Volunteer with Dolphin Research in the Ionian Sea in Greece

Become a marine conservation volunteer and participate in dolphin research in the Ionian Sea, helping to provide a marine environment that provides long-term viability for the species. The research focuses on the Bottlenose Dolphin and the Short-Beaked Common Dolphin, in the Amvrakikos Gulf and the Inner Ionian Sea archipelago. We have places for Cetacean Volunteer Researchers to join for one or more weeks from June to September each year. 

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

Cost for food, accommodation, programme materials, equipment, scientific lectures & training; from £680.

Smily bottlenose dolphinCommon Dolphins flipping and jumping and being very playfulDolphins dive generally for 3 or 4 minutesA group of bottlenose dolphins swimming closely together with a baby in the middleVolunteers record dolphin behaviour and interaction in their natural environmentMore dolphin identification for volunteersUnderwater shots of dolphins bow-ridingVolunteers record data at 5 minute intervalsVolunteers can help to identify individual dolphinsShort Beaked Common DolphinsBottlenose dolphins can be playful and bow-ride the boatThis seagull is trying to catch the same fish as the dolphinThis common dolphin has just woken up from a quick nap and is stretching!Dorsal fins are the best way to identify different individualsMarine volunteers recording data on dolphin numbersWhen you take a photo of a whole body, its easier to identifyThere is a very high chance of seeing dolphins in the Ambracian GulfFlamingoes in flightView of Vonitsa where the project base isA typical summer sunset in VonitsaVolunteers assisting in photo-identificationThe field base in Vonitsa from the frontWhere volunteers sleep after a hard day's work!Kitchen and dining room area of the field baseThe dolphin volunteer loft in the field baseFree time for marine volunteers

About the Project

Research ActivitiesResearch dolphin behaviour and analyse their dorsal fin

An opportunity for marine conservation volunteers to take part in Bottlenose and Short-Beaked Common Dolphins research in the Ionian Sea. You can help with some of the following activities during your stay:

  • Monitoring dolphins within the research area through the use of specific surveying techniques,
  • Dolphin photo-identification, used to identify individual dolphins and their traits, in an attempt to fully understand how expansive and diverse local dolphin populations are,
  • Recording dolphin behaviour and group sizes, in addition to how different groups interact - data is logged with GIS software,
  • Collection of data regarding other marine species such as sea turtle, tuna, swordfish and seabirds - data which gives the project scientists knowledge of how the area is faring in a broader context,
  • Inspection of dead dolphins in order to understand cause of death, as well as to collect biological and genetic data that can help to enhance further investigatory projects
  • Assessment of how local dolphins interact with local fisheries, and how their interaction can fuel positive change in the area for the marine environment

The dolphin marine volunteer work siteDolphin research volunteers will be working alongside the project researchers on a daily basis, and upon sighting a dolphin volunteers will be expected to log angle and distance from the boat, as well as recording the size and spatial distribution of the dolphins (assuming there is a group). Work in general is fast-paced, and a lot of data needs to be recorded in a short space of time, so volunteers need to be alert continually throughout the boat journeys.

Background Information

Dolphins found within the Ionian Coast have been facing many human-induced threats over the past few decades - human encroachment, general activity and habitat destruction have lead to the dolphins moving from their natural territory and into less preferable areas in terms of habitat quality. This Project aims to therefore establish long-term viability for two of the dolphin species, the Bottlenose Dolphin and the Short-Beaked Common Dolphin, in the Amvrakikos Gulf and the Inner Ionian Sea archipelago.

The Bottlenose Dolphin, for instance, one of the most common cataceans in the Mediterranean, is now listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Until the 1960s the species was a priority target of culling campaigns, and more recently populations have suffered due to the illegal dumping of fishing gear into the sea causing increased mortality levels, the overfishing of their food source, habitat degradation and pollution, and increased levels of traffic due to tourism.

The Short-Beaked Common Dolphin, the other of the two species researched within this project, has suffered a similar fate to the Bottlenose Dolphin. Unlike the Bottlenose Dolphin however, this species is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List and is also listed in Appendix I and II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species.

Research LocationVolunteer out at sea and work to monitor dolphins

The primary study area is in the Gulf of Ambracia, specifically Vonitsa, where the field base of the project is located. The Gulf is a semi-closed basin, rich in nutrients, and is one of the most species-rich and species-abundant areas of Greece - Bottlenose Dolphins for instance are more densely-populated in this region than anywhere else in the Mediterranean Sea. Based on photo-identification analysis of nearly 50,000 dorsal fin images between 2001-2013, the Bottlenose displays high site-fidelity and rarely ventures outside of the Gulf.

The Inner Ionian Sea Archipelago, the second location of this project, is just a few kilometres south of the Gulf. Research initially focused on the ecology and behavior of the Short-Beaked Common Dolphin, though after their sharp decline between 1995 and 2007 (numbers dropped from 150 to just 15) the research area shifted to the research into causes of decline, and possible ways to mitigate high mortality rates. Monitoring between 2008 and 2013 has revealed that a small number still remains across a more expansive territory.

Dolphin Research Volunteer Specification

All dolphin research volunteers are expected to be comfortable with spending many hours at sea, whilst also being exposed to the sun for long periods given there are no shaded areas. Those prone to heatstroke and sunburn may therefore not find this project to be fully suitable. Volunteers should also be able to swim for safety reasons and weigh no more than 120kg (265 lbs) - so to ensure the boat remains in balance. A high level of physical fitness all-round is desirable.

Dates & Costs

9th to 15th June 2019
16th to 22nd June 2019
23rd to 29th June 2019
30th June to 6th July 2019
7th to 13th July 2019
14th to 20th July 2019
21st to 27th July 2019 - Fully Booked
28th July to 3rd August 2019 - Fully Booked
4th to 10th August 2019
11th to 17th August 2019
18th to 24th August 2019
25th to 31st August 2019
1st to 7th September 2019
8th to 14th September 2019
15th to 21st September 2019

Projects typically last for 6 days, and volunteers will arrive on a Sunday and leave the next Saturday. Each project trip will have up to a max of 5 volunteer participants.

To volunteer on this dolphin research project, the total cost ranges from £680 to £765 GB pounds per week (depending on course date). This includes a £180 GB pounds application payment payable with the application, with the balance payment to be paid in Euros (640 to 670 Euros depending on course date and duration, or for students under 26 years old, 570 to 670 Euros). Please enquire to the Volunteer Coordinator: victoria.mcneil@workingabroad.com for any questions on specific dates/prices.

Price includes:
- Food and beverages (breakfast, lunch and dinner, except for alcoholic and soft drinks)
- Accommodation at the field base (pillows and bed sheets provided)
- Electricity, water heating and cooking costs
- Fuel for boat and carView of Vonitsa bay at night
- Lectures and training by researchers
- Scientific supervision
- Certificate of involvement in the Ionian Dolphin Project
- Research contribution

Price excludes:
- Travel expenses to and from Vonitsa (Western Greece)
- Personal travel & medical insurance covering the whole participation period (compulsory)
- Personal expenses (telephone, souvenirs, etc.)
- Meals other than those served in the field base
- Alcoholic drinks (beer, wine, etc.)

The dolphin volunteer base in VonitsaLodging, Food & Travel

Volunteers will be based at the field base in Vonitsa, a small coastal village. The field base is less than 50 metres away from the shore, and is located within a two-story house that is divided into two areas. The main area is the living room and open kitchen area (refrigerator and gas stove), complete with a balcony, two bathrooms, two bedrooms and the main office. The second area is the loft, which is around 90 square metres and is used by volunteers during times of relaxation after working at sea, or during time off. The loft will also be used as a sleeping area of volunteers - bunk beds are provided within the loft area for each volunteer.

Electricity at the house is the standard 220 volts with a two-pin connection. Therefore, it is suggested volunteers either bring an adaptor or purchase travel electricals for their stay, Internet is also not provided at the field base, though an internet cafe is right around the corner and can provide volunteers with internet access for 2.5 Euros per hour until late at night, every day of the week. VMarine volunteer sleeping quarters in Vonitsaolunteers who bring their own laptops will however be able to most probably get free wireless internet at many of the seaside cafes and bars. Further, as there is no air conditioning in the property, fans are used within the property to keep temperatures at a tolerable level within warmer months.

Marine volunteer working area for dolphin research at the base campFood
Both volunteers and research assistants will be responsible for cooking on a rotation basis, though meal planning is typically a shared task. As all supermarkets are reachable by foot, volunteers can simply browse the local produce for ingredients before returning to the flat for ideas. Alternatively, there are many local restaurants that volunteers can dine at if they so desire, though the food is usually around 12 - 18 Euros in price.

There will always be a constant supply of water, ice and fresh juices at the field base for volunteers. Snacking foods are also provided. The dishwashing and general cleaning of the house are further shared duties. 

Because of the localised area, vehicular travel is not particularly necessary - this is most notable for volunteers who are looking to explore the village. Much of the daily travelling can be done on foot, and as much of the research activities will be done at sea there is little need for extended travel periods during a stay.

Volunteer with dolphins in Greece 285x190Getting to Vonitsa

On the arrival day, all volunteers are to meet at the rendezvous point on the main pier on the seafront. As the meeting time is 3pm local time, any volunteers that arrive earlier are free to have lunch at a local restaurant or sit at the seafront and wait to meet other early arrivers.

Via ferry/overland
It is possible to travel via ferry to Ionian Greece from Italy, and then travel via road to Vonitsa. The arrival harbour in Greece is Igoumenitsa, which is around 100km north of Vonitsa. From there, volunteers can catch a bus to Preveza or Lefkada, and then take another bus to Vonitsa. Alternatively, volunteers can take a train through mainland Europe on InterCity trains or sleeper trains.

Via plane
Volunteers from across the world can travel via plane to Athens Airport, and from there take a bus to Vonitsa. Given this method of travel from Athens to Vonitsa is very straightforward, relatively quick (5 hour journey) and cheap (35 Euros one way, 55 Euros return ticket to Athens), it is the suggested form of travel. To reach Vonitsa by 3pm local time, volunteers should catch the 7am bus and expect to reach the rendezvous point by around midday.

Volunteer with dolphins in Greece 285x190

During the summer months, flying to Flying to Preveza-Aktio Airport is sometimes cheaper for European volunteers. The airport is around 10km west of Vonitsa, so volunteers can simply catch a taxi for between 25-30 Euros - the journey time should take no longer than 20 minutes.

Interactive Map & Background

Below is a Map Showing Project Location:

Below is a mini film on the Dolphin Research Project in Greece:

About Vonitsa

Marine volunteers can relax at the coastal restaurants

A traditional village along the Gulf of Ambracia, Vonitsa offers volunteers the chance to experience true Greek culture. With its large, medieval castle atop the village volunteers can see for miles out to sea from the walls, and Vonitsa's coastal vicinity means that seafood can be appreciated in its finest and freshest form.

In a broader context, Vonitsa is found within one of the largest wetland areas that make up the Gulf. The area is home to a huge array of marine biodiversity, in addition to many species of avifauna that flock to the area due to the abundance of fish. Volunteers should, therefore, expect to see many rare species, such as the Dalmatian Pelican.

Climate & conditions

It can get rather hot in the summer months (between 22-35°C), so volunteers should be able to cope with the heat. The sea is also usually very calm during the summer, though at times there are waves that may cause the sea to become rather choppy - sea sickness should not be an issue, however.

Volunteer Testimonials

Jessie Parlee from Canada joined as a volunteer in August 2017: Dolphin Research in Greece

My time volunteering with the dolphin research project was amazing. The team was so welcoming and made sure I was comfortable. Actually, when I first arrived to Greece my luggage got left behind in Toronto, and instead of having to cab to the airport to get my luggage, my research manager drove me, so they definitely made my stay a great and accommodating one. The research itself was great, I learned so much and I could tell that everyone there was really passionate for the work that they do. I was able to not only research dolphins but also monk seals which I was so thrilled about. Every day went smoothly and I would do it again 100%.

Anastasis Karonias from Cyprus volunteered in June 2017: 

I had a wonderful time and a great experience, the enviroment was very friendly and helpful, but more important the spirit of the team was excellent! Our instructor Joan and his assistant Sara were very professional and helpful! I wish I could have a chance to go there again! Its a lifetime experience. I also got inspired and I am thinking about focusing on Marine Biology! Dolphins are amazing social animal but they need our attention to survive in continuing changing and polluted environment!

Thanks a lot for the opportunity!

Christos Prokopi from Cyprus volunteered for 1 week in June 2017: 

The Dolphin Project was a very enjoyable, learning experience, much better than I personally expected. I really had a great time in Vonitsa, and I am grateful that I was actively involved in data collection and contributed to the research of the project.

WorkingAbroad co-founder Andreas Kornevall volunteered on the project for a week with his family and has written a blog to describe their time in Greece! Follow this link to read what he had to say: http://www.workingabroad.com/blog/post/family-volunteering-in-greece-blog


Other feedback from previous volunteers on their time at the project: 

"Vonitsa and it’s dolphins have been all I expected plus more.  Seeing the animals in their natural habitat was wonderful."

- Niki (USA)

Marine volunteers studying dolphin dorsal fins

"I had a great time in Vonitsa: I love this quaint, Mediterranean town and the valuable research that the project conducts.  I chose this research expedition to explore a new country and to gain practical experience in marine biology – mission accomplished!"

- Adrian (USA)

"Watching wild dolphins was my long-time dream. This was an eye-opening experience. I want to study more and more about dolphins and marine environment now."

- Emi (Japan)

"The town, the people, the animals, the adventures, and the new family I made over the past week have imprinted upon me something that I cannot express. This was a life changing experience."

- Sam (UK)

"Thank you so much for introducing me to the wonders of the Seas. Our oceans are a part of our planet that until recently I have had little time to explore. Your project has not only educated me on the issues in this breathtaking region but also on serious conservation issues worldwide. I will always be grateful for this."

- Vivian (Canada)

"I have come to Greece to learn about dolphins and about our past connected to this historic land. I feel I will leave this country feeling a sense of ownership for the intertwined nature of our world- people, animals and ideas- in a way that I never would have imagined."

- Trude (USA)

Marine volunteers recording dolphin behaviour at sea

"My expectations for this project were high, but it has exceeded them by miles! While I thought we would be allowed to help with the research, I never believed I would be as involved as we have been in data collection. I felt I was truly contributing to the research that will hopefully help to protect these beautiful animals."

- Fran (UK)

"This is something I have wanted to do for years and in finally plucking up the courage to go for it, I leave with far more than some pretty photos, a sun tan and a tick in a box! I leave with an appreciation of the delicate between a species and their environment, and between mankind’s economic agendas and the impact of these on fragile ecosystems."

- Nina (UK)

"The experience was so educational and informative!   What a wonderful opportunity to visit a veritable paradise, meet interestig people, learn, and do good work."

- Giovanni (Italy)

"Learning about dolphins has been not just educational, but exciting! While I am not a scientist and have limited skills, it is a good feeling to be able to contribute to scientific research in some way. I hope many others have an experience as fulfilling as mine."

- Glenda (USA)

The view of Vonitsa from the volunteer boat

"Not only did we get a good insight into the daily work of a marine researcher. We also got the privilege to be touched by the passion of the true heroes of the project, one of the organizations that stand between us and the total collapse of sea life."

- Jonas (Sweden)

"Thank you for a truely remarkable experience. We have seen lots of dolphins doing amazing things. I would like to thank the staff and researchers for making this such a positive learning experience. It has re-charged my batteries and my students back home will greatly benefit from it also."

- Mark (Germany)

"My week on this project was an incredible experience – much better than expected and definitely far beyond my wildest dreams. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity of being part of this great project."

- Aylin (Switzerland)

Dolphin and sea gull fighting over same fish

How to Join the Project

If you are interested in joining this project in Greece as a dolphin research volunteer, 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 your application payment of £180. If for some reason, your application is not accepted, we would reimburse this payment 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 at the house, 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.

Apply Now

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