Become a Research volunteer in Italy and study Dolphin and Whale Behaviour in the Mediterranean

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The research focuses on the spectacularly large fin whale as well as on sperm whales, Risso’s dolphins, pilot whales, striped and bottlenose dolphins.  We have places for Cetacean Volunteer Researchers to join for one or more weeks from May to September of every year. 

Individuals, groups, families and students doing research all welcome.

Cost for food, accommodation on board the research boat, programme materials, equipment, scientific lectures & training; from £640.

When the sea is flat, its the best conditions for seeing cetaceans Monitor how species interact with their meta-populations Marine volunteers can help to study individual cetacean characteristics Work in the calm seas to track and analyse marine wildlife An adult and calf swim together towards the surface of the sea Striped dolphins jumping through the air A group of long-finned pilot whales Volunteers and scientists inspecting and recording data Study close-up photographs to identify each unique individual Help with the scientists' research into whale behavior Volunteers can also monitor marine wildlife from under the surface A pair of striped dolphins Doing photo IDs is best when the sea is calm Volunteers scanning the horizon for dolphin activity You may spend a night in a bay like this, Villefranche-sur-Mer Discussing results of the day's research aboard the boat Daily lessons by project scientist Loggerhead turtle Free time for volunteers Swimming during free time Loggerhead turtles swimming in the Ligurian Sea Photo identification Fin Whale blowing air through its blow hole Sperm whale diving down Risso's dolphin jumping up Risso's dolphin and its reflection Sperm whale before diving down Fin whale near boat Long-finned pilot whales next to sailing boat Volunteers night off

Striped Dolphins bow riding under the boatThe Project

Since 1990 this project has been investigating the ecology and behaviour of cetaceans living in the Cetacean Sanctuary - a special marine protected area extending between Italy and France. The research focuses on the spectacularly large fin whale as well as on sperm whales, Risso’s dolphins, pilot whales, striped and bottlenose dolphins.

The Project
Cetacean volunteer researchers will be directly involved in field activities, helping the scientists to collect cetacean data and assist them in preliminary analyses of digital photos and acoustic recordings, while learning basics in sailing.

You will be trained through specific lectures and work side by side with researchers. During this period you will be asked to contribute to the data collection and analysis (e.g. recording cetaceans number and behaviour at regular intervals, preliminary analysis of cetaceans digital photos, etc).

Striped dolphin jumpingSample day
The schedule of a research cruise depends very much on weather conditions. Surveys are conducted whenever the sea state and wind forecasts are favourable for data collection. Cetacean volunteer researchers are full members of the crew, and they will be assigned a number of duties. These include sighting shifts (looking for cetaceans), computer shifts (data entry and hydrophone listening), navigation shifts (checking the boat course and velocity), cooking and boat-keeping shifts (participants as well as staff members will be in charge of preparing meals and cleaning-up, keeping the boat tidy and ready to sail).

Fin whale next to the boatDates & Costs

Watch this space for dates for 2017

Placements are available for one or more weeks. Volunteers work in groups of 15 (11 volunteers, 4 staff).

Sperm whale divingCosts
The total cost ranges from £640 to £770 GB pounds per week (depending on course date). This includes a £180 GB pounds deposit payable with the application with the balance payment to be paid in Euros (740 to 826 Euros depending on course date and duration, or for students under 26 yrs old, 640 to 826 Euros). Please enquire to the Volunteer Coordinator: for any questions.

Price includes:
- Food and beverages (breakfast, lunch and dinner, except for alcoholic and soft drinks) for the duration of the cruise
- Accommodation on board
- Mooring expenses in Sanremo harbour
- Electricity, water heating and cooking costs
- Fuel for boat and dinghy
- Lectures and training by researchers
- Scientific supervision
- Certificate of involvement in the Cetacean Sanctuary Research
- Personal insurance for the duration of the course, issued by the Research Institute
- Research contribution

Sperm whale diving downPrice excludes:
- Travel expenses to and from Sanremo
- Mooring expenses outside of Portosole (approximately €80-100 per night, to be divided by all the crew with the exception of the skipper)
- Personal expenses (telephone, souvenirs, etc.)
- Meals other than those served onboard the boat
- Soft drinks, liquors and spirits (beer, wine, etc.)

Accommodation and Food

Volunteers can enjoy local Italian cuisineDuring your experience, you will be aboard a comfortable 21m sailing boat, which hosts 16 persons in five cabins: two single beds in the bow sharing one bathroom, two four-bed cabins and a very large room for six (two double and two single beds); each with private bathroom, shower and hot water.  Volunteers take it in turn to cook with a staff member every night.  Please note that those with special diets can also be catered for.

Marine volunteers share delicious Italian food on board the sailing boatIn case of unfavourable weather or harsh sea conditions, the boat stays in the harbour or in a sheltered bay. Participants may decide to stay on board assisting the researchers with data analysis and computer work (e.g. photo-identification of cetaceans) and attending the lectures held by the staff, or they may visit the surrounding area. 

Volunteers looking out for dolphins and whalesHow to get there

Boarding is in the harbour of Portosole, Sanremo (Imperia), where the boat, the "Pelagos" is moored. Sanremo is a small town located along the Italian Riviera, a few km from the Italy-France border. It can be reached by train, by car, or by plane. The closest international airports are Nice (France), about 60 km to the west, and Genova (Italy), about 140 km to the east. From both airports there are bus services to the train station, where it is possible to take a train to Sanremo. Several national airlines and low-cost airlines fly to Genoa and/or Nice from all over Europe, including:,,, and

Interactive Map & Background

Below is an interactive map showing the location of base harbour and the study area:

Below is a video showcasing the activities of the project:


The project is conducted within the Ligurian Sea Cetacean Sanctuary, in an area delimited by Cote d'Azur (France), Tuscany, and northern Sardinia (Italy). In this region, particularly rich in nutrients, cetaceans are found in numbers that are higher than in other Mediterranean areas. Base harbour is in Sanremo (Italy), near the French border.

Volunteer Testimonials

Volunteers watching dolphins in ItalyRachel Cheung, a medical student from Hong Kong, writes about her experience on the project:

"It was a truly unforgettable week - living on a boat in Italy and seeing Dolphins, whales and sea turtles everyday. I don't speak a word of Italian but all the volunteers have been so kind, welcoming and willing and patient to teach. This was no touristy whale watching activity - we had lessons, helped with research and learned about the different species of dolphins and whales. So thank you, to everyone, for this incredible experience."

Vicky Kornevall taking photos on the Dolphin and Whale volunteer research project in ItalyVicky Kornevall from the UK:  "It was a wonderful week - we were very fortunate to have 23 different sightings in 5 days of Fin Whale, Sperm Whale and Striped Dolphins.  The staff and crew were also really friendly and you were well looked after and they cooked some incredible food as well! Highly recommended project".

Ann Watts from the UK : "I had an amazing time; I met some fabulous people and encountered wonderful wild dolphins too! I really enjoyed the data capture and the statistical analysis. A trip I shall remember forever; thank you all."

Floriane Kaiser from Switzerland: "San Remo is a lovely place, the work on board was well organised and I felt very free. Food was excellent and I liked cooking all together. Congratulations to you in the office for managing everything before departure, and to the scientists on board!"

A marine volunteer recording data from the boatDinah, Australia: "It was one of those weeks where the planets aligned – the weather was beautiful, the seas were mostly kind, the team of people on the boat were a great lot and the cetaceans showed themselves often enough to earn their appearance fees. Thank you indeed to the professionalism of the crew – Francesca, Viridiana, Nina and Captain Paolo – I have learnt a lot about these wonderful creatures who inhabit our oceans and remind us of both the antiquity and fragility of Planet Earth. Long may she live! Research and programs such as this will be what will save her."

Wendy from Australia said: "It wasn’t like a movie, there were no whales launching themselves onto the boat, no dolphins diving through hoops. It was much more real, respectful and impressive. So much to appreciate. The programme takes participants on a journey that will help to sustain the Mediterranean Sea, the whales, the dolphins, other marine life and the participants themselves. The Tethys team is not only professional, knowledgeable, and organized, but also a joy to be around. Thank you to Francesca, Viridiana, Nina and Paolo."

Mary, from Canada: "An extraordinary voyage with researchers who had a wonderful ability to wrangle 11 guests, while conducting serious and important detailed research into the habits and identities of cetaceans. They generously shared their detailed knowledge of whales and dolphins and other sea life with us. The participants were “simpatico”, the food was great and the whales cooperated by revealing themselves at regular intervals. Thank you for a wonderful experience."

Khoa from the USA: "As sad as it sounds, it took an experience like this for me to realize the beauty and magnificence of cetaceans and the enormous effect that humans have on their future well-being. I will remain ever vigilant and ever true regarding personal decisions I make from this moment on. Thank you for providing me with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – you’ve been extremely welcoming and patient, even if we have trouble reporting what types of boats are in the vicinity =). I won’t let you down!"

Striped Dolphins next to the research boatJonathan Elton: Sam Remo was beautiful. It was a lovely little city bordering France with friendly people and the harbour had wonderful views that I wont forget in a long time. The commuting was also very easy as the train station was easy to find and easy to use.

The work was very interesting. We learned a lot about the animals and the welfare of the animals and getting to see them up close to do the research was amazing. There were times where we had to stand for hours in the sun for sighting shifts but it was worth it when you did sight a whale or dolphin. We were very lucky with the sightings in my week there so I would not change a thing.

We stayed on the boat for the week there. The boat was very spacious with plenty of space indoors and outdoors. During our week there we had a boat full so at times it was cramped but everyone had respect for one another. The food was great, we took turns cooking for everybody and cleaning and it worked very well. Sometimes it was difficult to cook and prepare food on the boat as the kitchen was small and the boat swayed a lot.

The project leader was Sabina and she was with us most of the time. The other A sunset off of the Italian coastresearchers were also with us all the time. They were wonderful. Very approachable, very committed to the work and very friendly. They all had patients with us who were there, when we did sight the animals and we all rushed to our cameras and they needed to conduct the research they directed us very well and they seemed to enjoy getting everybody involved. 

The cost of the project were reasonable, higher than other projects but it stated that half of the money was going towards the research itself. However, when we got there I fully appreciated how the money was spent. The cost of running the A group of volunteers take a break in the oceanproject, the boat, food and other costs I believe the cost of the project is granted and I was happy to pay

This was the first project I ever did abroad working with animals. So, in a way I was never going to be fully prepared. However, the work was straight forward and the project leaders/ researchers directed us and got us involved seemlessly and from the first moment I felt at ease.

Bring very strong suncream. My feet burnt my first day on factor 30. If its windy, bring sea sickness tablets.

It was a perfect week and memories I will never forget. I couldn't thank everyone enough for the experience they gave me.

Striped dolphin in the Ligurian seaHow to Join

If you are interested in joining this project, you will need to fill out the online application form – to secure a placement on the project, please complete and submit the form with your application payment of £180. If for some reason, your application is not accepted, we will reimburse this fully. However for those who are accepted, you will be required to pay 50% of the full amount within 10 days of acceptance, with the remaining 50% 1 month before arrival. This will have to be paid in Euros to our programme research partner in the field. Once we have confirmed your place, you will receive a detailed information package on the programme background and scientific objectives, your role as a volunteer, the work you will do, amenities on the boat, suggested items to bring, how to travel there etc. Following this, our research partner will send you documents on volunteer liability that will need to be completed after you are booked on the programme.  


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