Research Dolphins in the Wild in Florida and Greece-Part 4
The Earthwatch Institute expedition WILD DOLPHIN SOCIETIES was in a more urban setting at Sarasota Bay in Florida. This was a little different from most expeditions in that the research scientists were employed by the Mote Marine Laboratory and went home at night and weekends so there wasn’t as much interaction with the volunteers as usual. To research dolphins, we went out in the boat each day to monitor the activities of the bottlenose dolphins in the bay, other inland waterways and sometimes the Gulf side of the islands. This was a long-term project so they had extensive records of most resident dolphins and their calves, had names for most and could identify them by scars and notches in the dorsal fin. It was interesting to see how these dolphins in the wild had developed different feeding habits to fit into the altered environment of development with seawalls and other structures.
We continued to take ID photos and recorded location, activity, water temperature, turbidity and salinity for each sighting. On one trip we found a dead manatee on a sandbar, probably a casualty of a motorboat encounter, so we put a line on it and towed it to a landing where the lab could pick it up for an autopsy. The laboratory dealt with a wide range of marine animals and had exhibits of manatees, loggerhead turtles and even a rescued young pygmy sperm whale in a large tank! One of the volunteers helped to exercise the whale by getting in the tank with him!
Another very enjoyable dolphin encounter was the Earthwatch expedition DOLPHINS OF GREECE Our group from Prehistoric Pueblos and England’s Hidden Kingdom elected to sign up for this expedition and it turned out that we were the only volunteers! So, I met Jeff, Julie, Laura and Lorri in Athens for some sightseeing before our bus ride to Vonitsa on the Gulf of Amvrakikos. I was the only senior in the group and they took very good care of me! We had dinner in a top floor restaurant in Laura and Lorri’s hotel with a view of the Acropolis, and then had two picnic dinners in the rooftop garden of my hotel with a great view of the lighted Parthenon! The wine, cheese, bread, fruit olives and great company made this a very memorable experience!
The bus ride took us over winding highways and the new bridge over the Gulf of Corinth to the little fishing village of Vonitsa in northwestern Greece. JoAn and Susie, research scientists, greeted us warmly and got us settled in our spacious loft quarters just a block from the waterfront. We went out each day in a rigid inflatable boat, usually a leisurely start since we needed to wait for the right wave conditions. The bottlenose dolphins put on a great show for us each time with spectacular leaps, rolls and feeding activity! We were kept busy spotting, recording and keeping track of splinter groups as JoAn took ID photos that we later cropped and matched back in our quarters.
We took turns cooking tasty dinners with fresh ingredients from the local markets. Julie and Lorri made a delicious shrimp dinner with help from JoAn who advised Julie to squeeze the shrimp heads for the sauce! I teamed up with Susie to make “little Greek shoes” with eggplant, ground meat, onion, tomato sauce and parmesan cheese. Then, I teamed with Jeff to make my pork chops, mashed potatoes and milk gravy. There was always plenty of Greek salad, bread and wine with the dinners! Laura took us out to dinner at the waterfront bistro where we frequently had stopped for cappuccinos before and after our boat trips. This was a wonderful expedition with great staff and volunteers, a scenic area with an old Venetian castle overlooking the little fishing village, great food and, of course, the spectacular dolphins! The expedition is still active and needs volunteers to help the research dolphins in the wild with a declining population, so please hurry and sign up!