Join a Dolphin Research Volunteer Internship on the Namibian Coast

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Join a team of dedicated scientists on our Dolphin Research Project in Namibia and enjoy a once in a lifetime opportunity to contribute to marine research in a beautiful and remote environment. You will gain experience in skills such as taking photo-ID pictures, collecting behavioural data, data input, making acoustic recordings, attending strandings, working with archived skeletal material and small boat skippering. 

Interns can join the project for 4 week to 6 month durations and we have places throughout 2017 available.

Cost for food, accommodation, programme materials, equipment, lectures & training; £1720

Interns help to collect behavioural data Pelican trying to land on the research boat! Interns help with making acoustic records Interns out at sea Humpback whales are usually identified from the underside of their tails Getting up close and personal with a dolphin Assisting with a stranding Dolphins swimming alongside the boat A leatherback turtle Learning dorsal fin photo ID skills Conducting behavioural surveys Learning small boat skippering around wildlife Interns can help to take photo-ID pictures Observing a pod of dolphins Photographing the dolphins Data is collected on abundance, distribution and habitat use Bottlenose dolphins socialising An education day A bottlenose dolphin leaps from the waves Interns collecting essential data Interns attend dolphin and whale strandings Interns also collect data on African Penguins Interns also take part in shore based tracking of animals Interns approaching dolphins for photographs Interns hard at work Taking photos for identification Flamingoes in Walvis Bay Baleen plates from whale stranded in Walvis Bay Pelican Seal colony

The Project

An intern sails alongside a dolphin

Join a team of dedicated scientists on our Dolphin Research Project in Namibia and enjoy a once in a lifetime opportunity to contribute to marine research in a beautiful and remote environment.  

Internship Programme

Research internships are 4 weeks in duration and are run during the Namibian winter, Northern hemisphere summer - June-August. They are tailored to provide participants with field skills necessary for a career in marine mammal science.

There are sometimes limited opportunities for those interested in long-term volunteering or student placements (see below - Long-term Volunteers/Student Placement). 

Research Internships

By joining the team as an intern you will get the opportunity to gain in-depth practical training in marine research techniques to study whales, dolphins and turtles. Working closely with principle investigators, interns will gain experience in:

  • Taking photo-ID pictures
  • Collecting behavioural data
  • Data input
  • Making acoustic recordings
  • Shore based tracking of animals
  • Attendance at whale and dolphin strandings
  • Working with archived skeletal material
  • Small boat skippering 

Interns will also have the opportunity to join the community outreach programme, visiting local schools to increase marine awareness and education. 

A whale surfaces from the water

Typical Day

Your internship will begin with a period of training including lectures and practical exercises to make sure you are prepared for your stay. Each day on the project will be exciting and varied with interns up and ready to go by 6:30 to make the most of good weather. You will be split into teams rotating between office work, boat work and education work.

Free Time

Research interns are  given 3 full weekends off.  At other times weekends are typically either Saturday or Sunday, with research taking place on the other day. During this time you are encouraged to visit the beautiful sights the area has to offer including the sand dunes and Sandwich Harbour as well the local beach and do some kayaking.  

Posters at the research centre in Walvis BayLong term Volunteers/ Student placement

Please enquire about options available throughout the year (excluding June-August) to join the team as a long-term volunteer or for a student placement. Long term volunteers/ students are expected to join the team for a minimum of 2 months in duration up to a maximum of 6 months in duration.

These placements are well suited to those who want to acquire a range of field and office skills and really get to grips with data processing. It may be that your university requires you to undertake a short research project, in which case we can help devise the project through discussion with team leaders who can also supervise your project. We would also welcome social scientists and educators in this role, who may be more inclined to work on community outreach elements of our marine programme.

If a long term placement interests you, please contact victoria.mcneil@workingabroad.com for further information and to discuss the options in more detail. 

Pink flamingoes in Walvis BayBackground

Founded in 2008 the project conducts research on coastal dolphins and whales with the ultimate aim of providinghigh-qualityy data for science and management. Working closely with the Namibian government, NGO's and the tourism industry ensures that the projects results reach all the right people. Adding to this, the project engages with the local community through the Community Outreach Programme.

Our goal is to provide you with the opportunity to volunteer with dolphin research and be involved in most of the daily research activities including boat work, photograph grading, data collection/input and attending strandings. While with us in Walvis Bay you will be helping to collect and process data on bottlenose and Heaviside’s dolphins from our photo-identification and behavioural surveys. You may also have the opportunity to be involved with our bottlenose dolphin acoustic project, recording dolphin sounds. If you are with us at the right time of year you may also be lucky enough to help collect data on marine turtles and on humpback whales for inclusion in the humpback whale photo identification catalogue.

A pod of dolphins in Namibia

Dates and Costs

Research Internship

We have two 4-week slots available in 2017, with up to five interns per period:

25th June to 23rd July 2017

30th July to 27th August 2017

Long-term Volunteers/Student Placement

A longer-term research position, which involves mostly data work and 4 surveys a month:

15th January to 15th March 2017

Please email victoria.mcneil@workingabroad.com if you are interested in this position and please attach your CV.

Whale bonesProgramme Cost

The cost to join as a research intern is £1,720 for a four-week placement. The cost to join as a long term volunteer is £700 for a 2-month placement. Your payment covers all your food, accommodation and training during the project.  In addition, it goes towards the project cost of running the research project, going out at sea on the boat, fuel, vehicle cost, pickup/drop off from Walvis Bay airport, as well as WorkingAbroad Projects backup and placement support. 

The airfare to Namibia, travel/medical insurance and personal expenses are not included within this price.  It is mandatory for you to take out travel and medical insurance for the duration of the project.

Food, Lodging, Travel and Climate

Volunteer Accommodation in NamibiaFood and Accommodation

Accommodation for the project is located in Walvis Bay on the Flamingo Cottages Estate. The nearby Walvis Bay Lagoon is home to dolphins and a variety of birds. The house has 3 bedrooms all of which are shared. 

All meals will be provided and any additional luxury items such as crisps and chocolate are at your own cost. Interns are expected to get involved with the cooking and help to keep the house clean and tidy. 

Internet access is limited and often pricey but there are several internet cafes in town. Internet access at the office is available for work purposes and emails, but if you wish to use it at the house, then you can buy a Sim card for mobile phones, which are available at most supermarkets and you can easily buy pre-paid airtime. Walvis Bay has ATMS, banks, food and clothing shops, restaurants and pubs. 

The Namibia Dolphin Project OfficeClimate

The climate in Namibia can be mild or warm on land (17 – 23 C/62- 74 F) but once you are out on the water it is often much colder (<12 C/ 53 F plus wind chill). During winter offshore winds blow through the desert and temperatures can exceed 30 C. 

Travel

Both South African Airlines and Namibian Airlines fly to Walvis Bay but direct flights may not always be possible. Another option is to fly slightly inland to Windhoek, the Capital of Namibia, and then travel by shuttle to Walvis Bay. The shuttle takes an entire day and Carlo's Shuttle are most recommended for door to door drop off.   South African Airlines: www.flyexpress.aero, Namibian Airlines: www.airnamibia.com, www.namibiashuttle.com and www.carloshuttlenamibia.com.na

Flamingos in Walvis Bay

Visa Information

Visas are necessary for intern placements in Namibia and need to be arranged in advance. We recommend GK Consultancy in Namibia to help with visa arrangements.

Insurance

Both travel and medical insurance are essential for the entire duration of your time as a dolphin research intern. 

Requirements

Internship opportunities are open to current students (BSc or MSc) studying towards a biology or zoology related degree and recent graduates looking to gain experience in field work and research. Interns are expected to approach their duties with a mature and responsible attitude.  We will carry out Skype interviews with each intern during the application process.

Interactive Map, Videos, Underwater Dolphin Recordings and Background

Below is a video showing the activities of interns at the project

Listen to Underwater Dolphin Recordings

Namibia

Located in South West Africa, bordering on South Africa, Botswana, Angola and Zambia, Namibia is a land of contrasts. Home to the oldest desert in the world and one of the most productive areas in the world’s oceans. Namibia has over 1500km of coastline, but the country’s marine resources tend to be overshadowed by the vast beauty of the desert and the wildlife of Etosha National Park.  Namibia is one of the worlds least densely populated countries, yet despite some of the worlds richest mineral deposits (especially uranium and diamonds), unemployment is high and much poverty remains creating challenges for the country.

Conservation is a national priority and Namibia has some of the largest and most well known national parks in the region, but there are regular and increasing conflicts with the mining industry with its ability to create jobs and wealth. In previous years, there have been major finds of hydrocarbons as marine phosphate gravels, both the exploration for and exploitation of these resources can have potentially large impacts on the marine environment.

Namibian Dolphin Project officeVolunteer Testimonials

Nico Heyning from the USA joined the project as an intern in Summer 2016:

I just wanted to say thank you for an amazing time. It was so exciting for me to travel the world and meet new people, experience a new culture, and do hands-on research on the cetaceans that call Namibia home.

As a photographer, there were so many opportunities to capture something that I will probably never see in my life again. Some of my favorites included the Heaviside's Dolphin, the Greater Flamingos, and the White Pelicans. One weekend, when we had the day off, I decided to take a walk along the waterfront and look at the birds. When I was near the docks, right in front of the office, I saw a huge White Pelican sitting on a ledge, with the water in the background. I took a picture of just his head and I was amazed how well it turned out. I submitted that photo to the LA Times and I just found out today that the photo received an honorable mention in the LA Times summer photo contest and was  published online. Out of 100s of photographers, who could submit up to ten photographs each, that pelican photo was #16.

However, being a part of this program wasn't about just taking photographs. It also dealt with the behavior of the animals, something that I hope I can put into good use later in my life. The team also taught me how to analyze recordings of Bottlenose Dolphin, something that I had never even considered doing prior to coming to Namibia. And finally, I made new friends. The team stationed in Namibia were fantastic, Simon and Tess taught me more about the scientific approach, Morgan was super helpful and my fellow interns made the trip even better.

So what can I say about the project? If I had the chance, I would love to come back. My visit in Africa was amazing and the adventures that I had will be told to my friends and family for years to come. I hope that everyone has a wonderful week, have a great summer, and I hope, maybe soon, that some of you could come to California or I can come back to Africa and meet you all again.


Dolphin research interns in NamibiaDenise Martinkovich, Austria

I can remember the moment I arrived at the airport in Walvis Bay like it was yesterday. Although I have always wanted to travel and see the world, this internship was my first time abroad (for more than 2 weeks). I felt excited, nervous and of course still a bit tired from my flights when another intern and I first met one of our supervisors who picked us up from the airport. When we got into the car, questions like; Was this the right decision? and; What am I going to do if I don’t like it here at all? crossed my mind. But I soon found out that the answer to the first question was 100% YES!

It’s been almost two weeks since I’m back home now and I still can’t get over the amazing 6 weeks I spent down there. Although the first 2 or 3 weeks were pretty exhausting (because none of us had a routine yet and not to forget that English is not my first language), this little town soon felt like home and without noticing, we knew everything work-related by heart and work has never been more fun before in my life. We generally had two different days that alternated: One of the two days was a boat day, where we launched the boat around 7 in the morning and spent about 6 hours on the water, looking for dolphins, whales, penguins and many more interesting animals. Our main tasks were taking photos of their dorsal fins, making acoustic recordings and writing down behavioural data. On the other day, we had the chance to work on our own individual tasks and furthermore had to do bird surveys, where we had to count the local birds in the lagoon (could be worse than counting flamingos, pelicans and other cute birds, right?!). But it was not all fun and games… Even though I won’t be a marine biologist in the future, I will definitely benefit from my experience in Africa. I learned a lot about scientific research methods, including how to properly use Excel, how to publish a paper etc. not to forget about team working skills!

All in all, I’m currently sitting in my small flat back in rainy Austria and all I want to do is book a flight and come back to this stunning country with amazing people and indescribably beautiful sceneries!


A dolphins jumps from the wavesStefanie Rowland, UK

When I got off the plane seemingly in the middle of the desert I never dreamed that this barren land would supply some of the best experiences and memories of my life in the space of a few short weeks. On my first full day in Walvis Bay we were blessed with gorgeous weather, so headed out on the boat. The early start was a bit of a shock, but was definitely worth it, when in the space of one morning we had two species of dolphin coming up to us and bow riding! To cap it all off two humpback whales had been spotted – a mother and calf! They surfaced so close to us that I could feel the spray from their blow hole! I thought that things couldn’t possibly get better than that, but I was oh so wrong: in the space of two weeks I’ve travelled north to a national park, where we ventured into the desert to play on sand dunes; seen amazing scenery ranging from ocean to desert to scrub land; been up close to a dead humpback whale (the smell wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be!); had some practise at driving the boat; had a go at some photography; travelled south for two days (with a stopover in the capital); seen loads of wildlife including springbok, orix, seals and a family of warthogs! It’s not all glamour though, some days can be cold on the boats and you can’t be squeamish about getting covered in all sorts, from seawater to barnacle juice, but it has most definitely been worth it, I’ve learnt so much from being here and had a lot of laughs in the process.


A pod of dolphins with a view of the shoreCaroline, UK

 Hello! My name is Caroline. I arrived here on the 1st of July from the UK. The view as I flew from Johannesburg to Walvis Baywas beautiful and consisted of miles of desert as far as the eye could see. I was met at the airport by Simon and after meeting the other interns and staff, I was soon feeling settled in and started learning how to grade dolphin photographs. This is important as only high quality photos are used to identify individual dolphins. The next day, on land survey duty, I caught a glimpse of my first bottlenose dolphin, which surfaced about 10m from shore. After teasing us with two short appearances, it then promptly disappeared. On my next land survey a few days later, we came across a whole group of bottlenose dolphins close to shore. We watched them wave riding, took as many photographs as we could and spent the next few hours tracking them from the beach to monitor their social interactions and general behaviour. This proved to be more difficult than it sounds - you don’t realize just how fast they can swim unless you are running alongside, trying to keep up with them!

On our day off, myself and the other interns went kayaking with wild seals at Pelican Point. The seals were adorable and were very intrigued by us and our brightly coloured kayaks. They were constantly swimming over to take a closer look and there were even a few attempts to steal our paddles! We saw a number of jackals as we drove through the desert and were amazed to witness a stand-off between a jackal and a fully grown seal. The jackal won the fish prize in the end but the seal didn’t give up easily!

While out on the research boat we encountered a whole group of Heaviside dolphins, including two mothers with calves. I will never forget the sight of a baby calf swimming alongside the boat right beside me. However, the highlight of my first week here has to be the sight of a humpback whale surfacing about 5m away from the back of our boat. The noise of it blowing out as it surfaced made everyone on board jump with shock, especially as we were all expecting it to come up about 500m away in a completely different direction. I have had so many incredible experiences here in just a week and I am eagerly looking forward to the next few weeks!


A group of dolphins jump from the waterGeorge Cambanis, Greece

The life we have been experiencing during the past week is an academic but also a social life, its novel even though we are all gradually becoming habituated with our daily lives and most importantly entertaining while everyone is at the same time serious about the project.  Simon and Tess divided us-newcomers into two subgroups, composed of three interns each. Our daily schedule dictates that we execute our scientific research early in the morning and once we have gathered our facts, we then “digitalize” them, that is, upload them into the computer in our comfy office in the Flamingo Cottages. Usually, one of the teams will research offshore in its quest for dolphin species and other marine mammals while the other team will examine different coastal areas of Namibia.

Our research is centered on dolphins. We therefore, photograph all of our “encounters” and try to photographically identify them once back in the office. We also examine their habitat and record everything we deem valuable, ranging from an unusually high concentration of jellyfish which can be the outcome of a potentially underlying important cause to the number of tour-boats we come across. Spending time with bottlenoses and Heaviside’s dolphins we come to realize and appreciate the uniqueness of every animal.

To a further extent, every day adds to an emerging familiarity with the environment of Namibia itself. Looking for stranded animals, observing the magnificent kingdom of birds that fills the sky and using our hydrophone to listen to the “signature whistles” of dolphins we are gradually coming to terms with the harmony and magnificence of Namibian’s wildlife. 

All in all, what has been offered to us is a fulfilling “life-activity”. Whether it is the observation of an anatomical operation of petrels or the knowledge that the project results in an accumulation of novel scientific data, we fill satiated, engaged and excited. 


A dolphin jumps from the waterMelanie Ngo, USA

The interns arrived on the 1st of June and I am one out of the six that get to experience this wonderful opportunity. For the past few weeks, we have done a lot of work on shore and on the water in Walvis Bay, Namibia. We are having an amazing time with the Heaviside dolphins and the bottlenose dolphins each time we are at sea and on land. It is and will always be a thrilling excitement every time we encounter these animals, no matter how many times we have seen them before we enjoy their company out at sea. When I see the expression on Simon’s face every time we spotted the dolphins, it reminds me of the face kids make when you bribe them with candy and he has been working with these animals for a couple of years now.

We have taken pictures of the Heaviside's and bottlenose dolphin’s dorsal fin for photo ID, observed their behaviour in the water and on land, and observed the number of birds and bird species in certain areas on the beach to look at the impact of beach users. Most of the time, the dolphins are very friendly, socializing with us and each other, they were jumping and spy hopping, swimming alongside the boat, bow riding, swimming underneath and around the boat, overall they are having a good time in their own home. There were a few days we did not go out on the boat due to the weather, but that did not stop us from doing work around the office. We have had long days out on the boat and on land, we’ll come back exhausted, but love every minute of our time with the dolphins and that keeps our energy up for the rest of the day.

Heaviside Dolphin in Walvis BayHow to Join

If you are interested in joining this project, you will need to fill out the online application form (you can also print it out and send it to us by post) – to secure a placement on the project, please complete and submit the form including two references and your application payment of £195.  We will also carry out Skype interviews during the application process.  If for some reason, your application is not accepted, we would reimburse this payment fully. However for those who are accepted, 25% of the full amount needs to be paid within 10 days of being confirmed on the project,  with the remainder (75%) to be paid one month before departure. Once your place is confirmed, you will receive a pre-departure package with all detailed information on your project, suggested items to bring etc.

Apply Now

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