News - November 7, 2009

Counting dolphins in polluted waters

Dolphins are not as adorable as they look. Fourth year coast and sea management student Anna Weber discovered this during her internship in Tenerife. With her own eyes, she also saw the effects of mass tourism on nature.

Volunteers do research on whales from a research boat belonging to the Atlantic Whale Foundation.
 'My fascination with dolphins took me to Tenerife. I spent six months doing an internship with the Atlantic Whale Foundation in Arona, a small village hidden in the hills of southern Tenerife. This is a non-profit organization run by volunteers and engaged in research concerning whales. I set out to sea at least once a day to count the dolphins along the 34-kilometer coastline and recorded the ways they interacted with the boat.'
'I wanted very much to see with my own eyes how a dolphin behaves in its natural habitat. What really struck me is that they aren't as adorable as they look. Dolphins are withdrawn and timid in the wild. Swimming with dolphins in the wild is therefore prohibited. Besides this, the males often kidnap the females of another dolphin species to copulate.
I had a fair bit of contact with the locals. This was partly because I had to set up a website for eco-tourism. This website would coordinate information from locals who wish to let their houses or apartments to tourists. Tourists can then stay in local homes instead of large hotels. Unfortunately, this website is now in disuse.'
'During the boat trips, I encountered much beauty. However, I also came across plastic bags floating in the water, or turtles which had to be freed from fishing hooks. I saw with my own eyes the pollution which mass tourism brings. I also guided tourists during whale observation trips and supplied them with information.
One day, during a normal sailing trip, the captain suddenly began to leap and wave. I thought that someone had fallen overboard. It turned out that he had spotted a blue whale in the distance. When we arrived at the spot, the whale was nowhere to be seen, to everyone's disappointment. But about a minute later, it reared above the water, less than five meters from our boat! I held my breath as I looked straight into the eyes of the biggest whale species in the world. The thrill I felt I will never forget.' - Marlot Roelofs