Volunteer in Spain and Support Dolphin and Whale Research

Located in the town of O Grove, volunteers and interns will have the opportunity to contribute to bottlenose dolphin, whale & porpoise conservation whilst gaining hands-on field and laboratory experience. You will gain an insight into dolphin research, learn about different research instruments and techniques, learn about bottlenose dolphins and gain awareness about their conservation.

We have places for Volunteers to join for 5 days or longer, and Interns to join for 30 days or longer, all year round. 

Individuals, groups and students doing research all welcome.

Cost including lodging in volunteer apartment, training by researchers, internet access, boat fuel starts from £650

Volunteers will help to locate and keep track of dolphin groupsVolunteers conducting research from the shoreVolunteers aboard the research boatVolunteers will learn about different research instruments and techniquesYou will obtain knowledge about bottlenose dolphins and their conservationBottlenose dolphins swimming beneath the wavesVolunteers and interns at the research centreVolunteers collecting data on boardVolunteers can spend free time relaxing on the beaches of O GroveThe research vesselVolunteer surveying the coast of O GroveLocal community event in O GroveVolunteers and interns will assist with collecting environmental dataVolunteers record data on a deceased beached dolphinA bottlenose dolphin swimming ahead of a shipVolunteers looking for dolphins at sea

About the Project

Located in the coastal town of O Grove in Galica, Spain, volunteers and interns will have the opportunity to contribute to bottlenose dolphin, whale & porpoise conservation whilst gaining hands-on field and laboratory experience. 

Dolphin Volunteering in Spain

Bottlenose dolphin jumping above the waterDolphin research volunteers in Spain will assist with data collection while on board the research boat, help to locate and keep track of dolphin groups and collect environmental information. Back in the lab, volunteers will assist with restocking field supplies and transcribing data sheets. Boat cleaning and maintenance will also sometimes be required. Volunteers can join for a minimum of 1 week.

Whilst volunteering in Spain you will:

  • Get an insight in dolphin research 
  • Gain fieldwork experience
  • Learn about different research instruments: GPS, Hydrophone, Secchi disk, sonar, camcorder, anemometer, etc.
  • Learn about bottlenose dolphins, their behaviour and interaction with human activities
  • Gain awareness about bottlenose dolphins and their conservation

Dolphin Internships in Spain

Interns collecting dataDolphin research Interns will work alongside the chief biologist and other experienced researchers in order to collect bottlenose dolphin data. Working with a mentor, interns will gain field and laboratory experience using various scientific methods. Whilst in the lab, interns will assist with the transcription of collected data, perform photo-identification analysis, use various software, maintain the vessel and more. Internships can be used for academic or vocational purposes and require a minimum stay of 30 days.

Benefits of a bottlenose dolphin research internship:

  • Develop valuable skills beyond that of a typical internship
  • Gain experience in fieldwork and lab work, obtain general knowledge about bottlenose dolphins, their conservation and the marine environment
  • Learn about different research instruments and techniques
  • Take responsibility for your work and become a part of a research project
  • Meet, work and live with people from all over the world
  • Enjoy the outdoors of beautiful Galicia, Spain

*Note for University Students wishing to conduct a dissertation as part of their internship* For any students wishing to write a thesis/dissertation/report during their stay, an extra fee of 5 Euros per day will be charged. This is in addition to the standard internship fee, and is for students requiring evaluation or other forms, wishing to write a thesis/dissertation/report etc. This fee covers added supervision and guidance, the associated paperwork, as well as the use of project resources. Students carrying out these projects are encouraged to try for extramural or university funding to offset these costs. Students will be expected to undertake normal intern activities. Any analysis and writing will be done in their own personal time or after their stay at the lab. All independent projects will contribute to one of the ongoing research projects being carried out by the institute. This allows for simultaneous use of equipment and better supervision and guidance.

Daily Schedule for Volunteers and Interns

Bottlenose dolphinThere will be no 'typical' day whilst in the field, activities often change due to weather, location and activity of the dolphins. Despite this volunteers usually wake up between 5:00 am (summer season) and 8:30 am depending on the activities scheduled, and spend long days out on the boat. There might also be some night observations on the boat looking at bottlenose dolphins’ nocturnal behaviour.

Free Time for Volunteers

There are many activities in O Grove such as walking along the Arousa inlet, looking at the sea through glass compartments in boats and watching varied fauna. Back on land you can visit the aquarium and enjoy the Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park. O Grove also offers great nightlife and some superb restaurants serving a wide variety of seafood. Another option is to learn to surf in the Lanzada beach with one of the best surfing schools of Galicia, with the guidance of professionals that will teach you how to ride the waves. You can also enjoy other sports like cycling, kayaking and sailing.

Project Background

Volunteers learning from researchersOriginally established in Italy in 1999, the project has grown to study a wider area and a more diverse range of issues. In 2014 the project moved to it current location in Western Spain. Researchers are engaged in the long-term study of the ecology and behaviour of bottlenose dolphin populations, as well as collecting detailed information about their environment. Because of their behavioural and social flexibility it is essential to understand factors affecting local dolphins, if their populations are to be managed and conserved. The main purpose of this programme is to contribute towards a more detailed understanding of the relationships between bottlenose dolphins and human activities.

Volunteers aboard the boat

Dates and Costs

You can join this project as a dolphin research volunteer for 5 days or longer, and as an intern for 30 days or longer, with no maximum stay. Please note the dates listed below are for 2 week (14 day) periods, as most volunteers stay for at least 2 weeks, though 5 days is the actual minimum. This project runs all year round.

Listed below are the next available start dates, but please note you can also join for dates/durations outside those below & we can be flexible with start/end dates. Please also note you will generally volunteer from Monday to Friday each week, with two days off per week (usually weekends, i.e. Saturday and Sunday), hence the minimum stay being 5 days. If you have any questions about dates/durations please email us. The project is available all year round apart from the month of December.
View from the research vessel

7th to 20th January 2019
21st January to 3rd February 2019
4th to 17th February 2019
18th February to 3rd March 2019
4th to 17th March 2019
18th to 31st March 2019
1st to 14th April 2019
15th to 28th April 2019
29th April to 12th May 2019
13th to 26th May 2019
27th May to 9th June 2019
10th to 23rd June 2019
24th June to 7th July 2019
8th to 21st July 2019
22nd July to 4th August 2019
5th to 18th August 2019
19th August to 1st September 2019
2nd to 15th September 2019
16th to 29th September 2019
30th September to 13th October 2019
14th to 27th October 2019
28th October to 10th November 2019
11th to 24th November 2018

Project Costs

Volunteers looking over O Grove coastlineThe costs to join this dolphin research project in Spain vary depending on whether you want to join as a volunteer or an intern, and how long you would like to stay for.

For volunteers, the total cost for a 5-day stay is £650 (Estimated price based on Euro to GBP conversion), plus 100 Euros for every extra day. For interns, the cost for 30 days is £1780 GB pounds (Also an estimated price), plus 60 Euros for every extra day.

These costs include a £180 GB pounds payment payable with your application, and a balance payment to be paid to our programme research partner, payable in Euros. Please see the list below for a full breakdown of prices, and for any questions or to get a quote for a longer term stay please email the volunteer coordinator.

For all interns and volunteers, your accommodation is covered during the internship or volunteering period only. You can stay extra nights in the accommodation if you need to before or after your volunteering period, which will be charged at 25 Euros a night (i.e. if you need to arrive a day prior, or leave a day after).

Please also note you will generally volunteer from Monday to Friday each week, with two days off per week (usually weekends, i.e. Saturday and Sunday), hence the minimum stay being 5 days.

O Grove, Spain

Volunteering Costs
Approx £800 for 1 week (£180 application payment, balance of 700 Euros), plus 100 Euros for every extra day of volunteering.

Internship Costs
Approx £1780 for 30 days (£180 application payment, balance of 1800 Euros), plus 60 euros for every extra day of your internship.

The costs above include your accommodation in the shared apartment in O Grove, Galicia (see Lodging & Travel tab for more info), dolphin research activities, information & training, certificate of attendance, printed material and all associated field and laboratory costs during your stay.

What's not included are your flights and transportation to and from the research centre in O Grove, Spain, your meals whilst staying at the project, your travel insurance and visa (if required).

Lodging, Food & Travel

Project Accommodation

Volunteer Accommodation

Dolphin research Volunteers and interns will stay in a shared apartment in the coastal town of O Grove. The apartment is located close to the research centre and harbour as well as to supermarkets, beaches, bank and the post office. The accommodation includes three rooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and a living room. Depending on the number of participants you will share a room with a maximum of three other volunteers of the same gender. 

The apartment has satellite television and a reliable supply of electricity with a standard European plug so recharging digital cameras, telephones and video camera batteries is not a problem. There is WIFI in the research base and international calls can be made using an international phone card in the public telephone boxes.

During your stay you will be responsible for your own food preparation and cleaning. The apartment has a full kitchen (gas and electricity included) and a full set of cooking utensils. Foods of all kinds are available at the local supermarkets within walking distance at your own expense. Several supermarkets and local restaurants and bars are available in O Grove offering seafood, fast food, roast dinners and vegetarian foods. You can also find Galician specialities and other fresh groceries in many small delicacy shops. 

Volunteer Requirements

Volunteers collecting data aboard the boat

No specific experience is required to participate as a volunteer, but volunteers should be at least 18 years of age and have a strong interest in dolphin/marine research. Interns should be currently studying or hold a degree in biology or a similar field. Enthusiasm is essential as well an open-mindedness to work, live and communicate with other volunteers of mixed nationality and background. You should be reasonably physically fit and comfortable with being on a boat for up to 10 hours while looking for dolphins through binoculars and recording data.

A volunteering or internship period can be used for academic or vocational purposes, but students are solely responsible for making all arrangements for receiving relevant credits.

Weather in Galicia

The area in which O Grove is located has an oceanic climate. The daily average lies around 9.5 °C (49.1 °F) in January and 25 °C (68.9°F) in July. Autumn and winter can have periods of rain while summer generally is dry, with the odd heavy rainfall now and then.

Travel Insurance

Boardwalk running along the shore

It is compulsory for all volunteers and interns to obtain health insurance valid in the EU for their time on the project. You are also advised to take out personal property insurance for the duration of your stay. 

Travel in Spain

The nearest international airports are Santiago de Compostela (80 km) and Vigo (65 km). From the airport In Santiago or Vigo you will need to take a bus or a taxi to the bus-station (estación de autobuses) or to the railway-station (estación de RENFE). From here you will be able to travel to meet us at the project in O Grove, which is within walking distance of the bus station.

Background Information

About the Study Area

View along the coast of O Grove

The region has a relatively narrow continental shelf with the Galician continental shelf and the Galician rias sitting at the northern edge of one of the major upwelling areas in the world. The frequent upwelling of cold and dense North Atlantic Central Water results in nutrient enrichment of the area and this area is among the most productive oceanic regions of the world. It is the main fishing region of Spain and one of the most important in the world, with 87 fishing ports used by more than 6000 fishing boats along 1195 km of coastline. At least 16 cetacean species have been recorded from Galician waters. Some of these are: bottlenose dolphins, striped dolphins, common dolphins, harbour porpoises, Risso's dolphins, pilot whales, fin whales, minke whales, sperm whales, and two beaked whales: the Northern bottlenose whale and the Cuvier's beaked whale.

Volunteer Testimonials

Volunteer watching dolphins in SpainMatthew Garrett, from the UK, joined the project as an Intern in September 2016:

My month-long internship in Spain with the was amazing, really enjoyed it! I'm so glad I decided to go and do this, it was well worth the experience despite the financial outlay associated with it. Although I was nervous before travelling to Spain and unsure on the first couple days of the internship if I had made the right decision, I grew comfortable there and loved the research we were doing. In fact after I had left, I immediately missed it and wanted to go back!

Having the opportunity to go out on the research boat and survey wild dolphins in the water around us was an incredible experience I'll never forget. The sea-based component of the internship was certainly my favourite part, although I also enjoyed working in the lab with the data we collected and assisting in the entire process, learning to analyse the data and how it is used.

Dolphin Research volunteers on the boatThe work was made accessible to people from all backgrounds. My only complaint is that I would have liked to have gained a little more general knowledge about cetaceans and the reasons for their behaviour as well, as the internship was primarily focused on the methods of data collection rather than explaining the reasons behind the work we were doing. Including a presentation as part of the internship was a great idea as this filled in some gaps in our knowledge of cetacean physiology, locomotion and behaviour, as well as enlightening us of important research in cetacean ecology.

Something I didn't expect to get out of this internship at all was my positive experience with the other interns. As we all had to share one apartment we got to know each other much better, and somehow we all got on really well and became friends. Although I was weary of sharing a room at first, I settled in really well and was sad when my internship came to an end.

Dolphin research volunteers on the boatLiam Fleming, from the UK, joined the project as an Intern in August 2016:

My Internship was amazing. Bruno and Severine were very good and patient at training us in how the data collection on the boat/during land surveys works and how to correctly review the data. I learnt how to professionally collect data from first-hand experience and it is something that will come in hand throughout my entire life. I loved all the work we did out there. The other interns were all really nice and we all got along extremely well.

Dolphins swimmingLisa H, from Germany describes her time on the Project in 2015:

In the lab, the jobs for volunteers and interns are pretty similar, including identifying the dolphins from the photographs taken and mapping the route driven with the boat. Additionally interns transcribe data and log it into a database. 

Since Bruno is the director and chief biologist of the project, support and communication between the volunteers/interns is great since you see him every single day. Bruno is excellent when it comes to helping any problems you may have locally for example with the post office, buying items, recommendations for restaurants, etc.

Coastal view of O Grove, Spain

The project site is easy to access after arrival from the airport however it does take some time. The accommodation is amazing - it's a newly built apartment with lots of light and new appliances. Though it may appear as a little small and it can get tight with the full 8 occupancies are full, I didn't mind it at all - it only made the place cosier. The apartment has heating in all rooms which is very necessary as it does get cold in the winter/early spring months.

I would without a doubt recommend this programme. I'm already looking forward to the next chance I will get to go. I had such a fantastic three months in O Grove last year that I really yearn to go back.

How to Join the Project

Bottlenose dolphins breaking through the waves

If you are interested in joining this project in Spain as a dolphin research volunteer, you will need to fill out the online application form. 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 fully. However, for those who are accepted, you will be required to pay 20% of the balance amount within 10 days of acceptance, with the remaining 80% due 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.


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