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Sea Search Whale & Dolphin Research Programme, South Africa

2 to 4 months from

minimum age

  • Research and record data on Humpback & Killer Whales in Cape Town
  • Work alongside PhD scientists to collect and analyse data on cetaceans
  • Internship and research opportunities for University students available
  • Other species researched include killer whales, dwarf sperm whales and humpback dolphins!

Humpback whale head sticking out

About the Sea Search Project

The Sea Search Research and Conservation group is a collective of professional scientists and students with a strong academic background in the area of marine mammal science. Their primary focus is the production of peer-reviewed scientific research and student training. They also provide specialist consultancy services and work with industry and government to promote conservation through effective management. We have two opportunities available – the Sea Search Research Internship and the Sea Search Volunteer Programme.

Both programmes are aimed at students and graduates looking for long term placements to develop analytical skills, conduct student projects or theses and experience real research.

Volunteer programme

Based in Muizenberg, Cape Town (South Africa) our research mainly focuses on the cetacean species in False Bay. Long term volunteers/ students can join the project at any time throughout the year but are expected to join the team for a minimum of 2 months up to a maximum of 6 months in duration. If your university requires you to undertake a short research project, we can help devise the project through discussion with team leaders who would then supervise your project. During this time you would mainly be involved with data processing and analysis with ad hoc fieldwork that contributes to our current projects.

Lowering the hydrophone to record whale soundsTypical activities volunteers/students will gain experience in:

– Data processing and analysis
– Photo identification of animals
– Shore based tracking of animals
– Small boat work (approx 3 surveys a month)

Research Internship – Killer Whales

This Research Internship is a once in a lifetime opportunity for students and enthusiasts to join scientists during a busy and active fieldwork season with a focus on finding killer whales around Cape Town!

Interns will be involved in all aspects of data collection, helping the Sea Search team and our collaborators to track down these fast moving top predators through a combination of boat surveys, shore based monitoring and responding to sighting reports. Research focuses on collecting skin samples for use in global genetic and trophic ecology studies, attachment of satellite transmitters to study movements and photo-identification data to study the population size and individual movements. We will also be collecting acoustic recordings of animals and deploying moored hydrophones for long-term monitoring.

Fieldwork will include: 
Small boat surveys (3-4 /week), Photo identification, Behavioural sampling, Biopsy collection, Behavioural acoustics
Satellite transmitter attachment and Shore based tracking.

Office based work will include:
Data management, Acoustic & photo-ID processing and Analysis.

Free Time for Volunteers

Volunteers work standard office hours during the week with weekday evenings and weekends available for recreational activities and travel. During field work days, volunteers would be expected to be ready to leave by 6h30 am although the exact time will depend on the weather forecast.

Dolphin research in Cape TownProject Background

Sea Search Research and Conservation was founded by a team of cetacean biologists with a diverse array of research interests. We are studying a wide range of whale and dolphin species in southern Africa with much of our research focussing on conservation ecology and bio-acoustic research. In addition to ongoing building and processing of existing long-term data sets – our research over the next year will be focussing on 1) the Indian-Ocean humpback dolphin (South Africa’s most endangered cetacean) and using novel acoustic methods to study their movements and numbers and 2) acoustic communication in feeding “super-groups“ of humpback whales in the southern Benguela. Additionally, we will be working with a network of colleagues to try and collect more data on killer whales in South Africa – these rarely seen and wide-ranging top predators are incredibly hard to find so it’s going to need a real team effort.
Whales in Cape Town and mountain scenery

Ongoing projects include:

– 1) the collection of historical and current data for all cetacean species found in False Bay to determine habitat use, seasonality and other baseline data;

– 2) a species-specific project to determine the abundance of humpback dolphins in False Bay and

– 3) the population linkages between this species in False Bay and other areas further east in its range.This information is of importance to the management of protected areas and species and is critical to guide prediction models on the influences of climate change on cetacea.

“The Sea Search group strives to be one of the leading marine mammal research and education groups in southern Africa and conducts research on a wide range of species and topics in the region. The research we do would not be possible without the invaluable role that volunteers and students play in the group. Volunteers have been essential in the collection and processing of data from a wide variety of sources – visual and boat surveys, acoustics, and even interview methods as well as engaging with the public and school learners during education events.” – quote from Project Director

Sea Search Whale & Dolphin Research Programme, South Africa

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