Ionian Dolphin Project - Greece

Special research program on dolphins

THE TOUR IN BRIEF

For over 20 years, over 1000 non-specialist volunteers from 40+ nations have joined the Ionian Dolphin Project (IDP). They have provided us deeply needed support and helped us obtain crucial data.

By joining this tour, you will fuel science-based conservation action, aimed towards a respectful management of the local resources, for the benefit of both dolphins and humans.

During your stay with us, you will be part of a scientific team focused on the study and conservation of an amazing community of Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) living in the Amvrakikos Gulf, a large semi-closed basin in western Greece. Here you will work side-by-side with experienced researchers and conduct daily surveys at sea.

You will see lots of dolphins, get to know them, actively contribute to field data collection and, back at the field station, help us download the data and process digital photos and scientific information.

Research staff and volunteers alike will be living in the field station, in the quiet village of Vonitsa, on the Gulf’s southern shore. By sharing every experience with us, and ultimately living a researcher’s life, you will gain a first-hand understanding of the motivations that inspire our work, appreciate its significance for dolphin conservation and learn about the importance of protecting the marine ecosystem and its wonderful inhabitants.

The resident staff will present different aspects of the research during the first day, giving specific training and showing how the equipment is used.
Direct everyday involvement in field activities and subsequent data analysis will provide you with opportunities to practice and learn much about dolphin research methods.

We will give lectures and presentations about our work as cetacean scientists and on marine conservation issues, as well as involve you in informal and friendly round table discussions.
We have much to learn from each other.

Quality data collection will be ensured through careful training of volunteers and by communicating to you the importance of recording unbiased data. If you feel uneasy with a given task or find it too demanding, you will be assigned to another task or given more specific training, depending on the circumstances.

VOLUNTEER ASSIGNMENTS
Volunteers will conduct daily surveys onboard the research boat, working side-by-side with the researchers and contributing to field data collection. You will actively engage in visual surveys, looking for dolphins, sea turtles, birds and other fauna during navigation.
As soon as dolphins are sighted, volunteers will help record angle and distance from the boat. During the sighting, you will help record dolphin spatial distribution and record dolphin group size (a demanding task, as dolphin groups are often large and fluid), record group composition (i.e. number of newborns, calves, juveniles and adults) and behaviour at five-minute intervals throughout the duration of the sighting, collect fish scales with a dip net following surface feeding events performed by the dolphins, store the scale samples into numbered vials, file them and look out for sea turtles, birds and other animals.

While most of the survey effort will be carried out in the Amvrakikos Gulf, volunteers will be also involved in the monitoring of the secondary study area located in the Inner Ionian Sea archipelago. Such monitoring, however, will depend on weather conditions and project priorities.
After each survey, all the data is entered into dedicated databases. At the field station you will contribute to data entry and analysis of digital photos. You will be taught how to file, name, crop and prepare digital photos of the dolphins’ dorsal fins for subsequent matching. You will then engage in individual photo-identification based on natural marks on the fins, by matching the dolphins photographed at sea with a digital catalogue of known animals.
You may also assist in the identification of birds associated with the dolphins, and of fish prey in the birds’ beaks, based on digital photographs taken in the field.

Additional volunteer tasks to be shared with the researchers include cooking, dish washing, house cleaning, boat cleaning and upkeep, and proper maintenance of all equipment. Those on a cooking shift will agree on the dinner menu for that day. The project staff will provide the requested ingredients (if available locally). Volunteers who are not familiar with cooking are encouraged to bring with them some simple recipes they feel comfortable with.

Skills essential to participation include an open mind, flexibility to changing situations and a desire to help and learn. Experience in use of computers would be a bonus, but is not necessary.


ACCOMMODATION & FOOD

FIELD STATION (two-storey house)
Bunk beds in a loft, sheets and blankets provided.
Food is provided and cooking shifts will be taken by participants at field station.

Wildlife

CETACEANS
(whales, dolphins, porpoises)

OTHER WILDLIFE

  • Sea birds
  • Sea Turtles
  • Monk seals
This tour is no longer available and we are currently in the process of setting up new or extra tour dates.
Please contact us and let us know you are interested in this destination, so that we can assign a high priority to your request once a new tour is launched.

How to get there

If you are planning to arrive by plane, your options are the following:
  • Fly to Athens (ATH). Most volunteers then take a bus from Athens directly to Vonitsa (about 5 hours)
  • Fly to Preveza-Aktio (PVK), then get to Vonitsa by taxi (25-30 Euro, 15 min drive)
  • Fly to Thessaloniki (SKG) - some low-cost airlines operate flights to there from all over Europe. You will then have to work out your way to Vonitsa on trains and buses (6-8 hours).
If you come from Italy, several FERRY companies can take you to Ionian Greece. The arrival harbor is Igoumenitsa, approximately 100 kilometers north of Vonitsa. From Igoumenitsa, one can get a bus to Preveza or Lefkada and then take another bus to Vonitsa.
This tour is no longer available and we are currently in the process of setting up new or extra tour dates.
Please contact us and let us know you are interested in this destination, so that we can assign a high priority to your request once a new tour is launched.