Become a Dolphin Research volunteer in Italy

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 £740.

When the sea is flat, its the best conditions for seeing cetaceansMonitor how species interact with their meta-populationsMarine volunteers can help to study individual cetacean characteristics Work in the calm seas to track and analyse marine wildlifeAn adult and calf swim together towards the surface of the seaStriped dolphins jumping through the airA group of long-finned pilot whalesVolunteers and scientists inspecting and recording dataStudy close-up photographs to identify each unique individualHelp with the scientists' research into whale behaviorVolunteers can also monitor marine wildlife from under the surfaceA pair of striped dolphinsDoing photo IDs is best when the sea is calmVolunteers scanning the horizon for dolphin activityYou may spend a night in a bay like this, Villefranche-sur-MerDiscussing results of the day's research aboard the boatDaily lessons by project scientistLoggerhead turtleFree time for volunteersSwimming during free timeLoggerhead turtles swimming in the Ligurian SeaPhoto identificationFin Whale blowing air through its blow holeSperm whale diving downRisso's dolphin jumping upRisso's dolphin and its reflectionSperm whale before diving downFin whale near boatLong-finned pilot whales next to sailing boatVolunteers night off

Striped Dolphins bow riding under the boatAbout the 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.

Description
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

27th May to 2nd June 2019
3rd to 9th June 2019
10th to 16th June 2019
17th to 23rd June 2019
24th to 30th June 2019
1st to 7th July 2019
8th to 14th July 2019
15th to 21st July 2019 - Fully Booked
22nd to 28th July 2019
29th July to 4th August 2019
5th to 11th August 2019
12th to 18th August 2019
19th to 25th August 2019
26th August to 1st September 2019
2nd to 8th September 2019
9th to 15th September 2019
16th to 22nd September 2019
23rd to 29th September 2019

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

Costs
The total cost ranges from £740 to £920 GB pounds per week (depending on course date). This includes a £180 GB pounds application payment plus with a balance payment to be paid in Euros (715 to 830 Euros depending on course date and duration, or for students under 26 yrs old, 636 to 830 Euros). Please enquire to the Volunteer Coordinator: victoria.mcneil@workingabroad.com for any questions. 

Sperm whale diving

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 www.transavia.com, www.ryanair.com, www.lufthansa.it and www.blu-express.com.

Interactive Map & Background

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

Below is a video showcasing the activities of the project:

Project Location:

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. The base harbour is in Sanremo (Italy), near the French border.

Volunteer Testimonials

Volunteers doing research from the boatA group of Students from Lewes Old Grammar School in the UK visited the project, Geography teacher Abbi Nagamootoo had provided this feedback:

"Students stepped out of the classroom and onto a boat recently, as they sailed across the Mediterranean Sea in search of marine life. Year 9 pupils were enlisted to help four cetacean researchers at the port of Sanremo, Italy, where they helped to collect valuable data about whales and dolphins in the Mediterranean region while living on a 72-foot research sailing boat.

Over the course of the trip, students and those of us teachers accompanying them, saw more than one hundred striped dolphins, a loggerhead sea turtle, two sperm whales, and two fin whales. We also spotted bottle-nosed dolphins, only the fourth sighting of the pod for the entire season. The most incredible discovery came later: we saw one sperm whale called Erico twice in the course of the week – which was incredible considering he hadn’t been seen by researchers in the entire Mediterranean Sea for more than a decade! Best of all, though, was when we came across another sperm whale. We soon realised he had never been seen before and had the unique privilege of naming him Lewis, in honour of our school.

Cetacean watching in ItalyStudents were put through their paces as amateur sailors on the expedition, and tasked with cooking, cleaning and maintenance duties, while also spending one-hour shifts each day working with a marine biologist on the sighting platform. Pupils had the chance to jump from the boat into the water to swim and snorkel in the middle of the ocean. This trip was really about offering students something different. After we went to Costa Rica last year, we wanted to give Year 9 students a similar chance to do conservation work in an inspiring setting. The expedition gave them an insight into marine life which they could never have experienced had they just studied it within a Sussex classroom. It was quite literally a chance to expand their horizons by sailing into the vast expanse of the ocean and we are so grateful to the research institute for being a visionary organisation.

The trip marked LOGS’s third collaboration with WorkingAbroad, which has worked with the institute for almost a decade to send volunteers to the Dolphin and Whale Project in Italy to research the ecology, behaviour, feeding habits and conservation of cetacean species living in the Mediterranean.

Vicky Kornevall-McNeil, co-founder of WorkingAbroad, said: “The feedback from students has been wonderful. This experience will stay with them for the rest of their lives – nothing beats the excitement of being on the top, looking out, and suddenly sighting a sperm whale, and we’re delighted to now offer this trip each year to LOGS to help inspire and reconnect them with nature.”


Malachi Shapiro, a 16 year old high-school student from USA, joined the project for one week in August 2017: 

I had a fabulous time on the Pelagos, and while I wasn’t at first wholly clear what the purpose of the research was, the researchers were very kind and more than willing to talk in more depth about all the surveying and data collection we were doing.
I can’t speak for some of the other people on board, but as a student interested in biology, I found the trip to be a wonderful experience, and would certainly be very glad to go again.


Victoria Golding, a Marine Science student from the UK, wrote about her week at the project in July 2017. Here's a part of her writings: 

Meeting the team was great, everyone was so welcoming and had a lively and pleasant attitude. The boat was a lot larger than I had imagined, with wooden décor and the glimmer of paintings of great big blue beasts on the walls. The harbour was large, with even larger boats and extravagant yachts neatly parked in their berths awaiting the next morning’s sunrise.

Volunteer at project in Italy

I’d say the third day was my favourite. We examined the Sea long and hard that day. The sea conditions were OK. Three people were on watch constantly throughout the day to search for any blows from a whale nearby or the glimpse of a dolphin breaching from the water. One person searched on the left side of the vessel, the second on the right and then one of the crew members spanning the entire horizon. Each team was on duty for one hour and then swapped with another group. It got really hot up there, in constant exposure to the fiery sun and hats only got you so far. I’d say my favourite view on the boat was sitting on the bow of the boat, only seeing the tip of the nose of the vessel dip up and down into the oncoming waves, with splashes of seawater either side of me as the waves crashed over the gunwale. The only thing between myself was the stretch of blue to the horizon and the Sun. Just as I was about to start my one-hour shift on watch duty, a blow was spotted! I climbed to the top of the boat and within 5 minutes I saw the blow of my first sighting of a Fin Whale. It was truly amazing. I was ecstatic!

Volunteer on the boat in Italy

The rest of the week was spent with more trips out searching. On our last day we came across another Fin Whale, a Sunfish, jellyfish and many experts in flying - seabirds. We also had other lectures during the week covering how to identify certain marine mammals, what their behaviours are like in social groups, the 25 years’ worth of research summary and the work that the project has achieved and where the research is heading to in the future.

This was an invaluable experience and I not only learned so much about cetaceans and the work that is carried out in order to help the preservation of the conservation of these animals, but I also learned a lot about myself and where I would like to expand my skills as a scientist. So much work and dedication has gone into this project by the head scientists and employers of the organisation who make it all happen and it was an honour to be a part of journey.

One thing which has stuck with me since this experience is the beauty that is right on our doorstep, free to everyone to experience and enjoy. It pains me to see the ocean being polluted with plastics and garbage from our carelessness and disrespect for the environment. It was spectacular seeing these creatures in their natural environment, however the time I spent snorkelling in the evening I could only fear at what might happen to these creatures when I came across numerous amounts of plastic waste in the oceans. To say the least, I did not only see this at the shallow beach coasts, but also out at sea, too many miles far from our garbage bins! The project has done a fantastic job in protecting these cetaceans’ home, studies have shown increases in the whale and dolphin populations – it’s amazing. They have inspired me to help the oceans in my own way.


Volunteers watching dolphins in Italy

Rachel 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 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 the Project

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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