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Sea Search Whale & Dolphin Research, South Africa

2 weeks from

minimum age

  • Research and record data on Seals, Dolphins & Humpback Whales along the wild West Coast of South Africa
  • Work alongside PhD scientists to collect and analyse data on marine mammals
  • Gain skills in photo-identification, necropsy and acoustic data collection.
  • Other marine life studied includes turtles, sunfish and sea birds.

"The whale encounters made had been memorable"

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The atmosphere was relaxed and laid back in a very South African fashion, and the office always bustling with activity. There are so many projects going on. Tess and Simon are knowledgeable and passionate about what they do, as everyone else I met there at Sea Search.

Definitely a stimulating and fun environment in which to work. The first three weeks were dedicated to catching up with the latest research on the study species of my two projects as an intern: photo identification of humpback whales and study of humpback dolphins’ vocal repertoire, especially whistle.  They were followed by three weeks in the field, in Paternoster, to study the so called ‘suspended migration’ of large groups of humpback whales. There, depending on the fierce west coast weather, we spent our time surveying the whales from land, which allows one to collect precious behavioural data, or recording/taking ID-shot of them on dedicated boat days, and, it goes without saying, the whale encounters made had been memorable. The remaining two weeks (+1 of conference) had been mostly devoted to preparations for the upcoming 1st African Bio-acoustic conference that Sea Search organised and which had been a great success! Meantime I also had the chance to travel a bit and enjoy the spectacular South African landscape and wildlife.

"I’ve never seen so many passionate researchers in one place"

5 Star Icon

Doing this 7 week marine mammal research internship with the Sea Search Team based in Paternoster, near Cape Town, was the best experience I’ve ever had! I’ve never seen so many passionate researchers in one place, always happy, helpful and full of knowledge about cetaceans to share! Drs Gridley and Elwen are a great and ambitious couple of marine mammal scientists, that created a pleasant working environment by always have a smile on their face and a friendly attitude. During my time I worked on a small research project on the prevalence of skin diseases, ecto-parasites, shark bites, entanglement and deformities of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins around the South African coast. This provided me with an opportunity to improving my knowledge on the theoretical background and my data analysis skills in MS Excel. Drs Gridley and Elwen provided me with project relevant papers to read, involved me in field relevant talks of other local researchers from other institutes and provided me with the opportunity to participate in a stranding course. Besides data analysis, I also had the opportunity to experience marine field work out at sea, which was an experience I will never forget.

My best experience was assisting in data collection of humpback whales, attempting to collect photographs of their dorsal fins and tail flukes, as these parts are the best to use for photo-identification to identify individual animals. During my time quite a lot of humpback whales – so called super-groups – were around and there was nothing better being on the ocean surrounded by a hundred animals that were lung feeding, tail slapping, diving and breaching. Collecting behavioural data of so many animals was often quite a challenge! I also helped with setting up to record the acoustic behaviour of these humpback whales during their feeding events and it was such a great feeling coming home and listening to the noises these animals would make. But no matter if in the office, with the best crew one can imagine or doing field work on the water, every day was a surprise of learning something new and having great experiences. During my free time I tried to explore Cape Town and the area and I must say I fall head over heels in love with this beautiful country and with the always smiling people that live here. Cape Town is a city with a special vibe, full of different cultures, history, events and sights so that you’ll never get bored and I definitely have to return as it is impossible to see it all during such a short period of time. From diving, snorkelling, bike riding, hiking no name but a few, Cape Town has so much to offer.

"I learned a lot about acoustics, dolphins and scientific writing"

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I came to Sea Search to write my master thesis on the acoustic behaviour of common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). As I had only 5 months, I could not collect my own data for my project but Dr Gridley let me analyse an existing long-term acoustic dataset on bottlenose dolphins in Namibia. Through her professional guidance I learned a lot about acoustics, dolphins and scientific writing. She taught me how to use necessary software and always helped, when I was stuck at any point during my thesis. The same applies to everybody in the Sea Search team where I always got advice when I needed it. I also had the chance to spend 3 weeks in Namibia and experience how my data was collected in the previous years, as I participated in the current surveys of the Namibian Dolphin Project. This was a great help to write the material/methods part of my thesis and a wonderful opportunity to see another beautiful African country.

Apart from my work at Sea Search, I was living in the shared student/intern accommodation right across the road which is nice and close to work, but also just a few meters from the ocean. A great opportunity to spend lunch breaks and spare time surfing. All in all, I had a wonderful stay and a successful outcome of my thesis and I would love to come back one day!

Sea Search Whale & Dolphin Research, South Africa

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