passing through the nearby fish farm, the research boat chugged over to the fish nets for a cursory scan. A dark triangular movement and soft puff of air suddenly yet silently announced the presence of an old friend – Nemo, the lone ranger bottlenose dolphin we’ve come to know and appreciate. On a straight beeline for the fish farm, Nemo was lumbering his way towards an all-you-can-eat buffet of wild fish, currently swarming around the nets to claim their thieved share of pellets cast out for the farmed sea bream.

On a surprising side note, calmly bobbing away in between Nemo and the boat, appeared a sea turtle, indignantly ignoring our paparazzi-esque array of cameras. However, these sightings were but a precursor to the Star Act of the day’s marine extravaganza.

Upon returning from the fish farm, almost subconsciously tracking the usual route back into the harbour after a long hot day out on the sea, a volunteer’s voice suddenly chipped into the concentrated silence, with child-like excitement claiming to have seen a dorsal fin. With one look at each other, Silvia Bonizzoni and I telepathically communicated the same thought. “Waves”, we said with our eyes, and calmly averted our view back to the harbour. A brisk backwards glance, however, immediately brought my disbelieving tail back between my legs.

At first sight, only a dark, small dorsal fin was visible to the naked eye. After a tense breath-held minute, the unmistakable elongated bill of a swordfish breached the surface, and a full bodied leap took it clear of the water, pointing towards the skies in dramatic splendour. In truly spectacular fashion, the mighty 3m long aquatic soldier thrust its entire body into the air, four, five, six times, displaying in clear communication its right to the freedom of the waters.

Gasps of awe and excitement reaped through the air each time the great sword protruded defiantly above the surface, the body slamming back down onto the water like a clap of thunder. Displaying this gasp-inducing activity almost directly in front of Galaxidi harbour, the animal seemed to be openly stating its refusal to be domineered by the anthropogeneous world.

Xiphias gladius, a name conjuring images of the gladiatorial might of Greek and Roman legend - this species has become an icon of the seas. A representative of the oceanic army defending itself against the blood-thirsty predator that humanity has sadly become. Swordfish are fished extensively in the Gulf of Corinth, and can be seen proudly displayed on every menu in the surrounding towns and villages. Having rarely seen evidence of their continued presence in this area, the Tethys research team were ecstatic to receive such glorious confirmation of their prevalence.

Simply to have seen a fin, or a blurry shape beneath the surface, would have sufficed for me to claim excitement at having seen a swordfish, and feel the warmth-of-heart that only conservationists can understand at confirming the continued presence of a threatened species. This, however, was akin to witnessing a glorious battle cry. A soldier of conservation, jousting the air in defiance of its kind.

Philippa Dell