The Great Whale Project

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Get up-close with the biggest animals on Earth and contribute to a greater knowledge of whales and dolphins in the Azores.

Faial Island is one of the best destinations for encountering whales and dolphins in the whole world! Attracted by the deep waters and the abundance of food, more than 25 species of whales and dolphins are reported to be within the Azores waters - about 30% of all the cetacean species known. Considered a sperm whale “hotspot", it is also on the route of other migrating species, including blue, fin and sei whales!

The Great Whale Project combines a touristic whale watching operation with whale and dolphin conservation research, involving guests and volunteers in a philosophy of sustainable eco-tourism that supports conservation research. This whale project is run by a team of marine biologists who have been conducting whale photo identification studies in the Azores for over 15 years and focuses mainly on the individual identification of blue and sperm whales. Blue whales are the least researched species of all whales (and the biggest mammal on the planet) and it is vital that more knowledge is acquired in order to provide these marine mammals with a sustainable future.

The project has two specific research periods; the spring months are mainly for blue whale research (with fin, sei and sperm whales also passing through), whilst the summer months are focused on the individual recognition of sperm whales – which remain here all year. As a volunteer, you will be assisting in the photo identification project of cetacean species encountered, helping to brief tourists, learn boat skills and more.

This whale conservation project gives you the unforgettable chance to experience field research and witness whales and dolphins in their natural habitat, whilst learning about whale biology, conservation, species identification and behavioural data collection techniques.

Faial Island is one of the best destinations for encountering whales and dolphins in the whole world! Attracted by the deep waters and the abundance of food, more than 25 species of whales and dolphins are reported to be within the Azores waters - about 30% of all the cetacean species known. Considered a sperm whale “hotspot", it is also on the route of other migrating species, including blue, fin and sei whales!

The Great Whale Project combines a touristic whale watching operation with whale and dolphin conservation research, involving guests and volunteers in a philosophy of sustainable eco-tourism that supports conservation research. This whale project is run by a team of marine biologists who have been conducting whale photo identification studies in the Azores for over 15 years and focuses mainly on the individual identification of blue and sperm whales. Blue whales are the least researched species of all whales (and the biggest mammal on the planet) and it is vital that more knowledge is acquired in order to provide these marine mammals with a sustainable future.

The project has two specific research periods; the spring months are mainly for blue whale research (with fin, sei and sperm whales also passing through), whilst the summer months are focused on the individual recognition of sperm whales – which remain here all year. As a volunteer, you will be assisting in the photo identification project of cetacean species encountered, helping to brief tourists, learn boat skills and more.

This whale conservation project gives you the unforgettable chance to experience field research and witness whales and dolphins in their natural habitat, whilst learning about whale biology, conservation, species identification and behavioural data collection techniques.

Below are activities you may take part in whilst on this project, however, activities may change from day to day due to weather conditions, the number of client bookings, and the abundance of whales. We, therefore, recommend joining for a minimum of 2-3 weeks to get the most out of this experience. Volunteers joining for 1 week should be aware that they may not be able to take part in all the activities.

Volunteers Monitoring Whales in the Azores
Monitoring
You will spend time aboard the project’s boat, monitoring various species of whales and dolphins. This is a great opportunity to gain experience in the field, as you will be collecting data on the animals’ behaviours, geographical positions and more. As well as monitoring marine life from on the water, you will also conduct surveys from the land. Whether on dry land or at sea, this activity may allow you to catch your first glimpse of a humpback, blue or sperm whale!
Dolphins in the Azores
Marine Knowledge
Throughout your time on the project, you will take part in lectures on whale and dolphin conservation, various aspects of marine ecology, the pressures that the Azorean ecosystem faces, and how to identify different species whilst out at sea. Everything you learn will be vital for you to be able to take part in the photo identification project and also provide you with the knowledge you need for tourist trips out to sea.
Volunteers Monitoring Whales in the Azores
Photo - ID Project
Whilst out on the water, you will help to photograph the various marine species your group encounters. These photos will be input into a database, enabling the team to track the movements of individuals over a period of time. In addition to providing information on individual whales or dolphins, the photos collected here may also offer an insight into their population size and social structures. In order to take part in this project, you will need to take a reflex camera with a 70-300 zoom lens with you.
Data Analysis
Data Analysis
Back on land, you will take part in office-based work as you catalogue and analyse the data collected from excursions. This data could consist of photos, sound recordings or surveys, and will help the project team towards their research of the Azores’ marine life.
Volunteers on The Great Whale Project
Work With Tourists
This is your opportunity to put your newly-acquired knowledge to good use, as you head out onto the water with a tourist group. After developing your whale watching naturalist skills, you will be able to assist in the education of tourists on whale watching excursions as you teach them all about the different marine species found in the Azores and the threats they face, all whilst encouraging sustainable tourism practices. After you may also assist with post-trip boat checks and cleaning.

Please note that itineraries are subject to change and what follows is simply a guideline.

Day 1 - The Adventure Begins:
Upon arrival in Faial, you will be transferred from the airport to your accommodation and get settled in. You will then meet the friendly project facilitators, Joana and Tiago, as well as the rest of your volunteer group. Make sure you get a good night's sleep, as come the morning, your adventures will begin!
Day 2 - 13 - Project Days:
Your time on the project will be spent taking part in a variety of activities including whale and dolphin photo identification, conducting cetacean surveys from land lookouts and assisting with data analysis. Each week, you will also have some free time, during which you can explore the island, go snorkelling or perhaps even book a scuba diving excursion for an entirely different view of the region's incredible marine life!
Day 14 - Final Day:
Unfortunately, today is your last day and you will head back to the airport in time for your flight home or to commence your onwards travel plans. You may not want to leave, but surely one of the best destinations in the world for whale spotting will have provided memories that you’ll never forget!

To secure a place on this project a deposit of $245 is required at the time of booking, with the remaining balance due any time up to 60 days prior to your start date.

Select a duration below to see the available start dates. All dates shown are currently available for you to join this project!

Please note, although it is possible to join this project for 6 nights, the activities taking place are dependent on weather and sea conditions, so we recommend taking part for 13 nights or more if possible.

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Accommodation

During your time on the project, you will stay in a twin-share room in either an apartment or house located just a short walk from the project base. Meals can be prepared in the kitchen and volunteers can enjoy the use of a TV and free Wi-Fi. Private accommodation is available if you are joining as a couple or with a friend and would like a bit more privacy, however, it is dependent on availability. If you would prefer private accommodation, please let us know and we will check availability for you.

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VOLUNTEER?

This project runs between April and July, and during these months, sperm whales and dolphins can be seen in the area. However, two particular seasons offer the possibility to see additional marine wildlife species; additionally, the weather may guide your decision on when to volunteer.

Spring (April until the end of May): Volunteers wishing to see a wider variety of whale species may wish to visit the Azores during the spring, as blue, fin, sei and humpback whales tend to be spotted in the area at this time of year. The daytime temperature across these months tends to average between 13-17°C (55-63°F).

Summer (June - July): Summer is the peak season for viewing sperm whales, whilst a variety of dolphin species (such as the Atlantic spotted dolphin) also pass through the waters at this time of year. The daytime temperature during summer tends to average between 21-25°C (70-77°F).

Getting There

You will need to fly into Horta Airport on Faial island, arriving between 9am – 5pm on your project start date where you will be met by a project representative and transferred to your accommodation. Most international flights go via Lisbon and TAP Air Portugal offer multiple flights.

Alternatively, you can fly direct to Ponta Delgada, the capital of the Azores, and transfer to Faial using an internal flight.

Visa Requirements

Visa requirements in the Azores are the same as for mainland Portugal. Citizens from the UK, the EU, the USA, Canada and Australia are not required to get a visa in advance for stays of up to 90 days. Citizens of other countries are advised to contact their local Portuguese embassy/consulate to check for their visa requirements.

Fitness & Skills

No specific skills or experience are required to join this project; all we ask is that you arrive with a positive attitude, the ability to work in a team, and a passion for marine wildlife!

Vaccinations

The vaccinations required for travel will depend on your medical history. We recommend that you consult with your GP/Doctor regarding your own vaccination needs.

Meals & Beverages

Your meals and beverages are not provided for you on this project. However, there are local stores and a supermarket close by to the accommodation for you to purchase your own food, and a shared kitchen is available for use at your accommodation. Alternatively, there are a variety of local restaurants should you wish to dine out during some of your nights on the project.

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What's Included

  • Accommodation
  • Airport transfers
  • All project activities
  • A donation to the project

What's Not Included

  • Flights
  • Food and living expenses
  • Travel insurance
Where you can go
Contact Info
UK Office
The Great Traveller Ltd,
3 Dairy Yard
Star Street
Ware, Hertfordshire
SG12 7DX
United Kingdom

Opening hours:
   Mon-Fri 8:30am–5:30pm
   Sat 10am-4pm

T: +44(0) 208 885 4987