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 (, 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

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 ( 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 (


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