Whale watching volunteer doing research in an ecotourism project
Whale watching research volunteer, working as part of an ecotourism agency based in Mazatlan, Mexico. Their mission is to connect people with wildlife through unique experiences in nature. They achieve this by operating field trips and expeditions designed to serve as ‘platforms of opportunity’ for wildlife research and monitoring – using whale watching trips to get as many people as possible collecting data. The project also supports community conservation initiatives in the region.
A key aspect of their work is the long term monitoring of marine mammal species and populations. The area is an essential habitat for a diverse range of marine life, including sea turtles, sea lions, sharks, birds and many whale and dolphin species, including year round resident populations of bottlenose, spotted and spinner dolphins, plus a winter breeding ground for Pacific humpback whales.
From December through March, the projects operates whale watching excursions designed to document cetacean sightings, particularly humpback whales. On board, the team of marine scientists are supported by conservation enthusiasts who fund the operation, collect data on whale sightings and take photographs of the whales’ tails for individual identification. This technique, known as photo-identification, enables the team to record the natural history of individual whales and to understand fundamental aspects of their behavioural ecology like abundance, movements and habitat preferences.
The information collected is crucial for the implementation of conservation and management plans that are used to lobby local government on public policy, with the long term goal to establish a “shelter area” for humpback whales.
The whale watching volunteer project also provides training to local fisherman on disentanglements of dolphins and whales from their nets, as well as working with schools and the community to educate on environmental issues.
Zac was our first volunteer supporting the project in 2017. Read Zac’s diary entry on his placement.
Whale watching volunteering will provide undergraduates and recent graduates with hands-on experience in the field of whale research and marine conservation. You will be directly involved with most aspects of long term research on cetaceans in the region, particularly humpback whales.
Research volunteers will be learning from and supporting the Research Officer in several tasks, but primarily assisting with data entry on logbooks and maintenance of cetacean photo-ID catalogues, reviewing and summarizing scientific data and the collection of sighting data and Photo-ID of whales.
Fieldwork is dependent on weather and seat availability on the whale watching boats. You can expect to be going out on the water about 1 to 2 times a week, sometimes more. Field days can be intense, especially in the peak of winter but are fulfilling and good fun! It will give you field experience in navigation, data collection and photo-identification of cetaceans. You might be expected to interact with tourists and to educate them about cetaceans, the marine environment and our work, as well as assist with other operational tasks.
You will also have opportunities to take part in other tours and expeditions performed by the agency, including sea kayaking, snorkelling, and sea turtle hatchling release, among others. Occasionally you will be asked to assist the team in other marine conservation tasks, like marine mammal strandings, whale disentanglements or educational outreach activities.
See also the need for a volunteer with more communications and social media experience to work alongside this role at the same project
The area has a large fishing industry, a substantial commercial port and a growing tourist industry, all of which place significant pressure on the local marine environment. The economic and cultural challenges of Mexico mean that there is still a lack of awareness and policy around environmental threats, so by gathering data on the cetacean population, the projects helps inform government of the incredible natural resources they have and provides support to local policy development.
Mexico is a beautiful country with a diverse environment, ranging from high arid desert to dense tropical rain forest. As for the Mexicans themselves, they're amazing people who love their country and will do all that they can to help you., Turtle conservation, Mexico