Whale Scientists Story: Stefano Bellomo

Stefano Bellomo is a 32-year-old Italian whale scientist currently working as a marine mammal observer and a social media manager for the Jonian Dolphin Conservation. Here is his story.

Stefano Bellomo

Stefano’s education at the University of Bari

I studied both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in environmental biology at the University of Bari, my city. I wanted to discover and explore the science behind life on our planet, explore the world of ecology and acquire the necessary knowledge to undertake necessary actions to protect Mother Nature. Before becoming a biologist, I had always been an activist for the protection of our planet.

I finished my bachelor’s degree in a short time. My master’s program, however, took me a long time to complete because I was only attending part-time. During those years, I participated in about 50 projects of the Erasmus Plus Programme, traveling and training throughout Europe. I worked on enhancing natural resources, citizen science, and engaged citizenship. I finished my master’s degree in March 2019 with a thesis about photo-Identification of Sperm Whales sighted in the Gulf of Taranto.

Field internships and training activities

A strong connection with the Jonian Dolphin Conservation

In 2015, I did a year-long internship with the Jonian Dolphin Conservation (JDC), the research association I work for today, that operates in the Gulf of Taranto (Italy). I focused on studying cetaceans’ behavior, especially in striped dolphins. I found this opportunity through my university. Since 2015, I have been collaborating with JDC on various projects.

The Jonian Dolphin Conservation is a scientific organization founded in 2011 based in Taranto. It operates in the Gulf of Taranto (Southern Italy), in the Ionian Sea. It deals with several citizen science and research projects. The goal is to make adults and children more aware of the importance of the natural heritage of the Gulf. This is why JDC created the “researcher for a day” program: students or tourists can join the researchers of the JDC team to experience an actual day of research at sea, with marine mammals. This is also an important method for JDC to fund their research activities. They also organize, marine biology camps, training, volunteer opportunities, scientific and awareness events dedicated to biodiversity and marine conservation.

Stefano Bellomo
Looking for cetaceans in the Mediterranean Sea – Credit: Stefano Bellomo

Additional training, everywhere in Europe

I have also carried out many shorter training activities with the Erasmus Plus Program. Among them, three activities stood out: the first one was about cetaceans in Madeira (Portugal), the second training activity was on Shearwaters in Murcia (Spain), and the third on Mediterranean monk seals in Izmir (Turkey). I also have been participating as a volunteer in research activities related to the study and protection of Mediterranean Sea Turtles with the WWF.

Each internship is always a new challenge, and, in my opinion, there is always something to learn. Every experience that takes you out of your comfort zone teaches you about yourself. Each opportunity makes you understand what your true passion is, makes you relate to people, and learn from them. It teaches you the important value of teamwork and can also allow you to take action. Every experience is a challenge, and for this reason, it is beautiful.

Stripped dolphins in the Mediterranean Sea – Credit: Stefano Bellomo

Stefano’s current work: Marine mammal observer and social media manager

Today I work for Jonian Dolphin Conservation as a Marine Mammal Observer and as a Social Media Manager. For about 200 days a year, we are on the open sea in search of our beloved cetaceans. On our boats, we are rarely alone, but we host students and tourists on board. Our research activities are self-financed thanks to Citizen Science activities such as research camps and the “researcher for a day” program.

In addition to fieldwork, I like to share our adventures at sea on social media to better communicate our mission. The team and I dedicate ourselves to data analysis during the winter season (on land) and publish our research with academic collaborators. I focus my research mainly on ethology & photo-identification. The two species that I love to study the most are Risso’s dolphins and sperm whales. I also work on other communication projects, to spread love and awareness for Mother Nature.

Risso’s dolphins – Credit: Stefano Bellomo

My current job is my dream job. I love being at sea, every day. Imagine being surrounded by dolphins, collecting useful information for their protection, hosting tourists, students, and children on board. Imagine teaching them how wonderful Mother Nature is, and giving them a unique and unforgettable experience. This is simply my place in the world. This is what I want to do with my life.

Two tips to aspiring marine mammalogists

The first tip is to listen to your passion. This is not a typical 9-to-5 office job. It is a way of life. Living the sea as a profession is based on a deep bond with it. You have to love it. If you feel all of this inside, then you are on the right path. Work hard, do your best, study, read, explore, discover, live every possible educational experience because it will surely help you. Go out of your comfort zone and live your passion.

The second tip is to be humble. The sea teaches you that humility is essential. You can’t win against it; you have to learn to listen to it, understand it, and respect it. Only in this way will it repay you by making you live beautiful experiences every day. You have to bring this teaching back into the relationships with the work team, and in every experience, you will live related to your dream to become a whale scientist.

A sperm whale’s fluke – Credit: Stefano Bellomo

What does the future look like for Stefano?

Honestly, I do not know. Yes, I have goals and I have work in progress, but I don’t know what to expect from the future. I don’t have a lot of expectations because then things change, and you might be disappointed. On the other hand, I work hard every day for goals that I set for myself. When they change, I adapt and change my goals and objectives. What I do know, however, is that I will always follow this passion of mine that I feel deep in my heart. I want to leave my mark to protect Mother Nature. This will never change, and I will never give up.

Meeting Richard O’Barry: a dream come true!

I have plenty of stories to tell, but I guess the greatest one is when I met Richard O’Barry in my hometown. I had watched his Oscar Prize-winning documentary “The Cove” in 2011. He is my hero. He’s one of the reasons I dedicated myself to this new life, doing my best every day for the ocean. I met him in 2017. At that moment, I realized that dreams come true. We still talk on messenger from time to time and share how things are going regarding projects and so on. With this story, I give you my motto: KEEP DREAMING!

Do you want to get in touch with Stefano?

You can find Stefano’s website here, or contact him through the following links:

Thank you for reading! Want to read more about early-career whale scientists? You can find our other whale scientists’ stories here.

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