Dolphin ecology, behavior and conservation

Non-profit
·
founded in 2019
Pamela
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Coordinator | Pamela
Coordinator | Pamela
Book with Flex Option! Choose new departure dates or change to a different volunteer program at no extra costs.

High­lights

The giant and remote atoll of Rangiroa is one of the most famous diving destination worldwide.
Our field missions are a participative tool for the demographic, ecological and ethological monitoring of a small 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 volunteer program.
The Tuamotu islands are a perfect location to enjoy the kindness of the Polynesian people.
We are looking for scuba divers and snorkelers to help collecting behavioral data on a small bottlenose dolphin community impacted by wildlife tourism. This volunteer program is especially suitable for:
Age 18+
Singles
Couples
Families
Groups

THE TUAMOTU ARCHIPELAGO

The Tuamotu Archipelago - population of 15,000 people -, an area highly threatened by climate change, 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.

RANGIROA ATOLL

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.

THE NGO

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.

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

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.

RANGIROA DOLPHINS AND THE DIVING TOURISM ISSUE

Since 2009, DOR's research 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’ behavioral repertoire. Indeed, these animals are targeted daily by ‘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 snorkelers. Such a situation raises concerns about the risks associated with unmanaged interactions between humans and dolphins in their natural habitat. These risks include:

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

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

3. An increased vulnerability to human activities of dolphins which have become too familiar to human presence - loss of vigilance toward human activities -, resulting in collisions with boats, propeller injuries, fishing gear entanglement, etc.;

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

5. Changes in ranging and social patterns;

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

OUR GOALS

For many years, divers and snorkelers have encouraged physical contact with Tiputa bottlenose dolphins, especially with young individuals. Some of these dolphins are now extremely familiar with humans, making them particularly vulnerable to anthropogenic activities. Indeed, overconfident animals may easily be injured or even destroyed if displaying invasive or aggressive behavior toward humans.

The annual research and conservation actions 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’ behaviors and identify risks associated with close interactions between dolphins and divers or snorkelers.

3. Awareness campaigns aiming at sharing our results and recommendations with the general public to help improving humans' relationships with wildlife.

WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE VOLUNTEER?

Volunteers will discover the dolphins' habitat and be involved in our dolphin monitoring program. They will be trained to identify Rangiroa bottlenose dolphins individually, spot some basic affiliative and agonistic behaviors, and help collecting surface and underwater photo and video data.

Our missions are 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 an experience of at least 15 to 20 dives already carried out at sea.

Scuba divers must show their certification card and logbook before the first dive.

For non divers, it is possible to assist in snorkeling data collection on one mission programmed in June / July. Snorkelers must have good swimming skills, be in good physical condition and be comfortable at sea. They should not be susceptible to seasickness.

In order to be able to enjoy the lagoon during free time, we advise every participant to bring his / her own fins, mask and snorkel.

WHAT ARE THE VOLUNTEER ACTIVITIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES?

As part of our underwater monitoring, we offer scuba divers to participate in the following activities:

1. Underwater video shooting of the bottlenose dolphins’ behaviors.

Before each dive, a briefing focusing on the diving location, sea conditions and safety procedures will be led by our diving instructor. After each dive, a debriefing will then be led by the research coordinator. The divers will follow their guide throughout the dive which generally lasts from 45 to 70'. Depending on the dive duration, time spent at sea is approximately 60-90’. The sighting area is located about 5’ by boat from the diving center.

As part of our surface monitoring, snorkelers will be invited to participate in the following activities:

2. Boat and snorkeling survey at sea.

When weather conditions are good, boat and snorkeling surveys will be conducted at sea. The boat will drift over the main dolphin habitat. You will be supervised by an experienced guide and a captain to discover the Tuamotu islands' marine environment and collect photo and video data. This activity will usually last from 70 to 90’.

We strongly recommend you to bring your own underwater camera. 

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 two times a day. This exceptional setting constitutes a privileged socialization ground for the bottlenose dolphins which regularly come to surf and leap into the waves. This is the perfect location to watch, practice photo identification and get a glimpse of the social organization of the dolphin community from land. This activity will last about 1:30 and will be supervised by DOR's research coordinator.

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

WITH WHOM WILL THE VOLUNTEERS BE WORKING WITH?

The volunteers will be supervised by DOR's research coordinator, our captains and diving instructors.

WHAT DO WE EXPECT FROM THE VOLUNTEERS?

Our mission is a participative tool for the demographic, ecological and ethological monitoring of a small bottlenose dolphin community strongly impacted by wildlife tourism. It will allow you to observe and better understand these animals' routine, issues related to their conservation, and the complexity of the relationships between humans and iconic wildlife while helping DOR to sustain its dolphin monitoring program.

WHAT CAN THE VOLUNTEERS EXPECT FROM US?

DOR's research coordinator has been monitoring this small dolphin community for more than ten years. She will share her experience and knowledge rigorously and objectively. Volunteers are deeply involved in our work and usually leave the mission with a new perception of the dolphins and their environment, that is closer to reality than myth. Our captains and diving instructors all know the location very well and will also share their knowledge with great pleasure and spontaneity.

DO THE VOLUNTEERS HAVE TO BRING SPECIAL EQUIPMENT?

We strongly recommend volunteers to bring their own fins, mask and snorkel, a lycra or a wet suit, and their own underwater camera. It may be useful to bring a laptop and hard drive. We also advise everyone to bring a hat or cap, polarized sunglasses, sunscreen, a seasickness remedy, a raincoat, a mosquito repellent, and a tube of antibiotic ointment.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Volunteers should be in good physical and mental condition, with no heart disease or treatment requiring immediate proximity to hospitals.
  • We strongly advise people who have not dived or snorkeled for more than six months to do a security visit to an ENT and a refresh dive.
  • Volunteers must have a good ability to live with others.
  • Some cooking notions and computer skills will be highly appreciated.
  • Adaptability, patience, thoroughness and good humor are welcome.

GOOD TO KNOW

  • A biometric passport and an ESTA form are required for stopovers in the USA.
  • The voltage used in French Polynesia is 220V.
  • All field activities are dependent on the weather and currents.
  • It is prohibited to dive less than 12:00 before a domestic flight and 24:00 for an international flight.
  • The water is always at 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.
  • 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 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

WHAT DOES THE VOLUNTEER DO ON A DAY-TO-DAY BASIS?

Our first meeting will take place on Monday morning at 10:00 at the "Teina and Marie" guesthouse in Rangiroa. After introducing the team, location and safety tips, the mission will take place over 14 days with one field trip dedicated to observing and collecting data on the dolphins and their environment every day, and part of the day dedicated to debriefings and comments on the data collected, training courses and introduction to the tools used.

The first Sunday and second Monday of the mission are free days.

The mission will end on the last Sunday morning. A general debriefing and sharing of photos and videos collected during the mission is scheduled on this last Sunday morning.

ARE THERE SPECIAL WORKING HOURS?

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 am and 13:30 and 16:00 pm.

Free-time activities

SWIMMING

In French Polynesia, water is always at perfect temperature. However, you should beware of currents, especially along channels. We also recommend wearing a wet suit and avoiding walking barefoot in the water.

SCUBA DIVING

It is possible to book exploratory and drift dives for your free time.

HIKING

Volunteers can visit Avatoru and Tiputa villages. They can also book local tours: The ''reef island'' and "blue lagoon" sites are particularly popular.

Swimming
Diving/
Snorkling
Shopping/
Souvenirs
Hiking

Require­ments

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 (basic level) or French (basic level)
Nationality Restrictions
No restrictions. Helping hands from all over the world are welcome.
Other Skills
Scuba divers must have a minimum Open Water Diver certification, previous diving experiences at sea, and must have dived less than 6 months before the mission starts​.

Snorkelers must have good swimming skills, previous snorkeling or swimming experiences at sea, and should not be susceptible to sea sickness​.
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 Rangiroa airport and the guesthouse, accommodation in dorm room at the ‘Teina & Marie’ guesthouse, breakfast and dinner, common fund for lunches, dives and snorkeling trips, training, talks and scientific supervision of DOR.

It is possible to book a single bungalow but it will need cost adjustment.

They do not include international and domestic flights to Rangiroa and extra expenses - e.g. alcoholic drinks, restaurants, etc.

Airport Pickup at Rangiroa Airport


Volunteers are expected at Rangiroa airport by the guesthouse.

Our first meeting will take place at the guesthouse on Monday at 10:00 am.

Accommodation


DOR works with the local ‘Teina & Marie’ guesthouse located close to the lagoon, Tiputa pass, the diving center and ‘la Cité des Dauphins’, a dolphin observatory on shore. Accommodation is in a dorm room with shared bathroom fitted with a toilet, cold shower and access to electricity. 

It is possible to request a private bungalow or choose another guesthouse; a cost adjustment may be done with DOR.

DOR works in collaboration with a small diving structure located next to the guesthouse.

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 and can be cooked in the guesthouse’s kitchen.

Two food stores and three snacks are located a few minute-walk from the guesthouse. Shops are relatively well stocked but fruits and vegetables are scarce in the atolls. 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 the 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.
Vaccines
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

NO CREDIT CARD FEES

Details on arrival

International flights to Tahiti will often arrive at night. You can book a night at a guesthouse in Tahiti. 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. The six-kilometer taxi ride between Rangiroa airport and the guesthouse will take about five minutes.

Between 3 and 5 participants are required on each of our 14 day-missions.

2022-PROGRAM FOR SCUBA DIVERS

  • June 6 to 19
  • July 18 to 31
  • August 8 to 21
  • August 29 to September 11
  • September 19 to October 2

2022-PROGRAM FOR SNORKELERS

  • June 27 to July 10

This program is paused due to COVID-19

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

Program fees

Costs: Prices in USD
2 weeks (min. stay)
$2,847
2 weeks (max. stay)
$2,847
Average fees
$1,424 /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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High ethical standards & transparent social impact
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Change your reservation at no extra costs
Refund Guarantee
We refund your fees if Dolphins of Rangiroa (DOR) cancels your trip
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We cover your back no matter what happens
Our services are free of charge!
All program fees are charged directly by Dolphins of Rangiroa (DOR).

What are people saying about Volunteer World?

Dolphin ecology, behavior and conservation

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

$1148/week

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