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Journals 2003/2004

Elizabeth Gibbs
Thompson Middle School, Newport, Rhode Island

"Impact of human activities on dusky dolphin behavior and population biology"
Field Station, Kaikora, New Zealand
July 13 - 25, 2003

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Thursday, July 24, 2003

Our last day on the water. Louise, Mika and I had ended up as the "small boat team," those not suffering from seasickness and eager to spend as much time on the water as possible. It was noted that we all grew up on islands of some nature. The dolphins were helpful that day. It was a beautiful, calm day-more calm than predicted. The water was exceptionally clear; the first secchi disk reading was 9.5 meters (nearly 30 feet)! We were on the water for about six hours, but we had a quite leisurely and extremely enjoyable last day. The dolphins were playful and cooperative for photo i.d. Tim shot about 1200 frames and would have gotten to 2500 if he hadn't forgotten the other microdrive.

We did a behavioral survey, but the dolphins were quite mellow and the day was really better for shooting fins. This gave Louise and me a chance to spend most of our time hanging over the side of the boat, trying to touch dolphins (succeeded only once in touching a dorsal fin, which is probably just as well) and gazing into water so clear it almost seemed we were in it with them. I watched the dolphins for hours, studying their coloration patterns to see if I could draw them from memory when we got back to the house. I watched them swim alongside the boat, hardly seeming to move but for the flicks of their tails pushed by many very strong muscles. I saw them roll slightly to the sides and look over at me, and sometimes do a little eye out to check out the boat. I watched them speed alongside the boat, then, with a quick flip of the tail, disappear into the green. They associated sometimes in smaller groups, wondering how long they stayed together and if they were something like what we consider "buddies." I looked at the dolphins leaping and surfacing, sometimes black silhouettes against the backdrop of the gleaming sun and the snow-topped mountains. I wondered what it feels like to be a dolphin. I considered the enormity of the research to be done on just this population of dolphins. I also mused on how limited we are as humans, how constrained we are by our human perspective. But the dolphin society is very complex, too, so it's no surprise that their story is such a big job to unravel, considering that we get very brief glimpses of them, really. I thought how much I would miss them and how glad I was to be going on Dolphin Encounter on my own on Saturday to swim with them.

That evening, I attempted to draw one of the duskies from memory. I got the general shape fairly well, but, as I had suspected, I did not get the detail of the coloring quite right - where the white marks go exactly, or where the gray ends and black begins. I used a field guide to correct my drawing and draw two more.

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