An unexpected wind of good promises for the New Year

The New Year has just begun and we already are at the end of what has been an intense and surprising first month. The Montenegrin winter has brought temperature well below freezing and totally unexpected snow, a very rare event for this mild region, which managed to surprise even the locals with breathtaking scenery of white beaches against a background of majestic snowy mountains. With the powder snow, the northern high winds and a sea state often above 5 Beaufort our work has sensibly slowed down, however we tirelessly tried to make the most of the few good days and, in fact, we made it!!

Summing up the first achievements of the Montenegro Dolphin Project team for the new year, surely we must mention the boat survey from Budva to Kotor, a round trip of more than 50 Nautical Miles and 10 hours at sea from the colorful port of Budva to the Bay of Kotor, a fairy tale place located just before the Croatian border. Halfway of our survey without sighting, the stop for a hot chocolate in Perast helped us to warm up and find new energy for the coming hours; about to leave the bay and head back to Budva, we finally found a solitary bottlenose dolphin awaiting us. This big specimen seemed to rule the bay with its impressive presence and amazed us so much to rename it “The King”. This single encounter has payed off all effort and tiredness and also has offered the perfect chance to take some pictures up close.

It is not very common to find lone dolphins since these animals are highly social, usually living in structured aggregations called “pods” and formed by numerous individuals connected to each others through sophisticated means of communication, exactly as it happens in our families and societies. One of the purposes of our study is precisely to understand the reasons behind the distribution of dolphins in Montenegro, but single encounters are not an exception in these waters, especially in the last period. During a recent land survey, indeed, we had a similar experience: a solitary dolphin was traveling just in front of our station, a few meters away from the shore. Although we did not expect a sighting so close we were enough fast to grip the camera and take some shots for the subsequent photo identification.

Photo identification, also known as photo-ID, is an essential tool for recognizing individual dolphins (and also others animals) through particular markings such us the nicks of their dorsal fin. These features are unique and hold important details as our fingerprints do. They can give us clues regarding dolphins populations movement, seasonality, favorite areas, social structure and other vital information needed to understand and protect these awesome creatures. Thanks to the pictures collected during our several boat surveys since the beginning of the project, we could already identify some individuals and started creating our database.

Whatever the answers we will obtain from our study, it appears obvious to our eyes that these waters, just like the winter wind, promise some incredible and unexpected experiences and we cannot wait to see what else 2017 has to offer.

Elisa Gaggioli

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