For many the epitome of the dream holiday is the salty tang of the ocean in the air, the sound of waves rushing to shore, and an infinite expanse of multi-tonal blue stretching out, far into the distance. For these people the idea of spending days-on-end understanding and exploring the watery habitats of some of the most graceful denizens of our planet’s oceans is a dream come true. Not only are they engaged in activities that give them deep joy but they know they are contributing to the continued wellbeing of our oceans, offering future generations, on both land and sea, the opportunity to know, to value, to respect, and to love each other.
But with so many opportunities how can you choose the best volunteering experience for you? After all these experiences are designed to give as much joy to the participant as ongoing benefit to the aquatic receiver.
Having an idea of where you want to go, geographically, is a great start, but for some the lure of volunteering is more than simply a location on the map. Knowing what sort of work you are able to actively engage with can be equally, if not more important.
So here is our top 7 list of the best whale and dolphin volunteering opportunities available this year. How you choose is up to you but each and every opportunity on this list is sure to make 2021 a year to remember, for all the right reasons.
Becoming a marine conservation volunteer and participating in dolphin research in the Ionian Sea offers the opportunity to seek out and feed critical knowledge into the local marine environment. It seeks to provide support, and therefore ongoing viability, for the regional pods of Bottlenose and Short-Beaked Common Dolphin, in the Amvrakikos Gulf and the Inner Ionian Sea archipelago.
Alongside this vital research there are endless opportunities to immerse yourself in the rich local culture, enjoying the architectural delights of the nearby local villages and castle, or sampling the best of Greek cuisine, with naturally the freshest seafood possible.
Life onboard a research vessel is sure to keep you fully engaged in your role volunteering alongside full-time marine biologists. The research focuses on the spectacularly large fin whales and on majestic sperm whales as well as Risso’s dolphins, pilot whales, striped and bottlenose dolphins.
The research project covers a wide expanse of the Ligurian Sea in an area internationally recognised for its unique cetacean population and managed by the joint governance of the Cote d’Azur (France), Tuscany, and northern Sardinia (Italy).
Not only an incredible opportunity to assist in the essential work of the research project, but to potentially see the second largest whale in the world – the fin whale – in its natural state alongside several other whale species including sperm whale, pilot whale and Cuvier’s beaked whale. There are also high chances of seeing dolphins doing what is quintessentially them – jumping and bow riding underneath the boat. Living and researching side-by-side with knowledgeable coworkers creates a unique experience to hone your skills, your knowledge, and your life experience in a short but intensely rewarding time. When the boat is moored in its home port of San Remo you are beautifully located in old, cultural Italy, close enough to Monaco for a few days’ excursion.
With unique opportunities to develop both on-and-offshore research skills alongside educational and community development skills, the Namibian Dolphin Research project offers participants a truly holistic experience. Time spent immersed in the cultural, educational and scientific community which supports the whale, dolphin, and turtle populations of this region gives volunteers a depth to their time spent which is unparalleled. The project’s ability to provide student placements and long-term internships indicate its scientific credentials, but its ability to welcome a breadth of volunteers speaks volumes to its ethos of inclusion, its willingness and ability to ensure that everyone has access to and can develop an understanding of life in the ocean.
Taking part in this project will equip you with theoretical and practical knowledge in cetacean identification, data structure and input, acoustic recording, shore-based tracking, animal standings and their (hopeful) resolution, working with archival material including skeletons, and skippering a small vessel. All these essential skills can be utilised to underpin your future studies and future career, or they can be undertaken in the spirit of continued personal learning and a love of the oceans. This project has a great capacity to offer a fantastic range of learning that it is sure to provide whatever you are seeking.
Plettenberg Bay is home to some of the world’s most fascinating marine species, including Southern Right Whales, Humpback Whales, Bryde’s Whales, Bottlenose Dolphins, Common Dolphins, Orca or Killer Whales, and Great White Sharks. A marine researcher dream, and one that can be yours without the necessity to commit to making a career change.
Ocean Research Conservation Project volunteers can get involved in penguin rescue, seal monitoring alongside the dolphin and whale research work. The Project provides one of the most wide reaching projects that WorkingAbroad has to offer. The opportunities that are offered within this project cover not only work with cetacean groups in the region but also educational work, community development, sea and land animal first aid, bird ringing and data collection, and plant identification/alien species clearance. It is home to an incredible opportunity to truly witness and be part of a project that engages with the interconnecting facets of this unique region.
The bottlenose dolphin research project based out of Lošinj, Croatia, provides a range of research opportunities, specific to the single species of dolphin population in the Northern Adriatic Sea.
This is a fantastic opportunity to focus on a particular cetacean species and understand their specific group dynamics. You will develop your skills by learning and using the scientific methodology of photo-identification, behavioural sampling and acoustic monitoring.
Croatia’s incredible coastline is home to crystal clear waters, rocky coves, and quintessential towns perched on rocky outcrops, all of which have maintained their traditions, their cuisine and their love of their coastal waters for 100s of years. During your free time, you will find an abundance of local foodie and cultural experiences to sample, or you can simply enjoy the best of the coast and take more time to be in and around the waters you have come to know so well.
The Albufeira research project provides a range of learning experiences in the beautiful Algarve setting. This dynamic project utilises its own research vessel, the Ketos, for observation and monitoring of the cetacean populations in the region, alongside utilising the facilities of the local commercial whale and dolphin watching boats which partnership with the project.
Days will be spent developing knowledge and skills in identification and interpretation of individuals, groups, and their particular behavioural dynamics and in order to do so you will learn about and utilise specialist underwater and aerial equipment for visual and sound monitoring. Volunteering with this project offers essential insights into not only research practices and methodology, but also into partnership working with commercial organisations and the benefits of doing so.
Albufeira is considered to be one of the most attractive areas in the Algarve. It is not without reason that it has become famous for its beaches, cultural events, and amazing weather and cuisine. Albufeira also has a lively nightlife so if you are looking for a destination where you can work hard during the day and party hard at night (well, after the research project has finished!) then this might be just the place you are looking for.
After your volunteering is completed you might like to ensure that you have a few extra days in your pocket, to spend hiking, birdwatching, soaking up the local ambience, or even scuba diving. Albufeira is a place of many facets and there are sure to be some, possibly even beyond your passion for the sea, which will make this an increasingly memorable and valuable time.
If you are looking for immersion into scientific life on a well-travelled research vessel then the pedigree doesn’t get much better than this. The whale and dolphin volunteer project in the Hebrides, Scotland, is offshore based and you will live aboard The Silurian, a fully equipped research yacht, which has surveyed thousands of nautical miles and which was one of the yachts used for filming the BBC series, The Blue Planet.
The west of Scotland, whilst not known for its temperate weather, is considered to be outstandingly beautiful and there will be bountiful opportunities for you to not only learn and contribute to the localised research with minke whale, harbour porpoise, bottlenose dolphins, white-beaked dolphins, and common dolphin populations, but there is also the daily opportunity to moor up in secluded local coves and go ashore to check out the diversity of plant and animal life that the Hebrides has to share. Depending on the season, there is a wealth of British onshore wildlife to observe in these exciting excursions.
The focus of the project on the many complex issues that affect the many cetacean species in the region, from entanglement in ‘ghost-gear’ created by the fishing industry to chemical and acoustic pollution means utilising a range of equipment, all of which you will become competent in, alongside the usual visual identification, recording, and monitoring of individuals and groups.
Ensuring you have time post-trip to explore the ancient places on the islands is essential. After your time at sea taking the opportunity to immerse in the cultural traditions that are so influenced by the tides will give you a unique, unmissable perspective on these stunning shores and incredible islands.
Experiences that last
One of the greatest gifts you will be left with as a volunteer is the knowledge of your ongoing legacy – your time and effort continuously contributing to your chosen project. The deep sense of communally-created research, of which you are a vital aspect, is something that never leaves our volunteers and as with all experiences, the chance to learn more about yourself, alongside learning about the wonders of the deep, goes on developing long after your time with these wonderful cetacean populations is over.
This year share your precious time and resources with projects that strive to really make a difference and book a volunteering holiday with WorkingAbroad. Choose a region or choose specific research goals. However you make your choices, these projects are sure to provide you with a wealth of intellectual and emotional experiences that will enrich you now, and continue to provide essential growth and joy throughout the rest of your life.
Written by WorkingAbroad blogger, Rae Hadley