The sea of Viareggio makes up part of the "Pelagos" International Sanctuary for Marine Mammals, a protected area since 1999 thanks to Italy, France and the Principality of Monaco and the agreement they signed to look after us marine mammals and our habitat. For this reason CE.TU.S, a non-profit organisation which focuses on cetacean research, began its activities along the coast of Viareggio, studying and monitoring us; and today it even arranges sailboat trips for those who want to meet dolphins. It was during their reconnaissance that the scientists first came across my group of bottlenose dolphins, who chose to live in the waters of Versilia. They catalogue us, giving us each a code. Mine is A001.
We bottlenose dolphins usually live near the coast, in stretches of sea where we can find food, clean water and are not bothered by too many external problems. We band together in big groups, but at certain times of the year we subdivide into smaller pods, the females and their young separating from the adult males. During spring and summer we hug the coast of Viareggio, having all got back together there for mating season, which is also calving season: we dolphins have a gestation period of 12 months. Today there are more than 200 of us living stably in this area, in groups of 50 to 80, hunting together, mating and raising our young.
After years of study I, dolphin A001, was identified as "female" by the fact that the young ones swam next to me. I'm easily recognisable: I have big white blotches on my body and my dorsal fin, and a funny symbol similar to an @ on my back, at the base of the fin. I'm an adult female, more than 30 years old, have given birth many times, and am recognised by the other dolphins as the POD LEADER of Alpha group. My name is Matilde, in honour of the Matilde Tower, a symbol of Viareggio.
The pod leader is the adult dolphin, usually the most experienced, who directs the pod and decides their movements, for the sake of food or for the sake of their soon-to-be-born young. He or she helps the expectant mothers by always swimming at the head of the group, letting the others swim in his or her slipstream. In the Alpha Pod of Viareggio, command has fallen to me, to Matilde! I have led my pod for a long time, in pursuit of the fishing boats which, returning to port, feed us by throwing the small catches back in the water. A leader's intelligence and temperament have made me something of a legend along our coasts.
From 1999 to 2015 I have always lived along the Versilian coasts, and I was chosen to lead the Alfa Pod, one of the few examples of its kind, for my standout abilities more than my common ones.
But my time in Versilia is over. It's time to retire and move on to pastures new. So I've decided to pass the baton on to another young, talented dolphin. The world belongs to the young, and it's nice to think that Alfa Pod, which will always have a special place in my heart, will continue to be led by a female.