The Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute (BDRI), run by Bruno Diaz Lopez, focuses on the conservation and research of dolphins in Northern Spain. The BDRI offers students the opportunity to participate as a volunteer, intern, or to take part in a field research course. I was lucky enough to be accepted into a field research course in monitoring coastal bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) populations.
After traveling to O Grove, Galicia, where the institute is based, I was thrown straight into life in the lab. We immediately went out on the boat and within twenty minutes there was more than 20 dolphins around us! Most dolphins enjoy bow riding, but in order to observe their natural behaviour we had to stop the boat so they would ignore us. After a few hours on the boat we headed back to the lab where the interns began photo identification and transcription while I headed into my first lecture. I learned all about cetaceans in general, the marine environment, monitoring methods, photo identification, bioacoustics, stranding procedures, conservation, and statistical analysis. I also helped out in the lab with photo identification, we even got to examine the fetus of a common dolphin!
The course took place over ten days and we got to go out in the field whenever the weather was calm. I learned that wind is highly important in cetacean research, if its too windy then it is difficult to spot the dolphins and this introduces a bias into the data. While out on the boat, everyone had different jobs. The person in the back of the boat was in charge of taking GPS co-ordinates every 5 minutes and also had to scan the area behind the boat. The people at the front of the boat and on the top deck had to scan the areas to the front and sides of the boat while taking environmental surveys every twenty minutes. During these surveys all environmental factors had to be measured such as wind speed, depth, water temperature, visability, etc. These are highly important factors when monitoring the behaviour of bottlenose dolphins.
This course was an amazing experience and I got a great insight into the world of field research. I highly recommend it to anyone who shares my interest and passion for all cetaceans!