Hi! My name is Ms. Thompson. I am a third grade teacher at the Collegiate School in New York. Join me as I study bottlenose dolphins in the waters of Greece!

Friday, April 30, 2010

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Last Day in Vonitsa

We all woke up bright and early this morning because we wanted to make the most of our last day in Vonitsa. We boarded the boat at 9:00am and worked on dolphin sightings until noon. What were you doing in New York when it was 9:00am in Greece?

During this trip we saw many exciting things. Joan spotted another sea turtle with its head poking up out of the water, we saw a pair of pelicans floating on the water, and we observed dolphins displaying arial behavior. What do you think arial behavior is? Two other types of behavior we observed were social and percussive. Can you guess what they are? Joan told us how we can determine if a dolphin is an adult or a juvenile. Juveniles are usually swimming right next to their mother and when they surface they bring their faces up out of the water. Adult dolphins usually do not do this. Juveniles do it because they are very curious about what is going on above the water's surface. I got to see two juveniles on my journey. Calves are much smaller and newborns are dolphins that have just been born.

Pollution in the Amvrakikos Gulf causes some newborns to die soon after birth. This is because the mother dolphin has ingested the poison in the water and when she feeds her baby her milk the baby is also poisoned. The first born suffers the most because all of the poison is transferred to it.

After a full morning on the boat all of the Earthwatch volunteers decided to take a trip to the Roman ruins in Nikopolis. We saw remants of a Roman church, a temple, and a stadium. This was an interesting way to end our time together.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Dolphin Day!

"Dolphins-12:00-400 meters!" shouted Panni. We all immediately took our spots and held on tight as Joan sped to the place where the dolphins were located. Four beautiful dolphins were swimming in the area. Panni and I were in charge of entering the data on the palmtop, which is no easy task. We record group size, how close they are to the boat, if there are birds nearby, and if the dolphin is a newborn, calf, juvenile, or adult. We saw three adults and one juvenile. While Panni and I were inputting the data at the end of a five minute interval, Joan took photos and everyone else shouted out when they located the dolphins in our focal group. Locating them can be difficult because when they go under the water it is hard to tell where they will resurface. During our journey we were also lucky enough to see two sea turtles.

We returned to the research station with four different dolphins to identify. It wasn't easy and it took us a long time. Stefan and I were on a team again competing against Marie-Claire and Cas. I am sorry to report that Stefan and I did not win this time. What do you think made it difficult to find dorsal fins that matched our dolphins?

After all of our hard work was finished we had some free time. Marie-Claire, Cas and I explored the village. We stopped into a store that sold some very nice sandals. Can you guess who bought a pair?

Shopping in Greece it can be a little tricky because they use Euros instead of dollars. How many dollars makes up a Euro? If the sandals were 20 Euros, what would they cost in dollars? What if they cost 50 dollars, how many Euros would I need?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

We Visit Kalamos

We woke up to a beautiful sunny day, however it was quite windy. The sea state appeared to be around level 3. We all boarded the Zodiac and began our search for dolphins. Once we were away from the mooring it was obvious that it was going to be a very rough ride. Imagine what it feels like to ride a horse on top of the ocean. That is what it was like for me. I had to hold on tight as the boat galloped across the gulf. Unfortunately, because of how rough the water was we could not detect any dolphins, even though I am certain they were there. We were only out for about one hour before Joan decided we should return to shore. I asked him what the sea state was and he told me that the level had reached a maximum of 6 during our journey. Dolphin sightings are difficult in any condition above level four.

Since we could not look for dolphins we returned to the research center and watched a short documentary and Joan gave a presentation about cetaceans. I learned that there are two main groups of cetaceans. One is called misticetes and the other is odontocetes. Whales are in the misticetes group and dolphins are in the odontocetes group. What do you think is the main difference between the two groups?

After lunch we took a ride to the Kalamos research sight. It is located in the Ionian Sea. Joan's collegue Giovanni Bearzi use to research a population of common dolphins that lived in the area. As a result of overfishing it is now rare to see one of these dolphins, where as little as ten years ago, you could stand on the shores and be certain that a dolphin would appear. Overfishing of sardines in this area is the cause of the disappearance of these dolphins.

One reason why overfishing has become such a problem is improvements in technology. Ways of catching fish are now quite advanced and the fish really do not stand a chance. Can you describe at least one technique fisherman use today that enables them to catch very large quantities of fish? How does this affect the ecosystem?

During our outing Joan showed us a fish farm in the Ionian Sea. Fish are caught when they are very young and placed in cages. When they are large enough they are sold commercially. How does this contribute to overfishing? Dolphins are often seen around fish farms because they like to steal the fish from the cages. It is kind of like a self serve restaurant for them.

Finally we came home and enjoyed the delicious dinner that Cas and Marie-Claire made for us. Each night two people are responsible for cooking a dish that is representative of their homeland. I was in charge of last night's menu. Guess what I cooked.

Weather reports are predicting nice weather tomorrow. We are going to bed optimistic. Hopefully I will get to take some dolphin pictures to share with everyone.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Rainy Day in Vonitsa

Today we were unable to go out to sea because it was raining and the sea state was at a level three. It is difficult to see dolphins at this level because the water is too choppy. There are 5 different sea states ranging from 0 to 4. Zero is very smooth like a mirror and four is when you have very choppy water with a lot of foam.

Even though we were not able to look for dolphins we still had plenty to do to keep us busy. We walked around the small village of Vonitsa. You can see from the picture that it is quite beautiful. There is a very old castle sitting at the top of a hill that overlooks the town. We walked to it, but we were not able to go inside because it is closed until summr. After that we went back to the research station and watched a documentary about overfishing and the effects it is having on the different populations of fish. It is called The End of the Line. There is one fish that will probably be extinct in the near future because of the rate in which it is caught. Many of you like a popular food that contains this fish. What fish do you think it might be? This is a serious problem that needs to be addressed and we can help. How do you think we might be able to go about doing this?

Identifying Dolphins

We spent the afternoon identifying the dolphins that we spotted in the Amvrakikos Gulf yesterday. We would compare the photos from yesterday to photos that have been taken over the past nine years. Each dolphin has specific marks on its dorsal fin that makes it easier to identify them. How do you think the dolphins get these marks?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Meet the Team

Here is Joan preparing the boat for our journey. He is from Barcelona, Spain.

Panni is teaching Cas how to input data into the palmtop computer. Panni is from Budapest, Hungary and Cas is from The Netherlands.

Stephan is demonstrating his skills at skipping stones across the water of the Amvrakikos Gulf.
Stephan is from Switzerland.

Marie-Claire is strolling along the beach looking for the perfect stone to skip. She is also from The Netherlands.

Looking for Dolphins

Today was our first day out at sea. I saw alot of dolphins. I wasn't able to take any pictures today because Joan kept us all busy, busy, busy! Once he selected our focal group we had to shout out when we spotted a dolphin. We each had our positions on the boat. I watched the front right quarter, Marie-Claire watched the front left, Cas watched the rear left, and Stephan watched the rear right while he also collected data on the palmtop. We used a very specific system for identifying the position of the dolphin in relationship to the boat. We couldn't just shout out, "I see one over there," because Joan would not have any idea where "there" was and he needed to take photos of the dolphins we saw.
How do you think we identified the area in which a dolphin was spotted?

Another thing we watched for was bird activity above the water. A lot of birds in one spot is a good sign that dolphins are feeding in the area. Why do you think that is? Some birds we saw today were the seagull, tern, and pelican.

This was a very full first day! I look forward to sharing tomorrow with you and to reading your responses.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ready for Take Off!

Five, four, three, two, one.....
Blast off!

That's not what the pilot said, but that's what was going through my head as the engine roared to life and the plane taxied down the runway. It was actually pretty exciting, even though, I was scared. But, I knew that in ten hours I would be in Greece and on my way to help save the bottlenose dolphins. All of the tips the third graders gave me sure came in handy while I was on the plane. I chewed the gum to help my ears from popping and I wore my fuzzy socks. Breathing in through my nose and exhaling out through my mouth helped to calm my nerves when I started to get anxious. I had lots of reading material--Mrs. Dixon would have been proud--to keep me entertained. Thanks to my comfy neck pillow I was able to sleep most of the time.

Things I learned while waiting for take off:
  • There are a lot of weird noises on planes.
  • People talk while pilot or flight attendants are giving directions--Shhh! I can't hear what they are saying and it's probably important.
  • No electronics during take-off. I wonder why?
  • It's hard to concentrate on breathing technique while chewing gum.
  • Blankets on planes are very thin.
  • No barf bags, UH-OH!

So far my journey has been pretty exciting. I can't wait to see what Athens is like. How do you think the Athens airport might be different from JFK? I guess we will soon find out.