Hello my name is Miss Gillingham. Please join me as I travel to Greece to study the dolphins of the Amvrakikos Gulf!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Last Day

What can I say? The last day has been as beautiful as the rest, perhaps more sweet as it is our last. Yet reality is, I'm not that far away. I am lucky and find comfort in the fact that I do not live far from Greece and Amvrakikos Gulf, and can therefore,always come back. Equally, I have enough fuel for thought. It is not often that we take one persons view as face value, and yet Joan and Ioannis have presented convincing evidence. The fact that they have also allowed us to consider several others' views and experiences lays further testiment to their own confidence in their research. If both scientists and fisherman in the area, and abroad, can agree on the decline of fish, and the threat to the sea, who am I to argue? We see for ourselves the effect humans have on the world, both the good and the bad, so there can be no doubt that our desire for fish will have some influence on the ecosystem. I suppose it is what we do with this knowledge that makes all the difference. From that regard, I am happy for the opportunity Earthwatch has given me, to be educated and more informed when making my decisions. I know I will do my best to help protect the seas and all that lives within it, will most likely get numerous things wrong along the way, but feel the effort is more than worth it. Wouldn't you agree?

Sho, Barbara and I keeping a watch out for dolphins while Ioannis tries to get the proof.
Photo Tethys Research Institute

The calf and mum
Tethys Research Institute

Sho's great shot

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The 5th Day at Sea - Dolphins Everywhere!

How can one not be impressed by Amvrakikos? Especially on a day, when dolphins were found in abundance. Today we headed to transect G on the other side of the gulf. Scanning the horizon, Joan pointed out indicators to help us locate dolphins that may be far away. For example, flocks of birds often dive around where dolphins are feeding and try to snatch up some tasty morsals. Can you see the birds in this picture? I will get better ones to post from Joan later. Sure enough, in no time at all, everyone was calling out spottings. From almost every direction. We had been assigned an area to keep watch off so if 12:00 was the bow (front) and 6:00 the back we could cover 360 degrees around the boat and identify the location. Of course in our excitement we forgot half of what we were suppose to say (the where and how far) until Joan calmed us down and chose our focal group. This group we were to follow no matter what else was seen in the area until we had obtained enough data or the dolphins chose to leave us behind. Can you see the dolphin behind me? I also have a video to add but so far no go but I will work on it. The main objective Joan and his team have been trying to answer is 'How many dolphins live in the Amvrakikos Gulf?' and 'Are they residents or migrantory?' Over the years, since 2001, the evidence points to bottlenose dolphins living in the gulf. They had tested just outside of the gulf where dolphins could enter from the sea and only one group of dolphins were ever found, none of which entered the gulf. This is important because the Amvrakikos is the dolphins home. Whatever happens to the gulf then can affect the dolphins.

Thankfully, none of the bottom trawlers or purse sieners we discussed earlier are allowed here, only small sustainable fishing is allowed. This means there is plenty of sardines (the main diet) for dolphins to eat. Yahhh!Do you remember the European Pilchard I mentioned in the first blog? It is a type of sardine. Also, there are no predators, like sharks - Yahhh again. So we should have happy and plentiful dolphins. Can you see the contrast to the Kalamos region we visited before? Like Kalamos however, the main threat to dolphins is us (and looked what happned to the wildlife there!). Because we have seen what can happen (we have proof!)we need to be extra careful.

In the past few years however, there have been quite a few changes to the gulf that may be having an effect. Firstly, a port has been built that has reduced the width of the channel uniting the gulf and the sea (from 700 meters to 370 m) which prevents circulation of the water. Also dams and irrigation can reduce the water coming into the gulf while farming and nearby cities add pollutants. As we saw earlier, pollutants are high enough in the gulf to prevent people from eating the mussels that live here. This has made the waters 'eutrophic' a fancy word to mean high in nutrients. Which is normally a good thing until there are too many. Too many nutrients can reduce the oxygen levels in the water. Thankfully for the dolphins, who breathe above the water, this doesn't directly affect them, however anything living below 20 meters will struggle. Keep it up and the food source for dolphins will also find it difficult to 'breathe'.

There are numerous concerns that I will need to get more into later but for now it's time to go and identify what we have found. By looking at the photos Joan has taken we group dolphins with the same 'indents' together then compare them to the data base of dolphins they have seen before in the area. In the photo below Ioannis and I are comparing past photos Using our new skills, I am going to run back to the reseach base to identify what we saw today and even add some new ones to the group - two babies (calves)ahhhh. Don't worry, I'll beg Joan for a photo :-)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fish Farms


As I posted earlier, and what seems to be common sense, fish our nonrenewable, once we run out that's it. We have seen this in the past in areas like Newfoundland, born and bred on fishing, when the Canadian government had to halt large fishing enterprises in 1992 for lack of fish. We see this currently across the world in places like Scotland, China, British Columbia (Canada)and Norway to name just a few. We even can see this in our supermarkets that now label if the fish was caught in the wild or in fish farms.

From the past post, creating fish farms probably seems like a good idea as wild fishing by Purse Steiners and Bottom Trawlers catch far more than the seas can handle. Perhaps by breeding fish in controlled 'farms' we wouldn't over catch or harm any other wildlife, like dolphins or turtles, that can get caught in nets? After all most of our meat comes from farms. But do you know of any problems or concerns with farming? What about the reason behind going organic? Why are so many people preferring organic food?

The reality (as I've come to learn) is that fish farms, though perhaps a good idea in practise, are causing more harm than good at the moment. The most shocking fact for me is that the fish people most like to eat e.g. salmon, tuna, need to eat other fish to survive (they are carnivores)so where do you think these other fish come from? That's right the sea. For every 0.5 kg (1 lb) approximately 1.5 kg (3 lbs) of fish are needed to feed them. Does this make sense to you as I'm a bit confused? To save the fish population we need to catch more fish? Hmmm.

Another concern is the same that happens in other farms: disease. Fish in tight pools, with little space to move, can catch diseases therefore antibiotics are needed. So now fish farms not only need more fish but they also need antibiotics? What about the fact that like chicken for example, some fish are 'genetically modified' in fish farms so they can grow bigger faster? How is adding all of these chemicals good for our health?

Lastly, there are many cases where the 'pools' break and the fish get out into the wild. Can you guess what would happen? They need to eat too.

Are you following any of this? So fish which are suppose to be healthy for us are now full of chemicals and they need more fish to eat which is reducing smaller fish populations anyways. Have I lost the good point of fish farms?

Now I don't want to sound all doom and gloom because actually fish farms could be a good idea. China has found a way to harvest fish like Carp and Tilapia which are herbivores (eat plants) or omnivores (which can eat either plants or animals) and therefore they do not need more fish to survive. The problem is people don't tend to favour these types of fish. I'm also sure that other fish farms are working on safer options as well but I suppose the point is why go through all of this effort? Couldn't we just support our small scale fisherman? The ones that fish sustainably and not target fish populations at risk? It seems to makes sense; why keep trying to put a plaster on the problem when we can just work on not falling down?

Meet the team

Our second day out in the Amvrakikos Gulf with no luck yet of finding bottlenose dolphins and yet we remain optimistic. How could you not? The weather is gorgeous, as is the sea. Each morning, we get to board an inflatable raft and race across the golf, at times flying over the waves and at others soaring across the smooth surface. And let's face it, finding wildlife at the best of times is not easy, especially when they live underwater. There is no jumping and splashing calling us over only the arch of their dorsal fin which can be easily hidden by the waves.

Today however, with the water being a 1 on the Beaufort scale; do you remember what that means? Joan decided to follow a transect. Basically, this means that the gulf has been divided into different routes, this ensures that all the gulf will be checked for dolphins and not only specific areas. This is what the map looks like

We headed to the dot marked C, using a GPS system and followed the line, then we went to D, E and finally F.

Our key spotter Sho, who has found all sorts: our first dolphin sighting, sea turtles, birds and even goats, sat near the front on the left with me behind then Ioannis. Lyn covers the back, Joan drives, directs, plans and covers everywhere and Barbara covers the right.

No area is left unsupervised. Perhaps the dolphins are just toying with us and will soon come out to "play". What do you think? Let's keep fingers crossed (oh go on: legs and toes too) maybe tomorrow I'll have more to report.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Demise of our Oceans: Large-Scale Fishing

Now to the point, the fear of losing our sea life. I suspect many will have different points of view and many may disagree with me but Science is about trying to find a truth, so let's start the discussion.

Joan and his team have recorded a decline in dolphins as we have already seen. Others worldwide have also recorded a decrease in fish. A great film we watched last night that helps to explain the situation is called 'The End of the Line', and is highly recommended. Maybe your parents could even watch it with you.

It centers around the seas most ferocious predator (the greatest hunters). Any idea who? Humans. Not this type

but rather this type

It's big corporations chasing too little fish, mainly to sell us as food. But what happens when you take food out of your refrigerator? Slowly it decreases and eventually you will have no more food. What if 5 people keep going into your fridge? You'll probably run out of food even faster. That is unless you get more. But what happens when there is no more food to be got? This is the same case with our seas but what we must remember is the seas are not renewable, that means once it is gone, it is gone, kaput! Equally, important to remember, is the sea is not only our 'refrigerator', many species rely on it for food. For examples, dolphins too must have prey. And what about the simple fact that life in the sea is not only beautiful but has a right to live there?

One of the biggest culprits in affecting fish is Bottom Trawlers, that drag nets along the bottom of the sea like this
Photo from http://www.greenpeace.org/international/seafood/understanding-the-problem/fisheries-problems-today/bottom-trawling

In fact, according to the movie, the biggest one has a net large enough to fit 13 747 planes - that's huge, and that is a lot of fish.

The next big problem is a lot of what is caught is not needed,for example turtles and dolphins, and so are just tossed back but dead.

One idea promoted as a way to save the problem was fish farms, but don't say this to Ioannis, who specializes in fish conservation. Fish farms are a NO GO area and the topic of our discussion tonight. So I will be back regarding this.
Here is one we saw yesterday but there are many in the area.

What is most obvious however, is we can't stop removing so much fish from the sea for food. Like my fridge idea, it will run out if we are too greedy. But if people, like us want their fish, who is in the wrong; the people who ask for it or the people who catch it? From what I have understood, we don't have to stop eating fish, it is healthy and yummy after all, but we need to make sure we buy our fish from all those good fisherman in the world who are trying to fish sensibly, perhaps like small scale fisherman like these ones found in Preveza today.
So what we can do, is start asking questions. Go to your local supermarket and ask where their wild fish is caught and how it is caught. They should have the information. If it's small scale or sustainable then great, if not, don't buy it! Can you see a school project looming in my head?

Extra Bits

Each day is filled with new findings and information! Although I've been in and out of the Mediterranean Sea, I never paid attention to its meaning. Any idea? What about those of you studying Latin at school, can you break it down?

I also never noticed that the sea was full of sea urchins. When I have seen them elsewhere, all I really knew was to avoid their spikes and MOVE away, but they are alive, 'breathing' and moving. Can you see it move?

Today, we also came across a mussel farm. Have you ever seen one? This is what it looks like

There are lines suspended from these. It is not however, in use today, as the chemicals in the water get absorbed by the mussels and our bad for us to eat. The turtles however, enjoy the feast.
Photo by Tethys Research Institute

My last tidbit of interest is how all of our dolphins, whales, orcas etc. are divided. Year 6s will remember identification keys, right? Please say YES. Cetaceans is the key term for this entire group but it is divided into two: Odontocetes; Odon meaning teeth in Ancient Greek and cetes meaning monster, (what mammals do you think belong in this category?) and Mysticetes.

Odontocetes have teeth, 1 blow hole and use echolocation (sound to help locate objects)

Mysticetes, mainly whales except Sperm Whales, on the other hand have two blow holes,and no teeth. Instead they have baleens that act like a sieve, once taking in a bunch of fish and water they are able to 'drain' out the water but keep the fish in their mouth. Very handy device I'd say. What do you think?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Current Issues

Today, is the day, the conservation issues became real. Although excited by our find yesterday, our lessons and experience today told a different story.

Not so very long ago this area was filled with dolphins, mainly Short-beaked common dolphins which are similar to the striped ones we saw yesterday. Can you tell the difference? Look at the photo below and compare it to yesterdays. Take a look at the strips on the side of each.

According to Joan, when he first worked in this area, off of the town called Mytikas, the waters were full of dolphins, imagine that! There was no need to travel very far to see them. Money to increase development within Greece, led to lots of new, big, and fancy fishing boats. Some of these boats practised purse seining, which is a big net that pulls up like a purse, catching heaps of fish and sometimes even a dolphin :-( This type of over fishing (as well as others) led to the removal of most of the fish the dolphins survived on. No fish, no dolphins, so they either left or died out. If this continues to happen all over the world where large fishing exists, what do you think will happen to the dolphins? This is one thing Joan and his team are concerned about. So today, we headed back to the same waters, with a clearer picture in mind.

And today...we found nothing. Not one sight of dolphins. In an area, that only about 10 years ago, was full of both dolphins and fish. This is what we hoped to see...

wouldn't you?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dolphin Research Day 1

You might think that getting up at 6 (4 a.m. UK time) would seem daunting but with the possibility of viewing wild dolphins, the time presented no obstacle. Already warm at that time of day, we piled into the research van, opened every window and headed off to Kàlamos, 1 hour away from our current research station.

Jumping into the inflatable boat, we maintained our ‘positive’ position (which just basically means, eyes alert and searching for dolphins). As dolphins can be rare in this area, we followed no set map, but rather scanned the sea for any possible non-human movement. As common dolphins no longer visit this area, our hope laid in finding bottlenose dolphins. I will have to admit (shhhh don’t tell Joan or Ioannis) that I was mesmerised by the view and at times forgot what I was suppose to be looking for. Beautiful rolling hills and clear water – an absolute paradise!

Almost an hour in, Sho, our fellow teammate from Japan and studying to be a vetrinarian, caught the first sighting. I guess I don’t have to tell you how excited everyone was and how difficult it was to stay seated. No fear though, as we met up with a group of almost 20 dolphins! And wait for it, not the expected Bottlenose Dolphins and not even the Common dolphins that use to visit the area – oh no. A rare species, only sighted once before in this area…the Striped Dolphin! Well, Joan was ever so excited, never mind us, and two zoom lens cameras came out with calls to record, record!

Now those of you who hate ‘recording’ in Science, may begin to see its value as these are new to the area and we needed proof. At 9:18 I, with the help of Ioannis, began recording the behaviour of our new ‘friends,’ every 5 minutes. Mostly, they travelled in a straight path, but often visited the front of the boat to ‘bow ride’ (play in front of us). They occasionally ‘socialized’ (rubbed against each other) and jumped out of the water. When their body is part way out of the water it is called ‘percussive’ behaviour and when it is fully out of the water it is called Ariel. Look at how close we got to them! Can you notice the sea? What number do you think it was on the Beaufort scale? Miss Gilingham recording, Mrs James watching location and Ioannis timing
Photo with permission fro Tethys Research Institute

videoVideo from Miss Gillingham

Now we are back at the research station, and will begin to look through Joan’s photos for unique markings on the dorsal fin of these dolphins. Hopefully, we can start a data base to keep track of how often they are found here. I wonder what we should call them? Do you know of any good names for a dolphin? Photo with permission from Tethys Research Institute

First Day at the Research Station

We've made it! I met up with my fellow teammate, Mrs James from Derbyshire, in Athens where we caught the local coach to Vonitsa. Thankfully airconditioned and with a gorgeous view of the coast - very helpful on the 5 and a half hour journey.
We have now met our team (photos will need to follow tomorrow once we find a UBS port to work from). The main researcher Joan (male and from Spain) and his assistant Ioannis (from Greece) have walked us through the ropes (help!!!).
Tomorrow, bright and early we will head out to a nearby island, Kalamos where there has been a decline in dolphin populations. It is very close to two islands your parents may have heard of Ithaki (from the book Odessy) and Kefallina(from the book Captain Corellis Mandolin). We will compare the dolphins there to our main research area (Amvrakikos Gulf) where there are a lot of bottlenose dolphins.
The job - get ready:
1. Investigate the sea using something called a Beaufort Scale (in our terms 0 is flat water like a pool, 1 is ripples like when pebbles are dropped into water and 2 is a mixture of both, 3 slight waves (no white foam) etc. Either of these conditions means all systems are go as we will be able to locate the dolpines - yahhhh.
2. Once we find them, we pick our focal group, the ones we will watch closely, and record how they are behaving.
3. Every 5 minutes we look to see if they are close together, how long they dive for, their respiration (how long between breathes), how they jump, the direction they are swimming in and if they are hanging around a fish feeding station.
4.On top of that, we pay attention to how nice, or not so nice, the fish farmer behaves towards both us and the dolphins (lets hope very nice).
5. We need to look out for birds - anyone know what a shearwater bird is???
In any case it sounds exciting and I really hope I can find a USB port for pictures and videos or lets face it... this won't be so exciting for you.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Before Greece

Only 2 days before I head out to Greece in search of Dolphins. Although I have been to Greece before, this will be a brand new area and an entirely new adventure. We will be working at a research station in a village called Vonista on the Amvrakikos Gulf. Look on the left of the map where the Ionian Sea is, you will notice the title Ionian Islands and beside it a small gulf of water; that's where I'm heading.

The researchers there are studying Bottlenose Dolphins and their ecosystem (what they eat and what might affect them) and I have been asked to keep this blog. That way I can show you all the great things I am learning about (and you can help me make sense of it all). For example, I'm already lost on some key words I have found in the articles they have given me such as cetacean and philopatry. Help! I also need to look up the various organisms I might see so I can identify them. The first is the Bottlenose Dolphin

(Ok - really cute) but the others I need to look up: European Pilchard, Sardinella and Zooplankton. They must be important as they are mentioned several times; I wonder why? I also heard there may be turtles - I love them! Well back to my reading...and packing. Keep in touch and let me know what you think.

Thursday, August 4, 2011