Dolphin Tales

Students take part in cutting-edge research in Greece.

dolphinsIt was 7 a.m. when Patricia “Pachi” Verdezoto ’15 boarded a boat to go look for dolphins off the coast of Greece.

The boat carried a handful of student researchers and a driver. They left the dock and glided through calm, clear seawater.

Everyone remained silent, focused intently on the blue sea.

Verdezoto caught a glimpse of a fin peaking above the water. Or was it just a wave? “Eight o’clock!” she shouted. Another student confirmed the dolphin sighting, and the driver turned the boat around.

Soon, they were studying a dolphin family up close. They took pictures and lowered a waterproof microphone into the water.

“Three of them were swimming around us,” Verdezoto said in a recent interview. “I was really excited. I’ve wanted to do this ever since I was little.”

The group’s observations and photographs will be used in the Northern Aegean Dolphin Project, which studies the daily habits of dolphins to better understand the environmental conditions in a marine park that is a crucial breeding ground for the endangered monk seal.

The dolphin research program was devised by Emily Joseph ’04, who lived in Greece for eight years while working for the Hellenic Society for the Preservation of the Monk Seal.

“It’s a very unique project,” she said. “The Aegean hasn’t been fully studied, so it’s a great opportunity for the students to take part in cutting-edge research on something that has never been studied before.”

Joseph attended the College before it developed the environmental studies major and ended up transferring after two years. When she returned to Lynchburg—her hometown—after working in Greece, she reconnected with her professors and discovered Randolph’s environmental studies program was thriving. Joseph then offered to connect Randolph students with the dolphin project.

(Left) Babatunde Ajao '15 and other student researchers rest on the boat they used for finding and researching dolphins in the Aegean sea.

(Left) Babatunde Ajao ’15 and other student researchers rest on the boat they used for finding and researching dolphins in the Aegean sea.

In addition to Verdezoto, Anne “Reynolds” Martin ’15, and Babatunde Ajao ’15 participated in the project this summer. All three were supported by the Randolph Innovative Student Experience (RISE) program, which gives grants to support students’ independent research and creative works.

Ajao, a math major, enjoyed using mathematical modeling of the project’s data to predict the future dolphin population. However, he also learned quite a bit just by watching how the program worked.

“I plan to be an entrepreneur, and I want to go into sustainable development,” he said. “You have to be able to use the resources around you to survive and thrive.”

Joseph kept in touch with the Randolph students throughout their experience. She was glad that they could participate firsthand in research that is close to her heart. The data they gathered could help keep environmental issues on the forefront even as Greece copes with economic turmoil, she said.

“The more information we can express to the public, the better position we are in to advocate for the environment.”