All of us, research staff and volunteers alike, will be living in our field station in the quiet village of Vonitsa, on the southern shore of the Gulf of Ambracia.
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.
IDP researchers are extensively experienced in giving presentations to non-specialist audiences, and can master a series of lectures taking advantage of PowerPoint presentations, short videos, and other entertaining visual tools. Interactivity will be key, and you will always be invited to participate by answering questions, reporting your own experiences and sharing your opinions with others.
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.
Cultural awareness is an important aspect in Greece, and all project participants will be informed of the local lifestyle and behaviour, and on the rationale behind local customs. This will allow everybody to appreciate the Greek lifestyle while enjoying teamwork and friendly relationships with local inhabitants of the village.
The researchers will encourage you to mention food preferences, cultural or religious needs, and any other factors that might create conflict or uneasiness in a multi-national team, with the purpose of finding ways to accommodate personal preferences while avoiding dissatisfaction or conflict.
Researchers will give the team a more detailed onsite project briefing on arrival.
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 behavior 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 and 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.