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Northeastern student researches dolphin behavior for a Greek marine conservation nonprofit during Mediterranean
Sea co-op

Francesca Russell, now a fourth-year student, spent last spring on co-op with Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation based in Agios Konstantinos, Greece.

Francesca Russell in the water off the coast of Greece wearing scuba diving gear.
Northeastern student Francesca Russell explores the Mediterranean during her co-op in Greece helping with dolphin conservation. Courtesy Photo

Whether it was kayaking to small inlets in the northeastern part of the Mediterranean Sea or spending overnight on a boat all in the pursuit of tracking the local dolphin population, Northeastern University marine biology major Francesca Russell was living — and working — the dream.

Russell, now a fourth-year student, spent last spring on co-op with Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation, a nonprofit based in Agios Konstantinos, Greece, dedicated to research and conservation in the northeastern part of the Mediterranean Sea. Her work was focused specifically on the local dolphin population.

“That was honestly perfect for me,” Russell said. “I want to get into specifically marine mammals, so having them assign me to the marine mammal team was a dream come true.”

Russell’s home base was the Greek town where the organization is headquartered (she bunked in a house by the port with other people working for the organization). She spent part of her time in Greece out on the water tracking the dolphin population.

“There were three different species of dolphins that primarily were of interest to us,” Russell said. “Most of the time, we would see them going out. We would record their behavior so we had to memorize the different categories of their behaviors in order to write them down (and record) how many times they did it and what the interactions are like between the dolphins themselves.”

The team would also record the bioacoustic data of the dolphins, tracking the clicks and whistles they made. On days when the weather was too poor to go out on the water, Russell would work in Archipelagos’ office, looking at unidentified bioacoustic data to determine what species of dolphin were in the recordings.

“The more we know about the species and how they behave is in the best interest for Archipelagos in order to best protect them,” Russell explained. 

During her time on co-op, Russell also worked on a project to help find ways to improve the organization’s kayak survey. She ultimately wrote a proposal suggesting Archipelagos collect the same bioacoustic data on kayak surveys as they do on boat surveys, learning GIS mapping and building her science writing and site data collection skills along the way.

However, she spent the bulk of her time on co-op on the water. This included a two-day boat survey up the coast tracking dolphins.

Russell was born and raised in Jamaica, but her mother is Italian, and she’s spent ample time in the Mediterranean region. Because of this, moving to Greece wasn’t much of a culture shock. What was new to her though was the experience of working with other people from around the globe.

“It was amazing,” she said. “Building connections with marine biologists or future ones was an amazing experience. I have a whole community now over in Europe.”