I recently got an invitation with Biosphere Expeditions to volunteer with dolphins and whales in the Azores. They are a non-profit/charitable wildlife research and conservation organization, and they care deeply about the work that they do. The great thing about volunteering with Biosphere Expeditions is that at least two-thirds of your contribution for will benefit the animal conservation project directly.
The Azores are part of Portugal, and are absolutely beautiful islands. Horta, where the expedition is based, is an island with beautiful black lava sea cliffs, and tends to be quite rainy and gray in March. If you make it to the Azores, don’t leave without visiting Sao Miguel, as it is completely different than Horta. The scenery there is astounding with lots of green, jaw dropping views, hot springs, waterfalls, and less rainy weather than Horta.
The volunteer work took place upon a small catamaran, and we helped a scientist to collect data and take photographs to match and study migration paths of the paths of dolphins and whales. Around 30% of the world’s known cetacean species have been recorded there. Only 5 of the species were seen on this trip, so we didn’t see near the numbers of different species that were sent out in the dossier, but I’ve heard that on other trips, many varieties have been seen. We saw common and bottlenose dolphins, sperm whales, one humpback whale, and one blue whale.
This trip was also supposed to include tagging of loggerhead turtles, but we only saw one turtle, and we didn’t tag it. Nights were spent listening to lectures from the scientist, and seeing a slide show on the days that we saw wildlife. All in all, days were booked from 7:30am-9pm with only a 2 hour break to ourselves each afternoon, so it was a pretty tiring schedule with a lot less sleep and free time than I’m used to. Others on the expedition also mentioned that they didn’t know the days were going to be so scheduled especially in the evenings after dinner.
If you have an interest in volunteering, wildlife, wilderness and conservation and are able to communicate in English, then this may be the trip for you. You also will meet wonderful people from around the world, and will enjoy getting to know about their experiences. I would say you should be clear on what you are wanting from the experience and your personal needs before going.
You also should know some other points, as I have an interest in volunteering and wildlife, but it wasn’t the trip for me. The seas are very choppy, and I had to take motion sickness pills every day which made me feel nauseas, dizzy, and tired even when I wasn’t on the boat. I didn’t know the waters would be so choppy, and you might not either, so that’s why I’m sharing this information. When I emailed them later to tell them I left early because of how sick I felt, the exact response I received was: “I also wonder what you were expecting when a catamaran (clearly shown and described) goes out into the Atlantic – smooth sailing all the way?” I personally have never been on the Atlantic in a catamaran, so no, I didn’t know what to expect.
You get absolutely drenched on the boat, as it sometimes rains and the water comes over the boat, so you will be cold and wet. Also, some of the volunteer positions require standing for 8 hours on a rocking boat, which I was unable to do. While it was clear we would be on the boat for 8 hours a day, it wasn’t clear to me that we would be required to stand for this amount of time. If this isn’t something you can do, I’d recommend looking for one of their land based expeditions.
Also, the accommodations are quite rustic. I’m talking hostel/student basic. The expedition was based at a place called Banana Manor. The grounds were beautiful, as it was a working farm. But, the rooms were shared with shared bathrooms on each floor. The beds weren’t comfortable with springs that creaked every time you moved, and after a hard boat ride each day, you hope to have a bed that won’t make the pain in your body even worse. The hostel was very cold and damp. If you go, bring many sets of clothes, as the clothes didn’t dry overnight or even in 2-3 days, and there was no dryer to use. Also, they didn’t have WiFi for guest and the free city WiFi or even a phone signal doesn’t come inside the building. Just some things to know, as I wish I had been told to expect these things before spending so much time and money to go on this trip.
So yes, for me, it’s not something I would do again, as I need more of a comfort level if I will be working so many hours. But, this is just my viewpoint. I do think that Biosphere Expeditions is doing good things in the world, and if you are someone who thrives off of crazy ocean swells, don’t mind being cold and wet, and sees this as an adventurous undertaking, then this volunteer trip may just be the trip for you.
As always, all opinions are my own viewpoints, and I haven’t been influenced in any way.