11 May 2011

Dolphins of Greece volunteers, 4-11 May 2011

My thoughts immediately turn to what a difference my life will be from this point forward. Having said that, sharing knowledge on how to make a difference in the lives of other inhabitants of our planet earth. Joan is a pivotal tipping point, his mission to draw attention to the daily lives of these beautiful creatures is one thing, his desire to limit the impact of possible disruptions to our environment, on purpose or by accident are things everyone should consider to be a priority. The research brings you to the door, and the dolphins invite you to come on in and have some fun. Life is good. The closeness of the experience allows eye contact, the chance to smell dolphin breath, and view visual social  interactions. The research facility is very comfortable, and attractive. The city of Vonitsa is not the least bit intimidating, surrounded by beautiful hills, and a fabulous waterfront. My favourite interaction was observing the cooperative efforts by the dolphins, to make bubbles trap the fish and proceed to feast on the prey, unforgettable. Thank you  Joan, Miriam, Lauren, Ellen, Darlene, the best dolphin researchers ever!

Bob (USA)


Well, this past week has been quite an experience for me.  The amount of information we received was incredible.  I feel I have been living in a tunnel with my lack of specific knowledge about the ocean's overfishing and other concerns.  Being able to take part in this research and observe the dolphins in their natural environment, the companionship of our group, and of course, "Posi" who helped to provide my dog fix while away from my own companions all contributed to the quality of the stay. Earthwatch and Tethys are awesome organizations. I promise to work hard to spread the word to others.  

Joan has an incredible passion for the dolphins and the marine environment which he shares with us very well. Enriching the lives where we live about what I have learned will be my next project when I return home. Thank you all very much Joan, Miriam, Lauren, Ellen and, of course, photographer, Bob for enriching my life.  The laughter will not be forgotten.

Darlene (USA)


The experience of the week here in Vonitsa was amazing, highlighted by numerous unforgettable dolphin observations. Getting up each morning to the sun shining over the Gulf with a promise of studying such magnificent mammals was exciting and something we looked forward to each day. The weather was fabulous and the dolphins provided a variety of encounters from bow riding to resting to frenzied feeding – we were able to observe their natural behaviours on their terms without disruption. At the end of the transits the trip back to port with the castle as a landmark to guide us never lost its appeal.

Back at the loft learning how to crop, match and identify the dolphins we spotted provided insight into the population and the ongoing research by Joan and his teams. Joan’s presentations in the late afternoon prompted us with numerous questions and provided a global awareness of the fishing industry and the impact of the decisions we make as consumers. His enthusiasm was contagious amongst the team, with us often asking him questions all at once. Outside of the project hours, time spent relaxing at the local cafĂ©, walking around the small town of Vonitsa, discovering the castle, exploring the small island nearby and taking in the shoreline added to the week. Aside from the dolphins sightings the laughter shared at supper will be most fondly remembered.

Special thanks to Joan and Miriam for their hospitality, guidance and for sharing their passion for cetaceans. As a teacher and a biologist, we will take what we have learned and share it with our families, students and colleagues in a small effort to continue the work of conserving the ocean’s precious resources.

Lauren and Ellen (Canada)

09 May 2011

First 10 dolphin sightings in Amvrakikos

Today I had my tenth sighting since I arrived at the Vonitsa field Station of the Dolphins of Greece expedition. As a research assistant I have worked with two groups of Earthwatch volunteers so far. It has been a very rich and profitable experience.  Although I had worked with cetaceans in the wild before, I must say it has been a pretty different approach for me. In Amvrakikos I had the chance to observe dolphin behaviour closer than anywhere else.  During these past 4 weeks we had spectacular sightings where bottlenose dolphins displayed a wide range of behaviours; from surface feeding surrounded by large flocks of seabirds, to socializing and  resting. This new experience has given me the chance to learn new methodologies and apply them in the field. Thanks to Joan, a great teacher,  I made the most of my stay here. The Gulf is most certainly a unique place to learn and study these magnificent creatures in the wild.

I also enjoyed the everyday work with volunteers! They impressed me with their enthusiasm and eagarness to learn by getting actively involved in our research and conservation activities. Under Joan's supervision I showed them how to process digital images taken in the field, record behavioural data during group follows and how to interpret the dolphins activities in the field. Their help is crucial and in many cases I would have been lost without them!

In a couple of days I am heading back to Barcelona but I will be back in Vonitsa in September for another month of field work. Looking forward to it! 

Miriam (Catalonia) - Research Assistant of the Dolphins of Greece expedition

02 May 2011

Dolphins of Greece volunteers, 25 April-2 May 2011

The expedition was everything promoted in the literature and more.  The research is for real and Joan willingly shares his vast knowledge of dolphins.  His enthusiasm for his studies is contagious and by the end of our first outing all participants were won over and eager to share in gathering and processing the data gathered.  Dolphins really are magical beings and seem to exude delight and optimism. Joan runs his expeditions with a perfect balance between making every effort to see that the members enjoy themselves, experience genuine Greek culture, and become more aware of the challenges facing humankind if we wish to see the world’s oceans restored to robust health.

The outings are the centrepiece of the expedition and once at sea, Joan is all business, as any serious researcher should be.  His expectations of the participants are necessarily high, but achievable, since he is seeking clear and accurate information.   We all came away knowing we had made genuine contributions to Joan’s work. Vonitsa itself is a quiet and authentic small Greek town with many nice cafes and bars where you can enjoy a coffee after an outing or something more in the early evening.

Robert (USA)


This has been a great opportunity to meet new people and spend a week learning about dolphins, fishing, the ecology of oceans, and play a small role in research I would otherwise never have known existed. The dolphin sighting expeditions are far more engaging (and challenging) than any dolphin watching tour. Just going out to look at dolphins would get pretty boring after the second day, but actively scouting, keeping track of different groups, closely watching behaviour, and hearing Joan’s commentary makes each sighting a unique experience. Joan’s passion and knowledge make his lectures and spontaneous Q&A’s enjoyable and more educational than I had expected. Being in the middle of a region struggling with the effects of overfishing and spending time with people who are deeply about that and other ecological/environmental dangers the ocean is facing really does make these issues feel real, important, and solvable. 

I also enjoyed the small group of volunteers. It’s a good way to meet people with a wide variety of backgrounds and a common sense of adventure and interest in environmental and scientific issues. The organization of living quarters, research duties, and meals are well designed to promote a lot of interaction and let people get to know each other. Having volunteers prepare their own dinners in turn is especially enjoyable. 

And lastly the town of Vonitsa and nearby towns are terrific places to spend some quiet time. By coincidence we happened to be here for the festival celebrating the first of May and walked out to the island to watch the dancing and horse “riding”. Without hesitation they shared a large portion of one of their freshly prepared lambs, and we had an excellent lunch.

Rob (USA)


We walked down to the harbour past orange and lemon trees, past cats waiting hopefully next to a fishing boat.  Vonitsa was sleepy, with a few people drinking coffees and smoking in the seafront bars.  Only the swifts moved quickly, manoeuvring a few inches above the ground or sea to catch insects. 

Out on the sea, everything changed.  We made a sighting thanks to a group of gulls, circling and diving over a group of feeding dolphins.  The water boiled, fins surfaced and flukes thrashed.  Several dolphins were working together to circle and confuse the fish, then feed on them.  The seagulls also took a share, and helped us work out where to look for the next leaping dolphin… two to our right, three straight ahead, one to the left and a few behind us… we were surrounded!  We tried to watch all the action, but inevitably could only see a fraction of what was going on because it happened so quickly.  Gradually the dolphins dispersed, leaving the sea calm again. 

During the week, we were lucky enough to watch dolphins feeding several times, as well as seeing them resting, socialising and travelling together in a group, and we even had one bow ride our boat briefly.  It was a great experience not only to observe them in their natural habitat, but also to learn about them and to take part in research which will help ensure they survive and thrive. 

Roz (UK)