Tamara is currently living in Iquitos, Peru. Monthly she takes the boat into the Reserve with a group of EarthWatch volunteers to spend two weeks researching the dolphins. Below are some of her journal entries and photographs. You can click on any of the photographs to see a larger image.

January 16, 2000

My first group of volunteers for this year will be coming in a few days to help me with my researcBoat deckh. I am looking forward to meeting them, but am nervous too. There is so much to do before they come. Will I get it all done on time? Will they like the boat? Will they like the dolphins as much as I do? Will they like the food? Will they be homesick and think life on the river with the mosquitoes and hot weather is just too difficult?

This week the crew and I are busy repainting the boat.We are also recovering the upper deck with a new sun shield that will keep out the rain. This is important for watching the dolphins during the daytime and for sleeping at night! Shopping

The cook, Horacio, and I go to the market with a long, long shopping list. We have to buy enough food to feed nine people for twelve days on the river. Once we are on the river, there aren't any stores we can just run to if we have forgotten anything, so we must plan carefully. We have to buy healthy food that everyone will like, and we also have to buy things that will last for two weeks in the heat. We don't have any electricity to run a refrigerator, but we do have a big ice chest with lots of ice. We will see how long the ice lasts in this heat! We also have to bring all of our drinking water.




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MotorcarI am very lucky Horacio is a good cook with lots of experience and knows where to buy things in the market. It takes us all day to buy the food, and we must go from shop to shop. There isnÕt a big grocery store here. It is very hot, and the smells of the market are very strong. I am glad when we are finished! I have to buy a few more things for the boat to make it more comfortable for people to live on. I buy things like mosquito nets, pillows, chairs, stools, and plates and silverware.

Once I buy everything in the market, I must bring it to the boat using the local transportation, called a motocar-- it is a modified motorcycle with a passenger seat. They are fast and fun to take around town, but they are very noisy too. It is amazing to me that the driver has room for me and all of my things!



January 23, 2000 Boat

My first team of four volunteers has arrived, and I am relieved to meet them and to find that they are all very nice people. They are all very happy to be here with me to help study the dolphins. We met in Iquitos, then boarded the boat and started traveling to the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve.

To my relief, the volunteers laugh and tell jokes and get along very well with each other and the crew. They have lots of questions for me about the dolphins, and they are ready to begin work. We discuss what life will be like on the boat for the next few weeks, then we discusboto slapping tails the research and the methods that we will be using to study the dolphins.

By late afternoon, we are seeing and counting dolphins! During the two weeks in the Reserve, we observe many dolphins of the two river dolphin species, boto and tucuxi. Some of our results will be posted in a different part of this web site, so you can read about our results. One day we see a bright pink boto slapping its tail on the surface of the water. Everyone is very surprised to see this, and it makes a loud noise as the tail strikes the water. I am not sure why the dolphin is doing this. Sometimes dolphins slap their tails when they are mad. This dolphin might also just be playing.

One of my volunteers buys me a surprise -- a dugout canoe from one of the local villages! Now I Canoecan paddle out to watch the dolphins without the noise of the engine of the big boat. The canoe is fun to paddle, but difficult to balance. It will take lots of practice. The first time I try it I almost fall into the water. The local children learn how to paddle canoes when they are very young. Some paddle their own canoes when they are only five or six years old!

This first trip with volunteers has been a success. We spent a lot of time in doing research, but we had fun too, and made some new friends. I hope the rest of the year is this good!


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February 7, 2000

This week I am back in Iquitos. I am tired from the research trip, and there is a lot of work to do. My crew and I have to clean all of the equipment from the last trip, clean the boat, organize all of the data and photographs, and get ready for the next trip in one week.

I ate something bad when I was in Iquitos and am sick for a few days. I am worried things wonÕt be ready in time for the next trip. I have so much to do, but am so tired and just want to sleep. I am lucky that I have friends in Iquitos that help take care of me and the crew helps to get things ready for the next trip.

The captain of the boat quit his job this week suddenly. He says his family is having problems at home and they need him to help them around the house and not be traveling on the river. Now I have only a few days to find a new captain. What will I do? Luckily, I find a good new captain, and a good first mate to help him run the ship. The boat is cleaned, the equipment organized, the food and drinking water has been bought and we are ready to go again. I am feeling better, but still feel tired.


February 14, 2000

PaddleTeam two arrives. It is an all woman team! We laugh and call ourselves the Ladies' Dolphin Watching Society. One day we were all watching dolphins and recording their behavior, and I noticed we were all fanning ourselves in the heat. It reminded me of an old-fashioned ladiesÕ club for sewing or playing cards, except that we were all conducting scientific research.

At the end of the trip, the volunteers present me with a paddle for my canoe and the paddle has the names of the members of the team on it. I am really happy with their present!

One day at one of the ranger stations in the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve, we meet a group of students that are staying at the ranger station. The students are from the University of the Peruvian Amazon, which is in Iquitos. They are all studying biology. Along with a professor, they are staying for one month in the Reserve to learn more about the wildlife and plants found there. We invite them on the boat with us one day, and they help us watch dolphins. We teach them more about our research, and show them how to record Studentsthe data on the data sheets and how to use the equipment.

In this photo, my research assistant Geronimo Vega Quevare, is showing the students how to operate the GPS. Ger—nimo is also a student at the University in Iquitos. He is studying biology. He has very good eyes and can spot a dolphin from a long way away. He and I communicate in Spanish. He is learning English. He helps me with my Spanish and I help him with English. He speaks another language as well, called Bora. He is a member of the Bora ethnic group and is from near the Peruvian/Colombian/Brazilian border. He plans to be head of the Reserve one day and I think he will be good at it!


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February 21, 2000 Dead boto

Fishing netToday is a sad day. We find the body of a tucuxi that died from drowning in a net. The net was set by poachers who were trying to illegally trap an aquatic turtle. People like to eat the turtles, especially in soup. This net caught a dolphin instead. Even though we are all sad about the dolphin, there is much to be learned from studying the dolphin.

We move the body to shore, and Geronimo, the captain, the ranger, and I investigate the dolphin. The smell is terrible and we have to wear gloves to keep our hands clean. We measure its length, width, count its teeth, and try to determine what sex it is. Sometimes this last part is impossible, as the piranhas eat away at the body. This dolphin was very large for a tucuxi-- the largest one I have ever seen.

We leave the body with the ranger, as he wants to save the bones and skull to study them more. When we go back to Iquitos we tell the head of the Reserve about the dead dolphin and how it was killed illegally. He is sad to hear the news and says he will look into the situation.



February 28, 2000

Another busy week of cleaning up after one trip and preparing for the next. It also seems the boat is in bad shape and will need to have some repairs made to it so that it will be safe to travel on. Wood rots very quickly here in the tropical heat. The Amazon River is very big and powerful and we have to respect it. We just canÕt be too careful. Any boat problems and everyoneÕs lives could be in danger.

It is raining a lot and the river is rising, so the current is very strong and there are many logs in the river that could put a hole in a weak boat. The boat builders come to the boat and make repairs all week. They say the boat is safe now but that it will need major repairs in April if we are to continue using it until the end of the year. I love my work and studying the dolphins, but sometimes I have a lot of other things to worry about!


March 6, 2000

boy with fishTeam three arrives. There are only three volunteers on this team. There is also another researcher on this trip. He is a dolphin researcher that has worked in South Africa, the United States, and in the Pacific Ocean. He is here to help with the research and also to see river dolphins for the first time. He is really surprised at how difficult they are to study, since we do not get to see very much of them in the dark water. He has some good ideas about how to study their behavior, and we all enjoy listening to his stories about marine dolphins. He and I agree it is good that we each got to learn something more about different types of dolphins.

We visit the lake of San Pablo de Tipishca. I worry about the future of this lake because there are so many fishermen there these Forest viewdays. They are catching a lot of fish which they take to Iquitos to sell. I worry that soon there wonÕt be enough fish left for the dolphins, the birds, and the local people. It seems everyone here eats fish!

We meet a little boy who helps his father with the fishing. While his father catches fish in nets, the little boy guards the fish cage where they store the fish (photo 12). The little boy works all day in the hot sun and seems a little nervous to see a boat full of strange looking foreigners. We see many camps around the lake where people live temporarily while they are fishing in the lake. They cut down lots of trees, and hunt wildlife in order to eat something besides fish. Local people are allowed to fish for their food in the Reserve, but outsiders are not supposed to come in to hunt or fish. It makes me sad to see so many camps of outsiders.


March 20, 2000 Researcher

Another busy week. I am sick again. I think it is from being tired and worried and also there are many strange diseases in the tropics. This week classes are supposed to start up again at the University so Ger—nimo will not be able to join me on the next research trip. Summer vacation in Peru is from January until late March, which is summer below the equator.

While Ger—nimo is in school for the next few months, I will be helped by another researcher, Enzo Aliaga Rossel. Enzo is a biologist from Bolivia, and has studied botos in his country for several years. He will help me with my research and will also compare the habitat and river dolphins of Peru to what he has seen in Bolivia. Enzo speaks Spanish and English.

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March 27, 2000

Team four of volunteers -- this is a very international team. We have volunteers from England, New Zealand, and the USA, as well as the Peruvian crew and RainbowAmerican and Bolivian researchers. We all get along really well, even though we donÕt all speak the same language. Even those that speak the same language often have problems understanding each otherÕs accents and expressions!

We see a lot of dolphins on this trip, in spite of all of the rain and the mosquitoes. It is the height of the rainy season right now, and we have had a lot of rain. The good thing about the rain though is the beautiful rainbows that we see. The bad things about the rain are that we lose some research time, there are a lot of mosquitoes, our clothes take along time to dry, and things like books and papers and the wood on the boat mold very quickly. We also find out the boatÕs roof leaks very badly and all of our beds get wet one night! The crew does their best to fix the leaks, but the boat builders will have to repair the roof now as well as the hull of the boat when we are back in port.

We meet the family of one of the rangers. He is working as a ranger to support his wife and six children. He misses his family very much as he must work for two and a half months by himself at the ranger station and only gets a week off to go visit his family Ranger's familybefore he must be back at work. He does not have a telephone or two-way radio and is usually by himself. We visited his family in their house in another village in the Reserve and gave them a letter from the ranger. He said he missed them and would try to come home soon.

We took pictures of the family to give to the ranger so that he could see their faces and know they are doing well. We had hoped this View out windowwould cheer him up, but the older girls kept crying because they missed their father, so the photos made him sad and happy at the same time. The ranger told us how difficult his and the other rangersÕ jobs are and we all wish we could help them.

This is the last trip I will have until May. I will go to the USA for a short visit with my family. During this time the boat builders will pull the boat out of the water and make the major repairs that need to be made. Enzo will stay in Peru to help supervise the work. Peru has its presidential elections on April 9, and some people worry that there may be some violence and protests. I am glad that I do not have a new group of volunteers that are coming right now as it might be difficult to travel. I will return to Peru May 6, and my next group of volunteers arrives May 13. I am looking forward to a rest, but then I am really looking forward to being back on the river, studying the dolphins again.

This is the view from my bedroom window on the boat. I think it is the best view in the world! I will think of it often while I am away.


Click here for more of Tamara's journal entries.