Dolphin ecology, behavior and conservation

founded in 2019
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Coordinator | Pamela
Coordinator | Pamela
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The giant and remote atoll of Rangiroa is one of the top's world diving destination.
DOR's mission is a participative tool for the demographic, ecological and ethological monitoring of a small and protected dolphin community.
Our long-term research program focuses on each of the dolphins’ history and personality and issues related to their conservation.
Understand more to care more is an essential axis of our approach.
The Tuamotu islands are a perfect place to enjoy the kindness of Polynesian people.
We are looking for committed divers and snorkellers to help collecting behavioral data on a small bottlenose dolphin community impacted by wildlife tourism. This volunteer program is especially suitable for:
Age 18+


The Tuamotu Archipelago - population of 15,000 people -, an area threatened by climate change and rising waters, contains 78 atolls spread across an 800,000-square-kilometer ocean surface. It has 800 square kilometers of land for 20,000 square kilometers of lagoon - 0.1% and 2% of its maritime area respectively -, demonstrating how fragile this oasis of aquatic biodiversity is. The Tuamotu atolls are characterized by their height, shape, exposure to the ocean, population, and the activities performed there. There are small, closed lagoons, both hypersaline and brackish, and large lagoons open to the ocean like Fakarava, which features the largest pass in French Polynesia at 1,600 meters, and even a raised coral atoll, Makatea. Coral growth, which allows these small island reefs of only a few meters in altitude to exist, is directly affected by the slow and irreversible acidification of the oceans - a 30% increase over two and a half centuries. Here, as anywhere else, ecosystems are defenseless against commercial, demographic, and climate pressures. Here, more than anywhere else, the status of the marine mammal populations is largely unknown.


Yet 350 kilometers from Tahiti in the northwest Tuamotu Islands, the giant atoll of Rangiroa - ‘Great Sky’ in Paumotu -, a true oasis of life and diversity in the heart of the tropical Pacific, stretches its 170 kilometers of coral reefs, sands, and coconut trees around a 1,600-square-kilometer area with waters so fish-laden that it has become one of the world's top diving destinations. The atoll's impressive size - 80 kilometers long by 20 kilometers wide on average - and its two large passes, Avatoru and Tiputa, make it home to marine wildlife as exceptional as it is impressive.


Dolphins of Rangiroa - DOR - is a French Polynesian NGO dedicated to research, citizen science, conservation, education, and information sharing on Rangiroa common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the Tuamotu Islands, French Polynesia.

Born in 2019, DOR benefits from a 10-year scientific monitoring experience on Rangiroa bottlenose dolphins and a 8-year experience with ecovolunteers from all over the world who join us every year to help the NGO complete its field missions in partnership with Objectif Sciences International.

We focus our work on 1. A demographic and social monitoring of the bottlenose dolphin community inhabiting Tiputa waters, on the northern part of Rangiroa atoll, and 2. A better understanding of the behavioral changes observed in these animals as part of their interactions with diving tourism. We are thus interested in each of the dolphins’ history and personality.


The common bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus, is distributed throughout the five Polynesian archipelagoes. However, the species is most regularly seen in Rangiroa atoll than in other Polynesian islands. In French Polynesia, adults can reach up to 3.5 meters and weigh up to 450 kilos. They are easily identified by their stocky and grayish body prolongated by a thick rostrum. The line of their mouth, curved upwards, gives them a ‘smiling’ appearance. Nevertheless, this morphological feature does not reflect the overall species’ behaviors as these dolphins have an extremely complex social life and may display affiliative behaviors such as play and petting as well as agonistic ones - e.g. intimidation, aggression. The numerous marks, notches and scars visible on the adult males’ bodies perfectly illustrate these animals’ strength.


Since 2009, DOR's scientific director has been studying the bottlenose dolphin community inhabiting the northern part of Rangiroa atoll. Her work mainly focuses on the impacts of tourist activities on the dolphins’ behavior. Indeed, these animals are targeted daily by commercial and non commercial ‘dolphin watching’ activities. Literature and the media have endowed cetaceans with a reputation that predisposes people to expect friendly interactions with free-ranging dolphins. Theme parks and aquaria, where people can touch, feed and swim with captive dolphins, enhance this reputation.

The popularity of marine mammal viewing activities can result in conservation and socioeconomic benefits for the animals and local communities alike if they are conducted responsibly and with care, in accordance with existing regulations that protect these iconic species. However, if viewing activities are not conducted appropriately, they can place marine mammals at significant risk of harassment, injury or death.

Some of Rangiroa dolphins have been conditioned on the medium to long term to tolerate or even seek out physical contact with scuba divers and snorkellers. Such a situation raises concerns about the risks related to unmanaged interactions between humans and wild dolphins. These risks include:

1. An increase in the number of diving accidents through, for example, ‘pushy’ behaviours or intimidation attempts from the dolphins and / or divers forgetting basic diving safety rules;

2. Disease transmission from dolphins to humans and vice versa;

3. An increase in the vulnerability to human activities of dolphins which have become too familiar - reduced avoidance responses to hazardous situations -, resulting in collisions with boats, propeller injuries, fishing gear entanglement, etc.;

4. Reduced overall behavioural repertoires, compromising ‘wildness’;

5. Changes in ranging and social patterns;

6. The implementation of an ‘open water dolphinarium’ situation lacking basic educational components.


For many years, divers and snorkellers have encouraged physical contact with bottlenose dolphins - especially young individuals - on the Tiputa area. This situation has made some dolphins familiar with humans, putting them particularly at risk within the context of anthropogenic activities. Indeed, overconfident animals may easily be injured or even destroyed if displaying invasive or aggressive behavior towards humans.

The scientific and conservation objectives of DOR are as follows:

1. Long-term demographic and ecological monitoring of the Tiputa bottlenose dolphin community - abundance, community structure, site fidelity, social organization, reproduction parameters, kinship, diet.

2. Long-term ethological monitoring to describe and better understand the impacts of tourism on the dolphins’ behavior and risks related to close interactions between dolphins and divers.

3. Awareness raising of the general public through the regular sharing of our results and recommendations. This work aims at improving and perpetuating our relationships with wildlife.


Volunteers are trained to identify Rangiroa bottlenose dolphins, basic behaviors and help collecting underwater video data.

The mission is open to beginners but it is necessary to have minimum a level 1, Open Water PADI / SSI or an equivalent diving certification to participate in scuba diving activities with, if possible, an experience of at least 20 dives already carried out at sea. Do not forget to bring your certification card and logbook as well as a medical certificate. In order to be able to enjoy the lagoon during free time we also advise you to bring your own fins, mask and snorkel.

For people who do not dive, it is possible to assist in snorkelling data collection on missions programmed in June and August. It is necessary to swim well, to be in good physical condition, to be comfortable in rough seas and bring your fins, mask and snorkel. Beware of seasickness.


Divers and / or snorkellers are invited to participate in the following activities:

1. Video shooting of the bottlenose dolphins’ behaviors in the Tiputa area.

Before each dive a briefing on the area prospected, sea conditions and safety procedures is led by the diving instructor. An informal debriefing led by the scientific coordinator takes place after each dive. The divers follow their guide throughout the dive which generally lasts from 45 to 70'. Time spent at sea is approximately 60-90’ depending on the duration of the dive. The sighting area is located about 5-10’ by boat from the center.

2. Boat survey and snorkelling on the ocean side.

When weather conditions are good, boat and snorkelling surveys are organized on the ocean side. The boat drifts over the main dolphin habitat. You will be responsible for collecting a number of simple data without danger or discomfort for you and the dolphins. This activity usually lasts from 70 to 90’.

Underwater cameras are highly recommended. The NGO does not provide fins, masks, snorkels and / or wetsuits. 

3. Land sightings.

Long breaking waves - called ‘mascaret’ - resulting from the meeting of a tidal current coming out of the lagoon with ocean water run through Tiputa pass twice a day. This exceptional setting constitutes a privileged socialization area for the bottlenose dolphins which regularly come to surf and leap into the waves. We can practice photo identification and get a glimpse of the social organization of the dolphin community. This activity lasts about 1:30 and is supervised by DOR's scientific coordinator.

4. Part of the day is dedicated to data processing, comments, debates and training courses.


The volunteers will be supervised by DOR's scientific coordinator, the captain and diving instructors.


Our mission is a participative tool for the demographic, ecological and ethological monitoring of a small and protected bottlenose dolphin community. It will allow you to observe and better understand these animals' routine and issues related to their conservation while helping DOR to sustain its dolphin monitoring program.


DOR's scientific coordinator has been monitoring this dolphin community for more than ten years. She will share part of her experience and knowledge to allow you to observe, meet and better understand this small dolphin community. Volunteers are trained to be able to individually identify resident dolphins and get knowledge about their behavioral repertoire.


We strongly recommend volunteers to take their own fins, mask and snorkel as well as a lycra or diving suit. It may also be useful to bring a laptop, hard drive and underwater shooting equipment. For your comfort, we advise you to bring a hat or cap, polarized sunglasses, sunscreen, a seasickness remedy, a raincoat, a mosquito repellent and mosquito net, and a tube of antibiotic ointment.


> Good physical and mental condition. No heart disease or treatment requiring immediate proximity to hospitals or doctors.

> For those who have not dived or snorkelled for more than six months. A security visit to an ENT as well as a refresh dive. You will have to present your diving certificate and logbook.

> Good ability to live with others, to participate in cleaning and cooking.

> Some cooking notions and computer skills will be highly appreciated.

> Adaptability, patience, thoroughness and good humor are welcome.


> A biometric passport and an ESTA form are required for stopovers in the United States.

> The voltage used is 220V.

> All field activities are dependent on the weather and currents.

> The water is always at the perfect temperature - between 25 and 29°C. However, you should beware of currents, especially along channels.

> It is prohibited to dive less than 12:00 before a domestic flight, 24:00 for an international flight.

> Avoid swimming at night or wearing shiny jewelry while swimming or diving near the reefs - moray eels, barracudas. We do not recommended swimming in areas where fish have recently been cleaned. Beware of stonefish and do not touch the coral or other animals. Never collect live coral or shells.

> We recommend wearing a Neoprene suit. You should generally avoid walking barefoot in the water.

> Be careful of the sun and dehydration. We strongly recommend bringing sunscreen, antibiotic ointment, and antihistamine cream.

> Beware of mosquitoes during longer stays - dengue fever is still a risk. There are no mosquitoes at sea.

> Fresh water is a rare and precious commodity in the Tuamotu Islands.

> Be careful not to feed stray dogs and cats to avoid familiarizing them near the bungalows or the kitchen.

> The local currency is the French Pacific franc, which is indexed to the euro. €1=XPF 119.33. Cash is handy when you want to buy yourself a sandwich or a drink, or take a taxi. ATMs are found at Rangiroa airport and Tiputa village. A meal at a snack bar costs about XPF 1,700 - €14. Expect to pay XPF 3,000 / person in a small restaurant and XPF 6,000 in a large restaurant. 1.5-liter soft drink > about XPF 600.

A box of inexpensive cakes > XPF 250. Taxi ride > XPF 1,000 / 12 kilometers in Tahiti; XPF 500–1,000 / person on the islands. Land-based Wi-Fi internet connection > XPF 500 / hour – XPF 12,000 / 50 hours. Phone card > XPF 1,000. If you want to use your cell phone in Polynesia, please contact your carrier before the trip.

> Rangiroa has a dispensary, doctors and a pharmacy.

> Baggage from overseas cannot exceed 30 kilograms.

> Drugs are strictly forbidden.

Typical day


The first meeting takes place on Monday morning at 10:00 at the "Teina and Marie" guesthouse in Rangiroa. After introducing the team, safety tips and place, the mission takes place over 14 days with one trip every day dedicated to observing and collecting data on the animals and their environment, and part of the day dedicated to debriefings and comments on the data collected as well as training courses about the dolphins and tools used. The mission ends on Sunday morning. The first Sunday and second Monday of the mission are free days. General debriefing and sharing of photos and videos collected during the mission is scheduled on the last Sunday morning.


Field sessions typically last about half a day. Training and data analysis typically last about two hours every day. These activities usually take place somewhere between 7:30 and 11:00 a.m. and 13:30 and 15:30 p.m.

Free-time activities


In French Polynesia water is always at the perfect temperature - between 25 and 29°C. However, you should beware of currents, especially along channels. Avoid swimming at night or wearing shiny jewelry while swimming or diving near the reefs - moray eels, barracudas. We do not recommended swimming in areas where fish have recently been cleaned. Beware of stonefish and do not touch the coral or other animals. Never collect live coral or shells. We recommend wearing a Neoprene suit. You should generally avoid walking barefoot in the water.


It is possible to do exploratory and drift dives during your free time.


Volunteers can visit Avatoru and Tiputa villages and participate in local tours. The ''reef island'' and "blue lagoon" sites are particularly popular. It is also possible to observe the dolphins from the shore at "La cité des dauphins".



In order to join the program you need to be at least 18 years old on the program start date. There might be exemptions if you can provide the permission of your legal guardian(s) or if your are accompanied by your parents.
Language Skills
You need to speak English (intermediate level) or French (basic level)
Nationality Restrictions
No restrictions. Helping hands from all over the world are welcome.
Other Skills
It is necessary to have a minimum Open Water diving certification or equivalent to be able to participate in scuba diving activities with, if possible, an experience of at least 20 dives already carried out at sea. Diving equipment is provided on site but it is better for you to take your own mask, fins and wetsuit as well as a snorkel to be able to enjoy the lagoon during free time.

For the non-divers mission, it is necessary to swim well and to be in good physical condition.
Time Commitment
Your helping hand will be required on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 08:00 - 16:00

What's Included

Services by Dolphins of Rangiroa (DOR)

The fees include the round trip between the airport and guesthouse, accommodation in dormitory at the ‘Teina & Marie’ guesthouse, breakfast and dinner, common fund for lunches, dives / snorkelling sessions, training, presentations and scientific supervision of DOR. They do not include international and domestic flights to Rangiroa as well as extra expenses - e.g. alcoholic drinks, restaurants, etc.

Airport Pickup at Rangiroa Airport

Volunteers are expected at Rangiroa airport by the guesthouse. The round trips of approximately 6 kilometers last 5 minutes. In any case, the first meeting takes place at the guesthouse on the first Monday of the mission at 10:00 a.m.


DOR works with the local ‘Teina & Marie’ guesthouse located next to the lagoon, Tiputa pass, the diving center and ‘la Cité des Dauphins’, a dolphin observatory on shore. Accommodation is in a mixed dormitory with a shared bathroom fitted with a toilet, shower and access to electricity. It is possible to request a room and / or choose another pension, in which case an adjustment of prices and organization may be done with DOR. For your personal comfort, we advise you to bring a mosquito net.

DOR works in collaboration with a small diving structure located next to the guesthouse. For people wishing to dive with another diving center, an adjustment of prices and organization may be done with DOR.

Bungalow Dorm Room
Food & Beverages

Breakfast and dinner are covered by the guesthouse. Local meals are often based on fish but may be adapted for vegetarian diets. Lunches are generally organized collectively from a common fund and can be cooked in the house’s kitchen. Two food stores and three snacks are located a few minutes walk from the pension. Shops are relatively well stocked, but fruits and vegetables are scarce in the atolls. You will often have to wait for the freighter from the Marquesas archipelago to stock up on local fruit. A meal at the snack costs about 1,700 XPF and between 3,000 XPF and 6,000 XPF in a restaurant. Alcoholic drinks are not included in fees.

Internet Access
Limited access at the project site
What's NOT included?
Visa, flights, travel insurance or vaccinations are NOT included in the program fees.
Flight Tickets
The nearest airport is Rangiroa Airport (RGI) in Rangiroa. We assist you to find cheap flights to French Polynesia.
Travel Insurance
Going abroad is an adventure and it is always best to be prepared. Sudden illness or injury, cancellation or theft - a travel insurance for French Polynesia provides security and is a plus to have.
If you are intending to volunteer in French Polynesia you should seek medical advice before starting your social journey. Check your required vaccinations for French Polynesia.

Dates & Fees


Details on arrival

International flights to Tahiti often arrive at night. If needed, you can spend a night at a guesthouse or at the Motel across from the airport. From Tahiti International Airport participants will have to take a Tahiti-Rangiroa domestic flight - 1:00 for a flight without stopovers. At Rangiroa airport you will meet a taxi provided by the guesthouse. Each six-kilometer taxi ride to and from the airport takes five minutes.

A minimum of 3 and a maximum of 5 participants is required on each mission.

In 2021, divers can join the mission on the following dates:

> June 21st to July 4th

> July 12th to July 25th

> July 26th to August 8th

> Septembre 6th to September 19th

> September 27th to October 17th - 3 weeks -

In 2021non-divers can join the mission on the following dates:

> June 7th to June 20th

> August 16th to August 29th

This program is paused due to COVID-19

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
2 - 2 weeks

Program fees

Costs: Prices in USD
2 weeks (min. stay)
2 weeks (max. stay)
Average fees
$1,588 /week

The organization charges its fees in EUR. The price table in USD is subject to currency fluctuation. Dolphins of Rangiroa (DOR) will let you know about the final price during your application process.
Deposit (15%)
The deposit is simply to reserve your volunteer placement. Payments are handled by PayPal, our trusted global payment provider. If you don't have a PayPal account, you can also pay using a credit card.
Final Payment (85%)
Your final payment will be agreed with Dolphins of Rangiroa (DOR) during the application process. Common solutions are either via bank transfer or a cash payment at the project site.

Why book with Volunteer World

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We refund your fees if Dolphins of Rangiroa (DOR) cancels your trip
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Dolphin ecology, behavior and conservation

We are looking for committed divers and snorkellers to help collecting behavioral data on a small bottlenose dolphin community impacted by wildlife tourism.



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