project review

Pods of 50 bottlenose dolphins

Review submitted by Emma Titterington
Review date 2 Feb 2010

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After having finished my first year at work, I thought that I wanted a break, but not a conventional holiday that ended up with me lying on the beach doing nothing all day.  So, I came across the Frontier website and saw a dolphin monitoring trip.  Booking and going on it was the best decision I made all year.

After staying in a hotel overnight in Naples, I arrived on the ferry to Ischia and travelled by bus to Casamicciola.  From the distance I saw a sailing boat with "Dolphin Project" written across a banner.  I have to say that this point was the scariest part of the trip, which was crossing the plank to the boat - it’s wobbly, high and thin and the fact I had a heavy backpack on did not make things much better.  However, the boat’s marine biologist waved at me from the boat and coaxed me across, successfully.  I had arrived early but was invited to join the crew for lunch with a couple of the captain’s friends.  The food on board, the whole time, was absolutely fantastic and is always accompanied by a rather splendid local white wine, which never runs out...EVER.  The coffee is also amazing but you have to get up early enough for it.  Later in the afternoon, the 3 others to join us on the trip arrived, two English people and an American lady.  It was a warm evening and we celebrated our arrival with more food, more wine and helped to clean up afterwards.

I slept outside for the duration of the trip, unfortunately there were storms most nights at this time of the year, thunder crashed every 2 minutes followed by flashes of lightening. The captain always seemed to anticipate gusts of wind and the rain in the middle of the night, along with a boat hand with the most insane amount of energy I have ever seen in anyone at that time of the night!

Annoyingly the wind was too high for 3 days of our trip but during the day we wandered around the Island and visited the most beautiful beaches, went to thermal pools and generally relaxed and sunbathed on the boat.  It was great just to get to know the people that were sailing. The staff also taught us about all the whales around the Mediterranean and the instruments used to measure sound waves and how to video the dolphins in order to identify each one by their markings.  Seriously though, it is amazing what their research has achieved as they are in the process of creating a marine protected area around the island.   Unfortunately the short-beaked common dolphin is dying out around Ischia, due to pollution and its inability to adapt to eating different foods. Sperm whales, fin whales and pilot whales all use the coast of Ischia as a feeding ground and the crew have all helped to build up a body of research to support expanding the marine protected area.

We were able to go out one day but unfortunately we had no sightings, however, I really just enjoyed the sailing with everyone.  The crew tried to teach us to do knots and taught us how to control the vessel. The boat itself was of particular pride to the crew; the captain had actually restored it and built the deck by hand, as well as the inside.  He has been at sea since the age of 12 and so is a person to respect as he knows the sea and boat so well and when we did catch sight of the dolphins, he almost looked like it was his first time because he gets so excited.

On my final day, after very little success all week we suddenly heard some echoes on the machinery and headed in that direction, a few boats had passed and waved, telling us that there was a group nearby. The dogs on the boat started to bark and then out of nowhere we saw them, a pod of about 50 bottlenose dolphins.  They had been feeding and now just wanted to play in the water.  They jumped, dived and loved riding the bow wave of the boat.  The crew ran around taking photos and recording the sound waves whilst we recorded them and just had fun watching them.  We followed them for three hours and they were absolutely beautiful.  It was definitely worth it.

On our final night some of the captain’s friends arrived and brought us pastries and we played card games and kept on drinking the Ischian wine.  I had had an amazing week and I really enjoyed meeting all the new people. It is surprising how sad you feel leaving the boat and the crew because you really fit in as a sort of dysfunctional family, I have kept in contact with them and hope to return in two years.  For now, I am already planning my next wildlife conservation trip for 2011 with Frontier.

Find out more about the Italy Dolphin Monitoring and Sailing project