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Whale and dolphin volunteer vacation

Pilot whales
Pilot whales
By Mmo iwdg (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

A different type of European vacation is spent amidst a team of scientists who research whales and dolphins in the Strait of Gibraltar, Spain. Seven types of cetaceans are tracked and studied: killer whales, pilot whales, sperm whales, fin
, bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins and striped dolphins.

This work is important because the Strait of Gibraltar has an extremely high amount of maritime traffic. There have been
many collisions between the sealife and ships. Killer whales have also been the unintended target of tuna lines from
fisheries. The project works with the Spanish Ministry of Environment on solutions to these problems and more. Teams
are in charge of identification of individual whales and dolphins, along with tracking their lives for the purposes of

Depending on the weather, a typical day may include the following activities:

7:00-8:00 Wake up and breakfast.
8:00-8:30 Go to the boat, charge the material onboard, get everything ready to leave the harbor.
8:30 Leave the harbor and start searching for cetaceans. There are many cetaceans in the area so the probability of
encounter is very high (around 95%). The work at sea will depend on the research objectives of the day, the behavior of
the animals (sometimes it is not possible to work with them) and the weather. Main tasks will be to help with the tracking
of cetaceans and to take data on photo-ID and biopsy.
18:00 Arrive at the harbor. Store all the material and tidy the boat.
19:00-21:00 Back to the research center for a debriefing of the day, download the pictures, prepare the biopsy samples
and look at the weather predictions for the next day.
21:00-23:00 Dinner and wash up

A typical day in case of bad weather consists of:

9:00-9:10 Preparation of activities of the day.
9:10-11:00 Presentations on general biology of cetaceans or our research and methodologies used.
11:00-13:00 Work on a specific personal task, under supervision, given at the beginning of the trip.
13:00-15:00 Lunchtime
15:00-18:00 Visit of historical places and/or walk in the Natural Park.
18:00-21:00 Back to the research center for a debriefing of the day, work on personal tasks and look at the weather
predictions for the next day.
21:00-23:00 Dinner and wash up.

A typical week:

Monday is the first day of the trip and is also the day of the arrival of all the research assistants. There is an introductory
presentation on Monday night to explain who we are, what we will do during the trip, how everything works and get to
know you. Then we will go to the supermarket to do the shopping for the trip. If the weather is good, we will be going out to sea every day of the trip. However, please note there is an average of 5 good days at sea per trip but it can vary from two to nine days at sea. Therefore, many presentations, tasks and visits are prepared relating to the study and biology of
cetaceans. The trip ends on the Friday of the next week and we will not be going out to sea. In the morning a selection of
the best pictures from everybody will be collected so that all volunteers have a souvenir from the trip.

Currently, there are four PhD theses being worked on by the staff team. The studies involve demography and genetics of pilot whales, the energetics of killer whales, conservation and large cetaceans, and demography and social structure of
bottlenose dolphins.

Note no specific knowledge of skills are required to volunteer, just a willingness to help. All participants will be trained.

The 12-day program costs 990 euros, and includes shared lodging and food.

For more info:

Meet the Project Leaders

Read more on the GVI website

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