Albania Dolphin Research – October 2019

On 23rd October, the DMAD team took to the road early in the morning (04:45, to be exact!) to travel across the border from Montenegro to Albania,. to further research the dolphin abundance along the coast of the Southern Adriatic. 
The 5 researchers arrived in time for a sunrise survey at a site in the town of Shengjin. As always, the survey tasks were shared amogst the whole team, with each researcher taking it in turns to use a theodolite, fill in the data sheet and operate the pythagoras software on the field computer. This particular survey site looked on to a wide expanse of water, meaning that the team needed to stay alert when observing the surface. No dolphins were spotted on this first survey, but positions and movements of boats were logged and will contribute to our data set on marine traffic. 
After  a short lunch break the team carried on to the next survey station, a 2 hour drive away through the rural areas of northern Albania. We aim to conduct our surveys around sunrise and sunset, leaving a break in the  middle of the day to relax on the beach, catch up on sleep or have a quick swim.  Arriving at the Cape of Rodon, the team set up again and almost immediately spotted a fin in the distance! The team followed the movements of a pod of 3 bottlenose dolphins for around 20 minutes, recording their swim styles, group style and their behavioural events which included breeching. The most common behavioural state was travelling, and they traveled parallel to the coastline until the team lost sight of their fins. 
Once the sun had set, the team continued on to Durrës to check in to the accommodation. The apartment overlooked the beach and restaurants, and although it was dark everyone was looking forward to what promised to be a great view the next morning. With high spirits following the afternoon’s dolphin encounter, the victorious researchers had dinner at a nearby restaurant and reflected on a great first day in Albania! 
The next morning the team was back on the road bright and early ready to set up at the next survey site in Durrës. Already well accustomed to their role and synchronised as a team, everyone set to work scanning the area for dolphins and logging boat traffic, aided and abetted by some trivia from team supervisor, Tim (did you know that hippos sweat in red when they’re upset?)! 
As many field biologists know, patience is a virtue when committing to repetitive surveying. It’s important to keep enthusiasm and morale high amongst the whole team, and in Albania it was fantastic to be in the great company of the other volunteers. Over the course of two surveys at Durrës, only marine vessel traffic was recorded. Although it can be disheartening not to see dolphins, this data is still important and valuable when pursuing long-term research that aims to positively affect marine conservation and advance the protection of marine mammals in Albanian waters. 

The frustration of plastic pollution catching attention and causing false hope when surveying the ocean is a reminder of the environmental issues the planet is facing. It is also the evidence that everybody must live as sustainably as possible and continue to spread this message to others. The survey sites that the team worked with in Albania are all stunning however sadly marred by litter and plastic pollution that ends up there. 

On day 3 the team once again had an early start, this time hitting the road to go back to Cape of Rodon. In the absence of dolphins the team kept themselves entertained mapping boats in the area and playing a few marine biology related games. (A favourite question amongst the DMAD team – If you were a marine mammal, which one would you be and why?)

After the final survey of the trip back at Shengjin everyone enjoyed a sunset drive back across the border into Montenegro, accompanied by some Montenegrin music and the prospect of arriving back home to our adopted dog and honorary DMAD mascot, Kewa!