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Project details

Project start
24 Jul 2013
Project end

Project duration
This project is ongoing

Project ID
2651

Project Name
DOLPHINS AND WHALES
Project City
Mauritius
Project Country
Mauritius
Preferred skills
You must be a competent swimmer. You should also be flexible, adaptable and prepared to work at physical tasks and in the outdoors, as well as indoors doing data entry and research
Number of volunteers

Minimum age
18
Project types
Animal care and welfare

IMPORTANT Before commiting to anything please contact the organisers as details may have changed.
PARTICIPATE Don't forget to take photographs and post in your personal profile page and albums

Brief overview

MARINE CONSERVATION WITH DOLPHINS AND WHALES IN BEAUTIFUL MAURITIUS

Monitor wild Dolphin and Whale populations along the coast of Mauritius and make a vital contribution to the work of a local NGO. You'll help raise awareness about the impact of tourism on these species, aiming to ensure a sustainable future for all. This fantastic research opportunity would suit anyone with a love of the outdoors and a passion for marine life.

"My knowledge of dolphins has increased 100%" - Christina Knight

►SUMMARY FACTFILE

Duration

Minimum stay 3 weeks and up to 3 months, subject to visa requirements

Requirements

You must be a competent swimmer. You should also be flexible, adaptable and prepared to work at physical tasks and in the outdoors, as well as indoors doing data entry and research. You must be 18 years old or older.

Price

From £1,625 for 3 weeks ranging to £4,215 for 12 weeks. 

Full Price List and other Currencies

What's included ►Accommodation ►Meeting you at the Airport ►Transfer to your accommodation ►Full pre-departure support ►Local in-country support and backup ►24-hr emergency support ►Return transfer to airport.

What's not included Flights, Insurance, Food, Cost of Visas (if a visa is required, but we'll provide necessary documents and assistance)

Who can do this Project? All our projects are open to all nationalities. Anyone aged 18 - 70+

PROJECT OVERVIEW

You'll work with a well established local NGO who are focused on safe-guarding the marine environment of Mauritius, paying particular attention to the protection of marine mammals and coral reefs. With the current situation, it is imperative to take steps now to monitor the status of the cetacean populations. The work being done by MC is contributing significantly to new legislation to protect the dolphin populations, so you'll be assisting in real, pro-active conservation that will hopefully have a positive outcome.

Man's growing demand for activities like dolphin-watching trips and 'swimming with dolphins' has highlighted the need to monitor the effect that this type of human interaction is having on cetacean populations. The NGO is tackling this problem through data collection, but also through education by highlighting to the local dolphin watching industry the importance of adhering to codes of behaviour throughout dolphin encounters.

In conjunction with this on-going educational work, a scientific study of the two main dolphin populations began in 2008 in order to track their migration patterns, social groups and habits. This study focuses on Bottlenose and spinner dolphins, sperm whales and humpback whales, all of which are found in the diverse environment between Albion and Le Morne on the west coast of Mauritius.

In Tamarin Bay in particular, spinner dolphins can be seen almost every day, with group sizes averaging about 30 to 60 animals. Bottlenose dolphins, although not seen as often, also reside along the west coast. Other marine mammals seen irregularly in the area include pilot whales and sperm whales. In the ‘official’ whale season, between August and November there are often sightings of humpback whales and calves.

WORK CONTENT

Research involves taking photographs of dolphin and whale sightings to provide fin profiles for identification, population estimates and distribution studies. Photographs and data sheets compiled during research trips form a vital part of a much larger ecological study of marine mammals along the west coast of Mauritius. Field research is then combined with office-based analysis of fin profiles and notch characteristics. Some of the data you'll collect will include, for example, the following:

  • Group size (number of animals)
  • Species identification characteristics (dorsal fin size, shape and position, body and head shape, colour and markings, tail shape and markings)
  • Habitat Breaching and other activities
  • Blow characteristics (whales)

One of the priorities is educating the local children and general public and raising awareness of marine mammals and the habitat they live in. The NGO has some great projects in the pipeline with local schools and hotels. You may be asked to help construct an Information Board and/or other visual aids, including literature and other types of information to be used for these days. (Please note that this is not a regular activity, as it depends on demand, school curriculum and permission from authorities).

The volunteer programme plays a vital role assisting with research, conservation and awareness in the area, as well as generating funds to ensure the continuity of such research. Some of the duties you may help with during your time on this project include

  • Data collection and analysis for ongoing projects, especially with regards to population parameters of coastal dolphins and whales. This requires field-based research on the boat, which may take place 2 or 3 times per week depending on weather. Here you'll photograph animals, track their movements and record environmental conditions
  • Learning about research techniques and methodology used during dolphin research, such as fin profile identification. You'll receive training on this during your stay
  • Humpback whale work includes photographing hump/fin profiles and tail fluke patterns for identification purposes
  • Speaking to local tourists and boat operators as part of survey research on the dolphin watching industry
  • Research boat checks and equipment maintenance
  • Beach or lagoon clean ups
  • Office-based duties including data analysis, record keeping and administration
  • Preparing educational activities for schools (seasonal)

In conjunction with this on-going educational work, a scientific study of the two main dolphin populations began in 2008 in order to track their migration patterns, social groups and habits. This study focuses on Bottlenose and Spinner Dolphins, Sperm Whales and Humpback Whales, all of which are found in the diverse environment between the Tamarin Bay and Black River areas of Mauritius.

At Tamarin Bay in particular, Spinner dolphins can be seen almost every day, with group sizes averaging about 30 to 60 animals. Bottlenose dolphins, although not seen as often, also reside along the west coast. Other marine mammals seen irregularly in the area include pilot whales and sperm whales. In the ‘official’ whale season, between August and November there are often sightings of humpback whales and calves.

"A very well organised, professional yet fun project which has something for everyone, irrespective of background" - Candy Roger-smith 

YOUR WORK

Research involves taking photographs of dolphin and whale sightings to provide fin profiles for identification, population estimates and distribution studies. Photographs and data sheets compiled during research trips form a vital part of a much larger ecological study of marine mammals along the cost of Mauritius. Field research is then combined with office-based analysis of fin profiles and notch characteristics. Some of the data you'll collect will include, for example, the following:

  • Size
  • Dorsal fin-size, shape and position
  • Body and head shape
  • Colour and markings
  • Number of animals
  • Habitat
  • Breaching and other activities
  • Blow characteristics (whales)
  • Tail shape and markings

"The whole volunteering experience was just as promised and expected and even better. One of the best/most memorable experiences of life!" - Zissis Konstas

MONITORING THE EFFECTS OF BOAT AND TOURIST ACTIVITY ON THE DOLPHINS:

Current projects also include surveys of tourists and local operators to gain a better understanding of the economic value of this activity. Volunteers are asked to conduct these surveys in various parts of the island…the perfect opportunity to meet locals and see some of the sights!

Monitoring the boats includes noting numbers of clients/tourists and their general behaviour for each boat while they are with the dolphins. These results assist in a number of ways:

  • Looking at the value of the industry i.e. number of tourists and number of people directly employed
  • Effectiveness of the guidelines and education of operators
  • Seasonality of industry
  • Effects of boats and swimmers on the dolphins In general

Your work will vary, depending on what is required at the time that you volunteer. You'll need to be enthusiastic and adaptable. It must be noted that some elements of these projects are seasonal and depend very much on the presence of the animals along the coast.

WORKING HOURS:

Working days are Monday to Friday with start time varying depending on the activity. Boat days usually starts around 7.00 am to 8.00 am with data gathering, on returning to the house there is a break to relax and have lunch, then inputting begins on the data collected, finishing latest 5.00 pm. Nothing is set in stone and work rosters are notoriously difficult to set up as something more interesting always comes up and the planned schedule goes straight out of the window!!

You may be asked to help out over weekends, but generally you can spend Saturdays and Sundays relaxing on the beach, exploring the local forests or enjoying some of the many activities that Mauritius has to offer. In your spare time you can learn to scuba dive, go horse riding or hire a car to explore the island.

LOCATION:

You'll be based in La Preneuse, Black River, on the south west coast of Mauritius. This is a small town approximately 40km south of the capital Port Louis. There are regular buses and taxis to access many of the country's most beautiful beaches and nature parks.

"I have learnt heaps and gained invaluable experiences" - Annie Jenkin

SOME CREATURES YOU'RE LIKELY TO ENCOUNTER:

Spinner Dolphin – Stenella longirostris

  • Mauritius: Spinner dolphins use the bay areas of the West coast of Mauritius, specifically Tamarin, Black River and Point Moyenne, for socialising and resting during the morning.  They occur in large groups averaging 50 animals and are easy to identify by their high spinning jumps.
  • Description: There are several forms of the spinner dolphin the one found in Mauritian waters is the Hawaiian form with a distinct tricolour pattern on the body and long black rostrum or beak. They grow to just less than 2.5m and can weigh up to 78kg. This species of dolphin tend to move away from the coast in the late afternoon to feed in deep water on squid and small fish. Gestation: 10.5 months.
  • Status: Spinner dolphins are considered abundant but local populations are vulnerable to human disturbance and habitat degradation.                                     

Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin - Tursiops aduncus (inshore)

  • Mauritius: In Mauritius these dolphins occur along the coast behind the reef line, they are usually seen in small groups, average 6 individuals. 
  • Description: Basically grey colouration which fades ventrally.  Spotting is seen on the stomach of older animals. These dolphins live for 40 years or more and grow to 2.5-2.6 meters, weighing between 180 and 230kg. Bottlenose feed opportunistically on reef and bottom dwelling fish and cephalopods (squid and octopus). Gestation: 12 months.
  • Status: This species is not considered endangered but due to its near shore distribution is vulnerable to many forms of human disturbance.

Common Bottlenose Dolphin – Tursiops truncatus (Offshore)

  • Mauritius: This species has been encountered several times along the west coast in groups of 5 to more than 50 animals.  They are generally travelling and do not stay long in water less than 50m deep. No detailed study has been conducted yet on this species. 
  • Description: This species is often confused with the Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin due to very similar appearance. The Common Bottlenose is up to a meter larger (up to 3.8m) and generally has darker colouring and a shorter beak. When the two species are in the same area the common bottlenose will generally remain offshore. They are opportunistic feeders and groups vary greatly in size depending on their preferred habitat, pelagic groups will form larger groups than those found closer to the coast.
  • Status: The Common Bottlenose Dolphin is considered widespread and abundant but in specific areas populations are under threat from habitat degradation, pollution and conflict with fisheries.

Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

  • Mauritius: Humpback whales arrive along our coast from the end of June and can be seen until the beginning of November, though sometimes as late as December. They migrate from their Antarctic feeding grounds to the warmer tropical seas in winter to mate and give birth. These whales are either seen as individuals, mother-calf pairs or sometimes a mother and calf with a male.
  • Description: As the name suggests this species has a hump in front of the dorsal fin. The body is black on the back with varying amounts of white on the flippers and underside. The flippers are very long compared to any other whale species. Humpback whales can grow to 16 or 17m and weigh up to 40 tonne and live for at least 50 years.
  • Status: In the 20th Century Humpback whales were hunted extensively drastically reducing their numbers. Today this species appears to be recovering but they are still threatened by human disturbance and exploitation and discarded fishing equipment such as nets.

Sperm Whales (Physeter macrocephalus)

  • Mauritius: Sperm Whales can be found in the deep water, more than 500m, around the coastline of Mauritius throughout the year and are concentrated along the west coast. 
  • Description: Sperm Whales are the largest of the toothed whales reaching 18m and weighing almost 60 tonnes. They have a very large block shaped head with the blowhole positioned on the front, left hand side giving an angled blow.  The dorsal fin is low and rounded. In general these whales are a dark grey with a few white patches on the ventral surface usually around the lower jaw. They feed on large squid, rays, sharks and some fish.
  • Status: In the past, as with most of the whales, this species was hunted extensively. Today the populations of Sperm whales are slowly increasing but entanglement in fishing equipment and collisions with ships are still threats.

Pilot Whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus)

  • Mauritius: Known to occur off the west and south western coasts of Mauritius in deeper water, they are found in groups of 10 to 50 individuals. This animal is yet to be studied in detail in Mauritius.
  • Description: The body is a black or dark brown with a lighter grey area behind the dorsal fin. The head is large and rounded.  Male Pilot whales can grow to 7m with the females usually not more than 5m. This species feeds mainly on squid, sometimes taking fish or octopus.
  • Status: While the overall population of Pilot whales is thought to be abundant, ongoing hunting and by-catch are thought to be depleting populations in areas such as Japan, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.                                                             

Melon Headed Dolphin (Peponocephala electra)

  • Mauritius: Apart from some sightings no information is currently available about this species in Mauritian waters.
  • World Distribution: Oceanic in the warm tropical equatorial waters. Very little is known about this species. 
  • Description: The Melon-headed Whale is dark grey or black with some lighter ventral markings and white or pink lips. The head is rounded and downward sloping without a beak. Individuals can grow to almost 3m and weigh up to 210kg. This species live in very large groups of several hundred to more than 1000 individuals and feed on pelagic fish and squid. 
  • Status: While no specific conservation problem has been identified for this species, the limited knowledge about population size and reproductive behaviour is reason for concern and needs to be addressed in the near future.  

"All in all, a fantastic experience!" - Sandy Zouzaneas

ACCOMMODATION:

During your stay you will live and work in a house in La Preneuse. The property is a 2 minute walk to the beach with easy access to some small restaurants, supermarkets, pharmacy, post office, bars and bus stops. Bed linen is provided and there is a washing machine available for you to use, but please bring/buy your own towels.

Depending on the number of volunteers (maximum 6), you may have your own room or you may share a bunk bed with 1 other volunteer. You have access to a washing machine during office hours and there’s room in the office safe for your passport, etc.

NB: There is WIFI connection in the house and volunteers are recommended to bring their own laptops.  

In this two-storey house the office is situated on the first floor and the volunteers live on the ground floor. It is equipped with a large living area and a dining/kitchen area, two toilets and a shower. There is a porch and a roof top which can be accessed at all times for you to enjoy relaxing after work and watching the glorious sunsets!

FOOD:
Food is not included on this project and you should allow approximately £25 to £40 a week budget. You can live on less, depending on whether want to eat out frequently in restaurants or prepare most of your meals at home. The house is equipped with sufficient cookware, crockery and cutlery, plus a few basics like salt, pepper and oil.

Mauritius is a multicultural island, so a wide variety of food types are available.

TRAVEL: 

To read about Travel arrangements and what happens when you arrive in your new country, please click here.

Support & Backup: To read about the excellent Support & Backup we provide before you leave and during your programme, please click here.

You'll fly into Mauritius where you'll be met on arrival. From the airport you'll be taken to your work and your accommodation and introduced to your hosts. Prepare yourself for a friendly welcome!

You have the option to arrange your own flights or we can assist you with your flight arrangements. If you would like us to do this for you, we will liaise with you regarding available flights and dates to suit you. All arrangements for your flight bookings/payments will be fulfilled by Murray Rogers Travel Limited, ATOL No. 6856. Where possible, we arrange for two or more people to travel on the same flight and we will let you have the names and telephone numbers of other volunteers on your flight, so that you can chat to each other or even meet up before leaving for your placement.

Where possible, all flights we arrange for you have changeable return tickets because many of our volunteers choose to extend their stay once they are in their destination country. Changeable return tickets enable you to do so, within the limits of your visa and the level of your air ticket, of course. If you choose to book your own flights, you should endeavour to get a changeable ticket.

To read about the excellent Support & Backup we provide before you leave and during your programme, please click here.

We can also arrange your flight dates to give you additional time at the end of your project for travelling around and sightseeing!

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