Located on the southern coastline of Scotland’s spectacular Moray Firth, you will be fully incorporated - as an essential member of the research team - in field studies of these exquisite creatures: monitoring their numbers and distribution; studying their behaviour and social dynamics; and identifying individual animals, their status and site fidelity. Primary concentration will be focused on an individually-identifiable population of bottlenose dolphins that spend a large proportion of the year in the study area. Isolated at the northern extreme of the species range, this population of bottlenose dolphins – one of only two “resident” populations in British waters – is of national and international importance. Other cetacean species you may be lucky enough to encounter include harbour porpoises, minke whales, Atlantic white-sided dolphins, common dolphins, pilot whales and possibly even orca or humpbacks (as well as many other marine and coastal-dwelling creatures, such as grey and common seals, basking sharks, turtles and ocean sunfish).
In addition to your involvement in essential fieldwork, you will also have the opportunity to receive instruction in marine mammal rescue techniques. Affiliated with the UK Marine Animal Rescue Coalition, the Cetacean Research & Rescue Unit (CRRU) operates a fully trained, 24-hour marine mammal rescue team. Should an actual rescue situation occur, you might be expected to assist the team at short notice (sometimes even during the night).
Working in small teams, you will undoubtedly learn a lot about the whales and dolphins commonly seen in this haven area of Scotland - how to identify them, the conservation issues that drive research initiatives to protect them, and how to help them during a live stranding situation. In short, you can expect an exciting programme rich in experience and personal satisfaction and an enjoyable introduction to whale and dolphin identification, data collection and marine mammal rescue.
May to Oct
Fixed 10 days
As a trainee with the CRRU, you can expect to fully participate in all aspects of this project, learning about these animals and their environment through first hand experience as you work closely alongside the researchers - in fieldwork and rescue activities - and the whales and dolphins themselves. Under scientific supervision, you will be instructed in the skills and techniques used by marine mammal biologists in their studies of these fascinating creatures. You will assist the research team within the field: counting animals, recording behaviour, determining geographical positions and taking photographs. Back at the base, time will be spent identifying the animals encountered, cataloguing slides and photographs, analysing data and with other general chores and household duties, including a share of the cooking and cleaning. As such, your working days will be much the same as the researchers. As teams will be small, there will be numerous opportunities to discuss methodologies, findings and experiences and you will be encouraged to formulate your own interpretations with the researchers and other Ecocorps recruits/trainees. The project staff will be happy to present informal lectures for your benefit, and at your request. A small resource library containing scientific literature and information from recent studies will also be made available for your consultation and interest.
Within the duration of your stay, we will undertake a number of additional activities fundamental to the aims of the CRRU. Further to the research work, you may be expected to assist the team with their rescue work, and training in this area may be optional as a focal part of your experience. Education and public awareness activities are also an important area of the group’s work, as whales and dolphins provide an excellent medium for educating people about the impact of marine pollution and promoting their concern towards the conservation of these and other marine animals and the marine environment in general. With your help, talks can be arranged with community groups, schools, and at the local aquarium, on a weekly basis. Fundraising stalls, PR events and exhibition work may also be attended, and these are often great fun for all involved.
This programme may sound very hectic, and it often is, but you will be able to make time to do your own thing too. During the evenings and on days when the group decides to take “time-out”, you will be encouraged to initiate your own social programme and evening entertainment for the group. There will be no fixed days off as such, but there will be plenty of opportunities for long walks, excursions, barbecues, and to sample the “local spirit” at the Garden Arms Pub. The environment we wish to create will be informal and flexible and, by mutual arrangement, many things will be possible.
What you will get from the experience:
1. Small, friendly and relaxed groups (maximum of 6 recruits, up to 4 research staff, plus other specialist researchers, students and guests on an ad-hoc basis)
2. Full board, accommodation and cost of all meals provided (with the exception of alcoholic beverages) plus all boat equipment (dry suit, woolly bear under-suit, wet boots, wet gloves etc).
3. Induction and full training programme with a professional research team
4. Direct contact with experienced cetacean field scientists and students
5. Seminars and optional guided tours
6. Direct support of invaluable research projects and conservation initiatives
7. Vital contribution to research funding
Since 1997, trainee volunteers and students have assisted the group in the collection, organisation and analysis of data fundamental to our understanding and current knowledge of the distribution and ecology of whales and dolphins in Scotland and the Moray Firth. In co-operation with universities, research institutions and international environmental agencies, principal studies focus on the coastal cetaceans frequenting the Moray Firth to provide baseline scientific data for the adoption of long-term management measures and conservation strategies for their protection. Primary concentration is of an individually identified population of bottlenose dolphins that spend a large proportion of the year in the rich coastal waters of the southern Moray Firth and a sub-population of minke whales that frequent particular sites along the northeast coastline during the fall.
Conducting advanced training courses in marine wildlife rescue, the CRRU also operates the only specialist response team in Scotland for live-stranded whales and dolphins. The fully-equipped team (scientists, veterinarians and qualified volunteers) are skilled and experienced to act and advise at the scene of a stranding with first aid, veterinary treatment and re-floatation procedures as required.
Total cost 1,150 GBP
An initial payment of 200 GB Pounds Sterling or equivalent is required as a non-refundable deposit to reserve your placement, once your dates have been confirmed by the host organisation, with the outstanding balance of 950 GB Pounds being paid 6 weeks prior to team commencement.
This project is suit¬able for anyone who has a normal physical health. Individuals with poor eyesight, problems with balance, respiratory problems, or problems with walking or their weight (a maximum weight of 95 kgs is allowable for balance on the boats, fitting of dry suits etc) will, however, experience difficulties in fully participating in this Programme. The ability to swim is preferable, but not necessary as life jackets are provided and full safety regulations and training is undertaken.
You must, however, speak English fluently and be aged 17 years or older. You should also be committed to nature conservation and animal protection, and have a positive attitude towards living and working in a small group of enthusiastic people from different backgrounds and cultures.
You will be working with like-minded, enthusiastic people, from all over the world, and with dedicated researchers in a beautiful, but sensitive, natural environment within a traditional Scottish village community. It is important that you contribute to the group dynamic in a positive way. This is not a situation in which to impose your own agenda, but rather one in which your support and commitment to the work and to the team is both necessary and expected.
The most important requirements for any participant are enthusiasm, the ability and willingness to learn and work under often difficult (but rewarding) field conditions and the open-mindedness and sense of humour to work, live and communicate with other people of mixed nationality and background.
Please also note that, due to the nature of the work, participants will need to be both physically fit and healthy and, as a guideline, should be able to walk along steep coastal paths to reach land observation points.
The research unit providing this opportunity is not a professional tourist organisation but a well-organised team of research scientists. Therefore, as part of a working team, you will be expected to participate in all activities of the day, including your share of basic domestic duties such as cooking, cleaning and maintenance. Flexibility is also required with respect to sleeping arrangements, as single bedrooms or sleeping facilities only for couples are not usually available.