Divided we fall, together we stand and thrive. Incubo’s story, so far.

Life isn’t always fair, nor a fairy tale. But I promise, today’s story has its happy ending.

Our research team has been working in Samadai for a long time, we have been collecting photo-identification data of the Samadai spinner dolphins for almost a decade now, although not continuously. And the picture gets clearer and clearer every year. But this is OUR story and it’s not the one I want to tell you. Today story is far more interesting; it’s a snapshot of the Life in the Wild we were lucky enough to catch. So here it goes…

Once upon a time,

there was a young and bold dolphin, her name was a whistle. We couldn’t whistle on a keyboard so we named her Incubo. Incubo isn’t a very nice name for a little dolphin, in fact in Italian it means “nightmare”. But she used to be SO friendly and SO playful that it was impossible to work when she was around: she wanted all the attention and we were happy to please her. Such a nightmare to work in such conditions, don’t you agree?

Young Incubo associated with her mother (LEFT) and showing off (RIGHT) in 2005 and 2006, respectively. (Photographer: Marina Costa)

Young Incubo associated with her mother (LEFT) and showing off (RIGHT) in 2005 and 2006, respectively. (Photographer: Marina Costa)

It was November 2005 the first time we met her, back then we didn’t even know it was a she, we would have found out her gender only six years later. She was swimming with other dolphins, mostly other youngsters, like her. But other times she was swimming alongside a much older dolphin, her mom. Incubo’s mother was larger and more robust and darker in colouration. In 2005 Incubo was probably around four years old. During the next year she became more and more independent from her mother and more and more curious about her surrounding, us included. She visited Samadai almost every time we did and when she was not around we couldn’t help but notice it and think “mmhh that’s weird, where’s Incubo?”. She never failed to relieve us of our worries.

When we resumed our work in 2010, we were extremely happy to see that Incubo was still visiting Samadai as much as before! She was larger now and it seemed she had lost interest in us. Fair enough, she was a lady now. Not only that, in 2011 she was pregnant too! After about ten month gestation, Incubo’s baby made its appearance in July. Inseparable, Incubo’s and her baby swam and played together throughout the winter.

July 2011. Incubo and her newborn cuddling. (Photographer:Amina Cesario)

July 2011. Incubo and her newborn cuddling. (Photographer:Amina Cesario)

One day though, in March 2012, we spotted Incubo. Alone. She had lost her (probably) first calf. That’s actually pretty common in dolphins, still, we were saddened by this news.

That summer she spent a lot of time babysitting or swimming with the males. Life goes on, and the next summer, in July 2013, another baby debuted in Samadai on Incubo’s side.

2013. Incubo was seen pregnant in early June and with her second baby in July. (Photographers:Maddalena Fumagalli/Amina Cesario)

2013. Incubo was seen pregnant in early June and accompanied by her second baby in July. (Photographers:Maddalena Fumagalli/Amina Cesario)

Unfortunately, only one month later, we saw her coming in Samadai with a large shark-bite shaped injury on her peduncle and no sign of her newborn baby. We like to picture our hero interposing her own body between her baby and the shark, making every effort to avert such a loss. She got badly injured; her swimming was slow and somewhat unnatural. The injury looked severe and Incubo was losing a lot of weight.

August 2013. Incubo survived a non-fatal shark attack. Her second calf was nowhere to be seen.  (Photographer: Amina Cesario)

August 2013. Incubo survived a non-fatal shark attack. Her second calf was nowhere to be seen. (Photographer: Amina Cesario)

We felt sad, useless, and impotent. We were not sure we would have seen her the next year. Right after the attack the other dolphins were not grouping around her, but after a few weeks some of the old Incubo’s friends started to join her again.

Petting behaviour resumed shortly after Incubo got injured. (Photographer: Amina Cesario)

Petting behaviour resumed shortly after Incubo got injured. (Photographer: Amina Cesario)

The pod is family, it is a safety net. Spinner dolphins rely on their companions for feeding: they cooperatively circle their preys at night-time and when the preys are condensed in one huge ball they sprint trough it and hunt squids and small fishes. Hence, considering Incubo’s injury and her inability to swim normally, I wouldn’t be surprised if the group shared the preys with her.

One year later, 2014, new pictures coming in: she looked perfectly healed! Nature is tough… and so is Incubo! Towards the end of the summer she also carried the typical toothrakes marks that males leave on female bodies when engaging in mating behaviours. We felt relieved and hopeful.

June 2014. Incubo injury healed perfectly. (Photographer:Amina Cesario)

June 2014. Incubo injury healed perfectly. (Photographer:Amina Cesario)

But our survivor can’t stay far from troubles! In September, together with a few other dolphins she got trapped within the shallow waters of the Marina of Marsa Alam. Luckily they were spotted and led out back in the open sea (read the details here). HEPCA team we salute you!

Now that you all know Incubo and hopefully share the same attachment to her as we do, you too will be cheering and celebrating with us our latest news!

When I received the images collected this year, without even knowing it, I was looking for her…

Incubo is back, safe and sound! And not only that, she has a new baby, a new hope, a new challenge. Go Incubo!!!

July 2015. Incubo is back together with her third newborn. And she keeps her distance! (Photographer: Micol Montagna)

July 2015. Incubo is back, together with her third newborn. And she keeps her distance from the researcher! (Photographer: Micol Montagna)

And if divided we fall, well, together we don’t only stand, we thrive!

Group of spinner dolphins resting in Samadai. (Photographer: Amina Cesario)

Group of spinner dolphins resting in Samadai. (Photographer: Amina Cesario)


Posted in Cetacean, Samadai, Wildlife | Tagged ,

Sharing spaces: homeowners are responsible for damage caused to the common area

Marine mammals are among the most fascinating creatures we could think of, and yet, despite love and fascination, our activities are the main threat to their survival and wellbeing.

Wait a sec. Things we (human beings) do normally, usually, on daily basis can harm marine mammals?


A few examples.


Unsustainable fisheries lead to depletion of fish stocks, and this limits the amount of fish or seafood available to us, but also to predators such as dolphin and seals. Empty seas can no longer sustain the food requests of marine mammal populations with negative consequences on their health and wellbeing.

Also, beside taking out prey, fishing gears don’t have the ability to discriminate between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ catch and often nets return onboard with undesired turtles, seals, sea lions, dolphins caught unintentionally. Nonetheless, caught.

In the big blue open sea, what are the chances that dolphins accidentally end up in a net and die? It can’t be that many, can it? Well, the number varies greatly according to the area and the type of fishery, sure, but just a figure: purse-seine tuna fishery in the Eastern Tropical Pacific is responsible for an estimated 6 million dolphin deaths since its inception the 1950s. 6 million. Shocking, isn’t it? This is one of the most dramatic cases (read more here), but we now know that this is not a threat to face lightheartedly: Vaquita and Maui dolphins are on the edge of extinction mainly because of fisheries and by catch issues.

We have almost fished them all out, it doesn’t matter whether intentionally or not (what matters is that we keep on fishing them out! Insane).


Seismic exploration, underwater drilling, military exercises employ underwater sounds that result harmful to dolphins and whales. Unbearable noises permeate the waters and can be heard for miles, the only way to escape the noise is to reach for the surface: a rapid ascent (which might leave the animals temporary or permanently impaired), or a stranding.

Tourism operations, chemical pollution, solid waste, ship traffic, intentional  captures, among others, are daily widespread threats we tend to underestimate.

Basically, marine mammals leave in a big blue minefield in which the ‘traps’ we disseminate overlap with other traps and/or other natural conditions and have unpredictable effects on animals’ distribution, abundance and wellbeing.

The map shows how Chinese white dolphins have and will be impacted by multiple development works and other threats in Hong Kong waters (WWF-Hong Kong - http://www.wwf.org.hk)

The map shows how Chinese white dolphins have and will be impacted by multiple development works and other threats in Hong Kong waters (WWF-Hong Kong – http://www.wwf.org.hk)

Solution: create safe ‘trap-free’ (or ‘low-trap’) areas. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) aim at pursuing conservation through the proper management of activities within a delimited spatial area.

The process for the establishment of a protected area is a mixture of science and politics. It requires certification of the area ecological value, proper reporting to relevant agencies or bodies and framing according to current legislation frameworks. This last step often goes through renowned conservation institutions recognized by governments or conventions signed by member states.

Neat process: identify the area, inform the people who have decisional power, and obtain a law. Done. Of course, it is neither simple nor neat.

Properly designed MPAs reflect the understanding of the past, present and possible future of an area and its human and non-human inhabitants. Also, they integrate knowledge of interactions and relations within and between the various components.

First of all, proper MPA design requires good knowledge of complex ecological features of ecosystems, species and processes occurring in the area and in connection with the area. This knowledge is long and demanding to obtain but it is crucial: it allows evaluation, assessment and predictions about current and possible future status of a species, population, habitat.

Moreover, MPAs have to take into account the local socio-economic, political and governance context: MPAs management limit, cap, control stakeholders operation, thus it is likely to remain hopeful theoretical intervention ‘on paper’ if not shaped in order to be feasible and efficient on ground.

Everything is connected, and an MPA planner needs to know and understand the full picture.

Challenging indeed, especially that part concerning the “human” component. The plan, design and implementation of area-based conservation involve many actors (scientists, legislators, managers, local communities, enforcing agencies, etc.) whose interests are often conflicting and difficult to conciliate.

So, say that we are interested in an area where cetaceans occur and human activities are intense. Setting up an MPA there might protect the animals and contribute to the sustainable use of the resources!

First, how do we know if this can really become an MPA? What features should it have? What tools and expertise should we employ to investigate that? Second, how do we plan its management? How do we maximize the chances that the animals we are trying to protect will actually benefit from the institution of this MPA?

And here it is where organizations such as the International Committee on Marine Mammals Protected Areas (ICMMPA) come in the picture.

Since its establishment in 2006, “ICMMPA has been a unique forum to bring together MPA managers, decision-makers, scientists and other stakeholders to exchange information, strengthen partnerships, and figure out the way forward to improve MPA management and marine mammal conservation in the context of such areas.

ICMMPA has held its 3rd Conference in Adelaide (Australia) last November. Amina and I were there for this intense 3-day of interesting and articulated presentations and discussions on various case studies with contributes from all over the world.

Be it the context of the Pelagos Sanctuary, the MPA recently established in Bangladesh (amazing work!) or the case of spinner dolphins in the Egyptian Red Sea (oh yeah!), talks have highlighted strengths and challenges encountered, as well as shared tools and perspectives to enhance our (scientists, conservationists, managers, etc.) ability to actually protect the marine environment, and marine mammals in particular, through the definition and establishment of sound conservation initiatives.

The big names, those who lead, organize, plan, decide internationally were there. We (the rookies) had the chance to sit and brainstorm with them on various issues, providing our -small, limited, naive- experience but mainly listening mesmerized.

In particular, this year we were discussing the establishment of a new formal and official classification to identify “Important Marine Mammal Areas” worldwide: what ecological criteria should define them? How should they be incorporated (or not) in existing schemes?

Not a trivial matter. Giuseppe Notarbartolo and Erich Hoyt are co-chairing a dedicated task force, and we look forward to hearing from them about ideas emerged during the conference as they might change the way we will do conservation in the next years.

The world around us is changing, we need to change too. We need to update our strategies and conceptions; we need to better adjust our science to today’s requests and interests; we need to challenge our most rooted believes, to look back at failures, acknowledge them and repair (or substitute) weak links that have caused them. We are losing biodiversity at an outrageously high rate, we cannot afford to continue.

We create the problems and, at the same time, we are the solution, so we can’t help but keep trying our best to mitigate or eliminate our negative impacts.

In the big wide world, as in all condos, we should be held resposible for damage caused to common areas.



Posted in Awareness, Conferences

Life of Semola

It happened a few months ago.

An average normal summer evening at home in Hurghada.

It all started as a fun entertaining activity and a way to get all our (yet to be expressed and appreciated) storytelling talent out.

‘Let’s write a story about dolphins.’

‘Yeah! Let’s make it a play!’

Overall aim was to convey some scientific and conservation messages to the kids in the south, but how? What format? A play, an interactive play, seemed the most adequate.

And so Semola and his story were born.

Semola is a spinner dolphin calf, he leaves in Samadai and learn life the hard way: when the group resting in the lagoon is disturbed by the visit of the vroooms (speedboats) and the 4-eyed fish (humans), all of a sudden, in the chaotic confusion of the interaction, he finds himself alone, left behind. He then ventures in the dangerous, dark, unexplored open sea looking for his pod and, by meeting turtles, sea birds, morays and other marine animals, he discovers facts about pollution, coastal development, fisheries…and himself too.

Put down the script and pictured the way the play could look like, I sent the draft around for comments.

To make a long story short, the most dedicated people I know – Ali and Suzanna from Roaya and the newborn Society of Environmental Awareness Supporters (SEAS), NGOs based in El Quseir – took the script, translated it into Arabic and got the kids from the Roaya summer club to work on it.

We premiered a few days ago in El Quseir with a beautiful performance that was just the perfect conclusion of an intense week of costume making, rehearsals, and art work.

Those kids were amazing. They painted, assembled and memorised everything. Eager, curious, smiling. A bunch of enthusiastic 9-12 years old under the lead of inspired and passionate people.

I was blessed to find myself there with Catherine and Anjelika from Bokra Sawa ( you guys keep up the good work!), a fine talented artist such as Julien Solé, Stephane Pachot (watch his Cafe’IN, terrific project!) and Salma Khattab, our travelling teacher.

The result was a fresh, colourful, shiny experience.

11 prep panel draft 11 prep panels 11 rehearsal in ngo 12 prep costumes 13 prep location 14 meeting 15 prep venue 16 rehearsal at venue 17 prep costume moray 18 rehearsal 30 scene2 30 scene3 30 scene4 30 scene5 30 scene6 40 the end

I am immensely grateful to Ali (you are the best!), Suzanna, Amira, Rana, Mohamed and all the volunteers at Roaya; thanks also to all those who have supported and helped in El Quseir.

Anji, Julien and Nadia, thank you for sharing your energies, love, art and creativity.

Once more, this was supported by a grant from the Rufford Small Grant Foundation, main sponsor of our research and a series of educational side projects.

In cinemas in 2017 😉


Posted in Awareness, Samadai | Tagged

Season finale: last expedition, last episode

Third and last episode of our highlights onboard the Red Sea Dolphin Project – Satayah Survey 2014.

New volunteers embarked, and the RSDP life starts again: a bit of training for data collection, long hours observing dolphins and the way people interact with them, smiles and fun on the boat.

(It does look like a sort of a dolphin research version of the “Groundhog Day”, doesn’t it? I love it!).

This was the last expedition of the season and it is always quite sad to pack and go back to life on land (= office work! And all the data to process and analyse!!).

We are now happily settled in our universities and figuring out how to transform the huge amount of information we have collected in these last years in coherent, comprehensive and original knowledge of spinner dolphin in Egypt. Exciting times ahead!


A massive thank to assistants and crew for making this season memorable, Valentina Cucchiara (Liquid Jungle Media) for distilling it in awesome video pearls (with lovely closing lines..watch the credits until the very end), University of Otago, the Rufford Small Grant Foundation, HEPCA, Boomerang for Earth Conservation and our crowdfunders for making it possible.


Happy Karma!


…aaand in the next posts: our Australian adventures in Adelaide at the 3rd Conference of the International Committee on Marine Mammal Protected Areas!!


Posted in Cetacean, Expeditions

Summer memories – Episode 2

Thanks to Vale (Liquid Jungle Media), our best memories come to life once again!

Another short fun and informal video blog on the Red Sea Dolphin Project – Satayah 2014 Survey is out.

In this second happy episode we meet the new members of the team, we see them collect data on dolphin behaviours, explore places and tastes in a rare day off and fall in love with Satayah and its incredible natural beauty. As always, in the madness that long exposure to the sun can trigger.

Take a few minutes off and indulge in astonishing Egyptian marine scenes…and learn more about the very intrusive tourist approaches marine fauna has to tolerate. How do you feel about that? What does define a “bad” or a “good” approach?How can we prevent bad interactions?

We look forward to hearing your opinions and ideas people! Drop us a comment, a Facebook message or email madda@boomerang4conservation.org.

We would like to thank the University of Otago, the Rufford Small Grant Foundation, HEPCA, Boomerang for Earth Conservation and all those who have supported our crowd funding campaign.

Stay tuned, Episode 3 is coming soon!



Posted in Uncategorized

BEC crowd funding: last call!


as you might have seen and read lately on these pages, the season is going great and, despite boat mechanical technical issues, the fieldwork goes on brilliantly.

Also, a beautiful script for a fun play to be presented to kids in El Quseir is being translated in arabic; we are preparing presentations for guides and operators to be delivered by Amina soon…and working on our data and a couple of publications on Egyptian dolphins.

Busy busy busy days, but all is going super great.

As you know, one of the NGO supporting us is Boomerang for Earth Conservation (www.boomerang4conservation.org) and they have launched this crowd funding program to enable you to come onboard (in spirits) and support our activities by making a donation.

The campaign is still running, click the following to find more info and visit the donation page. The donation process is quite easy and friendly, just remember to specify that your amount goes to the Dolphins of the Red Sea project.

A postcard, a digital image of our beautiful spinners and a certificate in return.

You don’t want to miss the chance to get one of these amazing postcards, do you?


Make your donation now and help us share the link!


Madda and Amina

PS – In case you missed it, have a look at our video blog!

Posted in Awareness, Cetacean, News

Video Blog!

We are immensely thankful to Valentina Cucchiara (Liquid Jungle Media) for putting together this awesome video blog about our first expedition to Satayah.

Also, many thanks to Birdsong and the Eco Wonders, this song is really cool!

Enjoy..and stay tuned! More episodes to come!


Subscribe to this blog and follow us throughout the season

Support our projects by making a donation.



Amina and Madda


Posted in Cetacean, Expeditions, News

Satayah Survey 2014

The team is back to land. We just spent 15 days in Satayah Reef, 2 hours navigation off Hamata Marina. The site is known to be a resting area for spinner dolphins and has grown as a very popular swim-with dolphin destination.

Swim with dolphins, what an experience! The dream of a lifetime! And, in fact, many seize the opportunity to live this incredible experience during their holidays here in the Egyptian Red Sea.

All good, understandable enthusiasm…on the other hand, we might have a problem. Unfortunately, interactions are not regulated in Satayah: there is no limit to how close, for how long, how many people, zodiac, boats can engage, impose, attempt an interaction with the animals.

Pantagruelian, unrestrained, over excessive tourist attitudes emerged.

Examples worldwide indicate that scenarios in which nothing is ever enough and moderation is a forgotten virtue often drain the wildlife, exploit the magic and, eventually, end up killing the tourism operations. The future of Satayah is not written yet, but I really believe we should intervene in the next few months to introduce some sort of management before it is too late.

The first step is to better understand Satayah tourism and dolphin responses: we collected data on dolphin behaviours and observed daily tourism practices.

We had very quiet and very busy days, calm and crowded hours; we recorded dolphins in the lagoon or its proximity every day. We often had spinner and indopacific bottlenose dolphins, common bottlenose have showed up right outside the reef. We had green turtles and ospreys, napoleon fish, hornets and a hoopoe.

This place is unique indeed.

Again, unfortunately, this beautiful site is not (yet) treated as carefully as it should be: approaches by zodiac and boats seem always too fast, too close, too vehement, too stressing; visitors seem to be into a dolphin trance that deprive them of the basic common sense; some guides clearly know very little about the way this specific dolphins in this specific site should be dealt with.

The survey has been, as usual, very intense. The pictures below capture only some of our memories but I hope you will enjoy them…More are available on the photo album on our Facebook page and –surprise, surprise- a video blog is to be uploaded soon!

I am incredibly grateful to Valentina, Suzanna, Ahmed, Sylvan, Natalie, Salma, Amy and Blair for personal, work and emotional contribution; I would like to thank the crews of “Queeny” and “Aqua Blue 3” for taking care of us.

The surveys are carried out with the support of the University of Otago, the Rufford Small Grant Foundation, Boomerang for Earth Conservation and HEPCA. Many thanks to all individuals who have participated to our crowd funding campaign. The campaign is still on, consider making a small donation and help us carry out all activities planned for this season! All info here.




Dolphins in the lagoon. By Sylvan Oehen.

Dolphins in the lagoon. By Sylvan Oehen.


Spinner dolphin jumps in the lagoon. By Sylvan Oehen.


Small portion of a large pod. Copyright HEPCA.


Mixed species encounter in the open sea: spinner and pantropical spotted dolphins! Copyright HEPCA.


Pantropical newborn!! Copyright HEPCA.


Valentina Cucchiara (Liquid Jungle Media) in action!


Last evening surprise cake! Many thanks to the crew..or crow 🙂


Incredible sunrise with full moon still up in the sky. Copyright HEPCA.


Dolphin watching and swimming with spinner dolphins. Copyright HEPCA.


Observation from the research platform. Copyright HEPCA.


Team 3. Copyright HEPCA.


Turtle resting area? Copyright HEPCA.


Zodiacs ready to deploy swimmers right on top of a small group of dolphins. Copyright HEPCA.

Posted in Awareness, Cetacean, Expeditions, News, Wildlife

Summer season 2014: chronicles from the field (Episode 1)

Honestly, we didn’t remember the fieldwork to be so intense.

The first 10 days are gone and they have been so full of events, fun and adventures!


Facts and figures:

8 days in Samadai, 47 h observation, 8 sightings of spinners and 3 of Indopacific bottlenose dolphins, 3,500+ photos, a few presentations and educational activities, and Samadai mooring lines replaced by the HEPCA team in Marsa Alam.

😦 The down side: our vessel had a problem with the engine and we cannot use it anymore. Also, the wind has been pushing quite a lot lately, to an extent that trips were cancelled today.

🙂 The bright side: this unanticipated day in the office gives us time to enter data, start some data processing and analysis, and write this post!

🙂 🙂 🙂 The very bright side: we were awarded a second grant from the Rufford Small Grants Foundation! Our application was successful and we are infinitely grateful to all those who have worked on it with us, those who have advised and provided references. Roll up sleeves people, we have plenty of things to do!


But first let us show you the first days of the Red Sea Dolphin Project 2014.

Dolphins have been there every day. We recorded groups of 45-120 individuals, always mixed in age and gender classes.


A juvenile comes close (Copyright HEPCA)


Dolphin soup…jellyfish flavoured (Copyright HEPCA)

The newborn season has started: the first few little clumsy ones, a few day old, are already in Samadai and, seen the number of pregnant females, a few more will follow soon.


Newborn in Samadai! (Copyright HEPCA)

We were happy to see some known fins, including “SL0010” and Incubo (“nightmare”, one of our historical residents): they both fully recovered from bad injuries.


Incubo’s recovery. Check out the video below (at 1:20-1:30) and see her before the injury (Copyright HEPCA)

We had a surreal day with absolute flat sea and dolphins moving in and out the reef.


Spinner pod in Samadai in a very calm day (Copyright HEPCA)

We also had a very windy day with only three tourists in the site: an amazing chance for us to collect data on the behaviour of undisturbed dolphins!


Spying on dolphins with our binoculars (Copyright HEPCA)

We really enjoyed talking about our projects to staff and students of the Anglia Ruskin University (Cambridge, UK) at the Red Sea Diving Safari in Marsa Shagra and to give a quick guided tour on the research vessel to the kids participating to the HEPCA FEEL Project.


The FEEL project comes onboard to learn more about research methods and techniques (Copyright HEPCA)


Amina explains field methodologies to a group of undergrads from the Anglia Ruskin University (Cambridge, UK) (Photo credit: Michaela Anselmini/Red Sea Diving Safari)

Then (bummer!) the research boat broke down and the study on human impacts had to be temporarily suspended. We would like to thank the daily boats that are hosting us in these days and allowing us to keep going to Samadai and collect information that Amina will use in her study of the population demography and social structure.

We are extremely grateful to Dr. Liz Slooten and Micol Montagna for helping with the data collection and for being amazing team members!!


The dream team: Micol, Amina and Liz. (Copyright HEPCA)


The “To do” list is rich and we truly believe in this project.

As you know, Boomerang for Earth Conservation launched a crowd funding campaign to help us cover our field expenses: please have a look at the page “Donate now!” and consider making a small donation. We have reached two thirds of the goal in the first month of the campaign, please help us share the link and the information, and keep following our web-series 😉


Madda and Amina

Posted in Cetacean, Expeditions, Samadai


I really like the theme of this year World Oceans Day:

“together we have the power to protect the ocean”.

And there is something I really like about this life of mine (luggage always in one hand, rapid changes of time zones, time frames, time limits): the incredible variety of people, teams and crowds I meet and that become part of this “together”. We are generating a power that grows on a daily basis.

A quick illustrated overview of the latest additions to our “together”.


The Journey of Hope

Indopacific bottlenose dolphins off Marsa Alam. (Copyright HEPCA)

Indopacific bottlenose dolphins off Marsa Alam. (Copyright HEPCA)


Samadai briefing (Copyright HEPCA)

No wind, flat sea, glorious day to take to Samadai a Kuwaiti group visiting Egypt. We recorded the first two sightings of the season, had great fun and seen the true genuine dolphin joyful effect blossoming on their faces. Samadai is such a unique magic place.

These people are sailing the world in a Journey of Hope (www.hopekw.org, www.specialteam.org) aiming at promoting awareness and support to people affected by Down Syndrome, autism and intellectual disabilities. Started off from Kuwait, they will visit several Mediterranean countries and eventually fly to Washington D.C. to meet president Obama and deliver a global humanitarian message for the benefit of persons with intellectual disability. We had a great time with them and I am sure that Samadai -its beauty, value and importance- has captivated them, I have seen the sparkle in their eyes.


Wadi El Gemal Island Clean up

No wind, flat sea, glorious day to take youth from Marsa Alam primary schools, volunteers from the association Roaya (based in El Quseir) and the Rangers from Wadi El Gemal National Park to the island for a clean up.

The island is uninhabited and within a National Park, but still it is covered in rubbish. Wave motion, wind and currents drag to its shores an incredible amount of solid waste that represent a threat to the local wildlife and ecosystems.

20140608_cleanup1 IMG_3382


Wadi El Gemal Island Clean Up (05.06.2014 – Copyright HEPCA)

50 pairs of enthusiastic hands and in 2 hours we filled more than 25 big rubbish bags that were then taken back to shore to be properly disposed. The kids have been really amazing and the young men from Roaya have made the whole event fun and entertaining. A beautiful day out at sea.


Summer fieldwork

Starting blocks. Ready, steady…going in a couple of days!

20140608_equip  20140608_gabana


Our equipment, gabana and we are ready to start! (Copyright HEPCA)

Amina and I are here and never been so ready. We have just been notified that the Rufford Small Grant Foundation decided to support again our project (yay!), the crowd funding is up and running well, people are on their way to join us and assist the data collection. It is incredible how many new contacts we get every year from people willing to come, help out, be part of the team. We have a few returning helpers that we could never thank enough, but also some new entries we look forward to meeting soon! Our crews are always really helpful and available, always there to make sure that everything goes smooth and we have our gabana (the local bedouin coffee) to keep up with the data collection. It is going to be an amazing season.


Crowd Funding

Ok, to be honest, this crowd funding is achieving unexpected results! You people are amazing, we are speechless.

I would like to acknowledge Elisabetta, Alberto Viviana e Jessica, Miguel and Tia Clàudia and Stephanie for their donations. Thank you everybody. Two thirds of the goal have been secured already! The campaign on Boomerang for Earth Conservation website is still running, please keep spreading the link! All information on the dedicated page “Donate now!” on this blog.


Happy World Oceans Day! See you around!



Posted in Awareness, Cetacean, Expeditions, News, Samadai

BEC crowd funding campaign: update

Dear all,

the campaign started a week ago and the results are already impressive to me!

Approximately one third of the funds BEC is trying to secure for the project has already been collected!! Personally, I am really moved by your response and participation; your messages and comments are a strong push and a I could not anticipate such a great support

(I must confess that my new morning exercise is to read your messages, again and again, every day, it is such an amazing feeling..much better than chakra meditation, morning routine in former times 🙂 ).

Thank you for giving us the chance to do our work, thank you for believing in our actions and visions and for your encouragements!

The campaign goes on, we have a little less than two months to reach the target so please, don’t stop sharing the link!

We added a “thank you” section at the end of the “Donate now!” page, you can find your names there.






Posted in Awareness, Cetacean, News, Uncategorized

RSDP at the International Whaling Commission

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) is the global intergovernmental body charged with the conservation of whales and the management of whaling.

The 2014 annual meeting of the IWC Scientific Committee is currently taking place in Slovenia and Dr. Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara and Marina are there to present the information available on cetaceans of the Red Sea, and in particular the results of our Red Sea Dolphin Project.

This is a great opportunity to share information with internationally renowned experts on cetacean conservation and discuss how to turn scientific evidences into effective species protection.

As you know, in the past three years we have been sailing the Southern Egyptian Red Sea to investigate species presence, distribution and abundance in the region. It has been a very challenging survey, full of adventures, discoveries, surprises and a great bunch of friends, assistants, supporters, advisors.

Findings set robust bases for the formulation of conservation strategies as well as advanced research projects.

There is still a lot to do to ensure safe waters for cetacean and the RSDP 2014 summer season is about to start !!

I am in Egypt and Amina is joining me in a few days.

We will work in the area of Marsa Alam to better understand spinner dolphin population dynamics and responses to tourism pressures, promote educational activities and capacity building, and engage the communities in the protection of Red Sea dolphins.

For the first time, our project is open to donations so, if you wish to help and support, please do so by making a donation and sharing the call. A digital copy of one of our best shots, a donation certificate and a postcard in return!

All information about the activities and the donation process on the dedicated page “Donate now!” we have just published on the blog.

For more info, do not hesitate to email me at madda@boomerang4conservation.org

Thank you!!


Posted in Cetacean, Expeditions, News, Samadai, Uncategorized

Head standing

While onboard the Red Sea Dolphin Project, we had the chance to observe and document a wide range of events and animal behaviours. One of the most fascinating is the Risso’s dolphin head standing.

When performing it, the animal stands for a few seconds (up to several minutes) in a vertical position with the head underwater and the tail out of the water, in a move that reminds of the vertical in synchronized swimming.


Synchronised swimming vertical and head standing.

Valentina (www.liquidjungle.tv) put together a short video displaying the behaviour as we observed it in the Southern Egyptian Red Sea.

Pretty amazing, isn’t it?

Now, although the peculiar behaviour is known to occur in various regions, the reasons why it does occur are still under debate. Hypotheses put forward include reaction to distress (either natural or human related), communication, resting, and thermoregulation, but the behaviour is still unexplained.

Marina and our colleague Elisa Remonato have recently called upon the international cetacean community to provide information about the behaviour in different areas of the world and begin the first systematic and dedicated study of the head-standing.

If you conduct an activity at sea (e.g. whale watching, surveys land or boat-based, etc) and do encounter Risso’s, you match the study participant profile. The presence of the head-standing behaviour is NOT a requirement. Join the 20+ respondents and contribute your information!! Participants simply fill in a questionnaire that can be requested from Marina (marinza.costa@gmail.com).


Posted in Cetacean, Expeditions, News, Uncategorized


(And if I had the choice
Yeah, I’d always wanna be there)

Back in the summer of 2011.

RSDP 2011 - June crew

RSDP 2011 – June crew

Many thanks to our former field assistant Hilco Jansma who filmed, edited and produced this video with some great shots of the RSDP season.



Posted in Cetacean, Expeditions, Wildlife | 2 Comments

We make a difference

ImageI have been based in New Zealand for more than a year now.

I live in this beautiful, quite isolated country at bottom right of the world maps. Possibly because of the spatio-temporal distance from all other land masses on the planet, the news here tend to widely cover local events.

A few weeks ago the story of 65+ stranded pilot whales was everywhere online, on papers and tv. The event is not unusual per se: a stranding is sadly quite common news down here and pilot whales are known to be often involved in mass stranding. There are a few hypotheses, but ultimate reasons are still unknown. But this doesn’t want to be a scientific post, so for those interested in the science behind a stranding, I suggest you take it from here.

This wants to be a social emotive activist post.

I was astonished by the interventions in occasion of this last stranding. Or I should say multiple stranding. A large pod of pilot whales beached and, although a few euthanized, the majority of animals was successfully refloated (i.e. sustained and looked after in shallow water and led to deeper waters). They stranded again shortly after. Refloated again. Stranded again. Successfully refloated one more time.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) mobilized personnel and boats.

ImageThere were people day and night, tide allowing, in the water, on the beach or on boats, in weather conditions often off-putting. DOC was not alone. They could not do that without the dozens volunteers who flocked to the site. This voluntary intervention unit was brilliantly managed by a local organization called Project Jonah. The charity was founded in 1974 based on “a passionate belief that caring about marine mammals is simply the right thing to do”. They say “Our strength comes from our volunteers; everyday Kiwis that give up their time to help marine mammals through our rescue, action and protection programs. Whether they’re picking up litter on beaches or getting hands on in rescuing stranded whales, they’re out there helping. Whatever the weather.” (and trust me, weather and water temperature here get quite nasty). They run training sessions all over the country to teach “basic skills needed to rescue stranded dolphins and whales” (NB: participants pay to attend), they coordinate their “doctors” and do great awareness. They indeed did great in this situation. They indeed did great in creating a network of skilled passionate volunteers in the last decades.

I do believe that we, the Red Sea community, are as responsive as the kiwis. We do not seem to have formal procedures of intervention nor an established marine megafauna stranding response network, however our caring for marine wildlife together with some guidance (either through HEPCA or other organizations) can compensate, as we have seen in the past. Dolphin stranding are only occasional in the Egyptian Red Sea, most often involving one or two dead animals washed ashore, but Agnese had the chance to collaborate with several dive centres to monitor reported sick or injured turtles. Also, we have recently read about the turtles being rescued, treated and then released in the Mediterranean Sea.

Those are great community success!!

This country in the deep south of the world is showing me one of the strongest sense of ownership towards natural resources I have ever seen. The fact that politics often pursue consumptive short-term exploitation approaches can be quite frustrating, true, but people keep reacting passionately: they keep on getting informed, sharing information, campaigning, calling for action and taking actions to protect their natural heritage.

The same ardour we have seen in Egypt so many times in the past.
Giftun. Illegal shark fishing. Coal.
Campaigns that have actually saved some of our treasures.

Grassroots movements are crucial.
An informed and aware community is the last line of defence.
We are a great community and we have already taken the responsibility of caring for the Red Sea on us.
We can be a great line of defence indeed.


Now, since the post started with the news of a stranding, just a quick reminder.
If you find yourself next to dead, sick or beached animals, we urge you to always follow simple first aid intervention rules.

1- DON’T TOUCH! Unless you are trained and know what to do, keep hands off. Improper interventions could do worse!


2- KEEP CALM AND CALL FOR HELP: Remind others to follow basic health and safety rules. If possible, ask a few people to help you create a cordon around the animal. If the animal is alive, try to keep the crowd calm to avoid extra stress. Make sure dogs and cats do not come close. Call HEPCA at 065-3445035 and be ready to provide basic information such as species involved, number of animals, alive/dead, location (as precise as possible).


By Bill Trotter, BDN.

3- USE PROTECTIONS: Do not touch unless instructed to do so and, in this case, always wear gloves and a protective face mask. Handling a carcass is definitely not healthy. On top of that, the animal might have died or being suffering from pathogens that could be transmitted.


It doesn’t need to be fancy, a regular face mask would do.

4- HELP DOCUMENT: With the time passing, the scene changes: this could undermine chances to identify causes of stranding and/or death. If you have a phone or a camera, please take some pictures and videos of the animal and the surrounding environment. Also brief notes can help reconstruct the scene (e.g. “h 12:13 the tide is rising, the body hits a rock”)


5- REPORT ILLEGALITIES AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! We all know that it is strictly forbidden to sell, trade and export marine curios (sharks, turtles, shells, coral reef fish, corals, etc). If you see them being taken, sold or exported, please report it to HEPCA, we will inform the relevant authorities. Harassment is also taken seriuosly, please help us share code of conducts and report any misbehaviour observed.


Greetings from the bottom right corner,

Posted in Awareness, Violations | 1 Comment

2013 in a post

Another year has gone, the project sees the end of its fourth season, and we dawdle around memories while planning future activities. We decided to conform to the tradition and put together a few dolphin events that characterized 2013, a great year indeed.



> RSDP summer season


The team from the last survey in Satayah is back to Hamata and ready to disembark. Copyright HEPCA.

We spent the summer in the field to collect data for Amina’s and Madda’s PhD projects.
It felt awesome to be back after a period abroad and we are extremely thankful to everybody at HEPCA, Mohamed Ismail, field assistants, dive centres, the crew of Aquarius 12 and Aqua Blue, and friends in Hurghada and Marsa Alam for endless help, support and availability. The work was supported by HEPCA, the Rufford Small Grant Foundation and the University of Otago. More here.

> And the management of Samadai goes to…HEPCA


HEPCA personnel and local youth onboard a speedboat in Samadai. Copyright HEPCA.

What a thrilling start of the year with the Governor of the Red Sea entrusting the management of Samadai to the NGO! A resident team was established to handle bookings, enforcement and daily routine; workshops addressing dive guides to better communicate the value and potential of Samadai were delivered: a sort of first step towards the establishment of a certification scheme. Do not hesitate to get in touch should you have ideas, material or skills to contribute to future activities! More here.

> NO GO for Fanus and Shaab El Erg


Tourist boats approaching indopacific bottlenose dolphins in Hurghada.

Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins in these two coastal reefs are exposed to an unacceptable pressure from commercial and private operations. HEPCA filed a report to the authorities and the Governor of the Red Sea decided for the temporary closure of the two sites to all vessels and the subsequent implementation of a management plan. Everyone familiar with the area knows how popular these two reefs are, conservation of natural resources sometimes can win over economic interest! We look forward to working more closely with operators to improve compliance to regulations. More here.

> The world meets in New Zealand: HEPCA research team goes international

Maui masquerade, just one of the events organised within the conference.

Maui masquerade, just one of the events organised within the conference.

The 20th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals was attended by 1,200 delegates from all over the world willing to meet fellow marine mammal researchers and network, debate, share experiences, results and frustrations. This is the international showcase for marine mammal research, and we were there! Our works attracted the attention of a few colleagues investigating similar topics and more opportunities for collaborations are taking shape. More here.


2014_Global2013 IN THE WORLD

> No more “possibly”


Striped dolphins swimming through oil from the Deepwater Horizon/BP spill. Credit: Ron Wooten, NOAA.

“According to these findings, we conclude that the factor x could have possibly caused the observed phenomenon y, although other factors could have intervened. These are preliminary results and we recommend more studies on the topic”.
Sometimes scientists’ precautionary diplomacy is incredibly annoying!

But then someone stands out:

  • acoustic stimuli (air guns, multi-beam echosounder system, etc.) DO trigger dolphin stranding events
  • human activities DID cause the extinction of the Yangtze River dolphin
  • BP oil spill DID catastrophically affect dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico

Clear powerful conclusions. Funny enough, they never really change the course of history: either they come too late or are not backed by political will. Unfortunately, we live in an absurd world that puts an enormous pressure on scientists to produce robust evidences about correlations and causalities –process that inevitably requires long term projects (with related funding-personnel-support difficulties)- playing a waiting game that ends up favouring that industry that nobody dares to halt. In this absurd world, we (citizens, consumers, voters, parents) still have the power to make informed responsible choices: choose to know things, be aware of best practices and code of conducts, join campaigns, engage, share information, and select products, experiences, politicians according to conscience. More here.

> Thanks but no tanks (1) : Blackfish

Blackfish playbill

Blackfish playbill

Blackfish premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and, since then, has gone viral in social and traditional media shaking public opinion… as well as SeaWorld reputation. The movie retraces the story of Tilikum, a performing killer whale come to the fore for causing the death of three people in the last 20 years. Blackfish depicts the ugly truth about the captive industry, from capture in the wild through imprisonment in various theme parks. Campaigns and protests against SeaWorld (still an 11-million-visitors-a-year company) and orca captivity have taken place throughout the year, enhanced by the broadcasting of the movie on CNN (20 million views).  More here.

> Thanks but no tanks (2): India at the forefront

Protests against dolphinaria

Protests against dolphinaria.

India bans captivity. A ministerial decree states that dolphins are highly intelligent and sensitive creatures and have to be seen as non-human persons with rights. On these bases the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests bans captivity for commercial entertainment, private or public exhibition and interaction purposes whatsoever.
More here.

> Taking a puff at a puffer fish

A young dolphin chewing a puffer fish

A young dolphin chewing a puffer fish.

BBC show “Dolphins: Spy in the Pod” is going to disclose many secrets from the life in the pod. The cameras, disguised like sea creatures (they look so real!), have been deployed in several locations all over the world to witness some of the most incredible events occurring in nature. This is the first one of a long series: dolphins “getting high” on pufferfish.  Basically, young animals do chew the fish and pass it on, each of them ending up in a trance-like state. This is caused by a neurotoxin that the fish release as defence mechanism. The substance could actually be intoxicating (lethal to humans), but can make dolphins “began acting most peculiarly, hanging around with their noses at the surface as if fascinated by their own reflection” (Rob Pilley, zoologist and producer)…or, simply, showing the first stages of toxin-induced paralysis and hovering on the surface to breathe. More here.

That’s all for now!
We hoped you enjoyed the reading and wish you a happy new year full of new interesting stories!

Posted in Awareness, Cetacean, Conferences, News, Samadai

My (un)resting areas: Samadai and Satayah


Observation in Satayah Reef. Photo by Ahmed Fouad Gad (http://ahmedredsea.blogspot.com/). Copyright HEPCA.

No doubt, Samadai and Satayah are among the best places I have ever visited.Fascinating stunning reefs and spinners resting areas.

To me, this is enough to make them special sites.

My affection for Samadai is understandable, the place became part of my professional and personal life a few years back.  Moving to Marsa Alam in 2006 to work on a project in Samadai marked the beginning of a new phase of my life. You never forget your first love: its history and the conservation process that has happened there, a ray of light in the Red Sea panorama, have always captured me. I got to know Satayah and everything orbiting around it several years later and developed the same attachment to the spot and its spinner inhabitants.

On top of that, since my confused scientific-sociologic-conservation oriented soul has brought me to undertake a PhD on tourism impacts on wild dolphin populations, this is my playground. And it is a privileged background! Very few of my fellows can work in such amazing conditions.

This summer we did some fieldwork in both sites. The data collection proceeded according to the plan despite small issues with gizmos and electronics: we got plenty of pictures for photo-identification and hundreds hours of behavioural monitoring. People in and out, the human-component of the project was also very positive.

While observing the average tourist dolphin interactions I found myself much more scientific than I used to be. OBSERVE. This is the keyword, I think. I watched a lot (from sunrise to sunset, never ending days!), I have seen things through other people’s eyes and tried to document without interpreting. A cold, clinical, detached approach. And, believe me, it has not been easy to drop my emotional burden.

I have seen Samadai through the eyes of the guides working there and the visitors. I overheard the extremes “oh well, nothing special, the usual fish” talking about the marine life on the pinnacles that I adore and the “those dolphins are magnificent creatures indeed!”. I have seen guides using the material we handed over and, through their briefing, conveying the value for conservation of the site. I have seen someone getting it, and others not.

Most of my team members had never been to Satayah before our survey and are not involved nor dedicated to the study of dolphin-based tourism. Despite background differences, we came home with the same sweet and sour feelings. I saw their excitement on each single sighting, no matter if it was early morning or the end of a long day, no matter if we were melting under the sun or almost blown away by the northerly. They were there, focused, enjoying every single jump and newborn funny behaviour (and we had plenty!). Every single day.  It is very easy to fall in love with the place, not everybody really gets it though. They did. It was incredible for me to see how quickly they all developed a very sensitive understanding of the whole situation. Of the circus. Because Satayah is a circus, unfortunately. Dolphin watching and swimming-with are uncontrolled and unregulated there, from this a long list of possible scenarios happening on daily basis. In a nutshell: dolphins are a product that has to be enjoyed, no matter the cost. Seen from outside, it looks cruel and unsafe. A pure consumer attitude. The dolphin tourism there looks like an endless hunt, with very little respect (because of little knowledge?) for the dolphins and the visitors. The standard procedure is as follows: be transported by zodiac on top of the dolphins – jump in the water – see dolphin flukes (the animals often flee)– get back on the zodiac. Repeat. Over and over. And, funny enough, many people enjoy! They are probably too excited by the proximity of the animals and would do anything they are instructed to do by crew and guide. So, there is no questioning on the zodiac running full speed on a group of dolphins, on the boats encircling them, on being dropped in the water without fins and mask, on big boats moving at close distance. I saw people whistling and clapping their hands in the water to attract the dolphins. I saw people unable to swim getting in the water. I saw a group of 5 dolphins being “assaulted” by 65+ people and their 5 zodiacs for hours. No stop. And those animals didn’t want to engage in an interaction, this was quite obvious.

There is something wrong in the way Satayah is felt and “used”(I would better say abused). And, to my relief, this is not my conclusion. It is the one of a guy we “rescued” on our speedboat: he refused to swim after the dolphins with his fellow snorkelers. He was left behind by his zodiac. He was screaming in the water “this is insane. You cannot chase them this way!”.

It is also the conclusion of a tour leader who confessed that people cancel their trip after hearing from former visitors that what happens in Satayah is “dolphin hunting”.

It is Suzanna’s “Madda, go scold the guy driving that zodiac!!” referring to a particularly intrusive approach.

It is Yasser’s, our zodiac guy, that after taking me out for the photo-identification session every morning for 15 days, thanked me for teaching him how to approach the group. “Because this is our future, what would we do if the dolphins disappear?”. His words.

So, it is not just me! There is a developing awareness on the issue, which doesn’t need a scientific background, it naturally comes from common sense and a little criticism.

There is work to do. A reforming process has to start as soon as possible, it has to include all social segments and promote an effective change for the marine activities in the Red Sea.

Everyone has a role and a responsibility. Roll up your sleeves people!


Posted in Awareness, Cetacean, Expeditions, Samadai, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Samadai season has started!


Three males come inspecting the researcher.

Hello everyone!

We are back to Marsa Alam where we just concluded 15 long, hot, intense, windy days collecting data about the lovely spinners of Samadai. This year we launched two new projects aimed at better describing the dolphin population structure as well as monitoring group behaviour to grasp possible signs of disturbance caused by human activities.More will come on these topics, for the moment we are happy to share some of the pictures from the field.

We would like to thank Esmail for being so patient and passionate, Islam, Asmaa, Ahmed Ali and Ebada for assisting with the data collection. Many thanks to the crew of “Aquarius 4” for helping and taking good care of us. And of course a big thank goes to the HEPCA patrolling team for doing a great job.

Amina and I will be in Marsa Alam throughout the summer, feel free to drop by Samadai office anytime! Otherwise we will see you out there. We take the chance to remind all guides and visitors that we are very interested in hearing about your encounters with wild dolphins. Find us on facebook or email us and share comments, pictures, information.
Thank you!



Research Platform.


Go team!


That was a perfect team!


Fieldwork: observation from Aquarius 4.


Fieldwork: data on environmental variables.


Fieldwork: observation platform.


Dugong in Marsa Alam harbour?! Yes!!


Spinners sleeping in Samadai.


Good catch! This is a common bottlenose dolphin we spotted north of Samadai.


A group of 7 adult males and 1 female engaging mating and socializing activities, a common sight during summer months.


Starting a photo-identification session in perfect conditions.


A small group of spinner dolphins moving in zone C.


Mother and newborn.


Spinner dolphin intrigued by Amina.


Mother and newborn not shy at all.

Posted in Samadai | 2 Comments

2013 Summer Field Season

Hey there! I am looking for skilled field assistants to join me (Madda) and HEPCA team this summer.

I am doing my PhD at the University of Otago (New Zealand) with a project focussing on the potential effects of tourism activities on behaviour and ecology of spinner dolphins in the Egyptian Red Sea. I am seeking volunteers to assist me this summer (1 June to 10 August 2013) in fieldwork taking place in the area of Marsa Alam (Egypt). Volunteers will work in close collaboration with me and personnel from the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA), an Egyptian leading NGO (www.hepca.org). This is a great opportunity to explore beautiful offshore reefs in the Southern Egyptian Red Sea, enjoy tropical marine biodiversity and live in a multicultural environment while gaining a solid and intense field experience.

Fieldwork in Samadai

Fieldwork in Samadai

Fieldwork consists of 3-10 day boat-based surveys organised in sites of interest and involve behavioural, acoustic and photo-identification data collection. In between surveys the team will be based in Marsa Alam and volunteers are required to assist with data entry, preliminary processing and equipment maintenance.

Life and work can be very demanding and applicants should be relatively fit. Successful candidates have (or are pursuing) a degree in zoology or related topics, are good snorkelers and have previous experience in marine mammals research. Assistants are flexible and patient, have good interpersonal skills and English proficiency, and are comfortable onboard. Candidates should be able to commit for a minimum of 5 weeks, preference is given to those available for the entire season. Volunteers should bring their own laptop computer and snorkelling equipment (mask, snorkel, fins).

This is an unpaid position. Successful candidates will need to provide their own transport to/from Hurghada and food/accommodation on site (this will be arranged through HEPCA and possibly with other team members). Accommodation is provided during the boat-based survey, but interns will be asked to contribute to food and research expenses. The final surveys schedule will be communicated to applicants as soon as possible.

With the current Egyptian political situation, plans and schedules are subject to unanticipated changes: I thank all applicants for their understanding.

If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact me.

If interested in the position, I suggest you have a preliminary look at travel arrangements and email me at fumma785@student.otago.ac.nz a short CV (including references) and cover letter by the 12th May 2013. Successful applicants will be contacted for an interview and final decisions will be made by the 17th of May.



PS – This was also published on MARMAM mailing list: if interested in pursuing a career in marine mammal research, you want to sign up to it!

Posted in Cetacean, Expeditions, Samadai | 1 Comment

Flipper, I can’t stand you!

Untitled, 1983. Keith Haring.I am preparing a document about our Samadai project and, these days, I am drafting a section on ecotourism and sustainable dolphin watching and swimming-with. I started a search for all information that would help me understand the reasons why we, humans, are so attracted by them, dolphins. I discovered a world of poetic and romantic legends dating back to the Ancient Greek and Romans as well as more remote indigenous cultures. I found stories of cooperation and help in which dolphins are pictured as gentle, smart, merciful creatures symbolizing respect, kindness, intelligence, often intervening to rescue humans or by them invoked for protection. The reader gets a sense of peaceful admiration and devotion for those creatures that have been chosen by so many authors and artists to embody so noble virtues. The human protagonist is often depicted a rank down the dolphin, increasing the appreciation for the cetacean.

But there is something else, something really primary and more mysterious about this connection, something not related to culture and local tales, something that has perhaps even inspired those stories. It is not clear to me what has come first between the feeling of attraction and its celebration in arts and culture. The two must have grown together, enhancing each other. I think we have an innate will to socially interact with other creatures that we subconsciously perceive as able to engage in this relationship; I also think art has picked up this innate tendency and fed it back to us interpreted, elaborated and materialized in various forms of artistic expression.

Artists and communicators have a great responsibility: with their interpretative work, they mold the collective imagination and somehow influence our expectations.

We are getting to the point.

Classical artists glorified these superb animals, triggering a sense of reverence and deference in the public. But in modern times something changed. The natural connection we feel for dolphins remained, but the paradigm shifted. At some point in history the hierarchy was reversed: we were not looking up at the majestic creature anymore, we became equal, when not superior. This, whether it is due to different communication forms and formats or an actual philosophical swing, this has changed everything and brought our society to a contradiction that is so blatant and ironic that would be funny, if it wasn’t fueling some of the major threats dolphins face nowadays.

Not surprisingly, according to various surveys (including BBC TV), swimming with dolphins is enlisted in the top activities in people bucket lists. Obvious, anticipated, it is a great experience and it is nested in our souls.

What is shocking is the expectation we have, the way we picture this encounter in our imagination.

Google it. Search for images using “swim with dolphins” as query.
Hugs, kisses, rides. This is the current collective immagination. Not much left of the majestic magical goodwill creatures, they are pictured as pets now, forced into unnatural postures and behaviors. And I blame Flipper, one of the most popular symbols of this new school of thought, for drilling this misconception into our brains and captive facilities for immortalizing it. What you have seen in the TV show and see today in pools is what we want them to do. Do not try to hug a dolphin thinking that he/she will spontaneously and happily respond. It won’t, obviously. People, you are being misled: wake up!

What worries me is that, as long as we have such an utilitarian approach to natural resources (even those we claim to love), their conservation will hardly be satisfactorily achieved.

We need a different environmental culture.
Maybe they are not many, but we still have “romantic” authors that properly represent in their articles, videos, songs the nature of these animals…please, let them invade your mind and work your imagination. If you can’t find them, you can always seek refuge in the classics.

Always question and make considered choices, a critical approach is fundamental in everything… we would still be burning witches otherwise!


Posted in Awareness, Cetacean | 3 Comments