Bottlenose Dolphin Research, Croatia

Since 1999, Blue World International (BWI) has been welcoming students and curious amateurs alike into an immersive volunteer program focused on the preservation of the bottlenose dolphin in the Adriatic Sea. It has been the influential cornerstone to many students’ theses, many of whom have gone on to pursue high powered, high impact positions for accredited environmental foundations and boards. Many have also stayed actively involved with the efforts for BWI, and have pushed for change at levels that make a difference.

Friends who we met while traveling in Vietnam told us about BWI and their volunteer program. Their passion for it resulted in us signing up, and we’re thrilled we did. It was a thoroughly rich experience, with each day offering something new. The lead biologists who we spent our days with, shared a constant flow of information about what we were doing, taught us how to record and track dolphin sightings, explained the ecosystem we were studying, and lived the mission of BWI.

The European Union is currently backing their preservation efforts, as the common and short-beaked dolphin have now gone extinct, and the bottlenose dolphin population has significantly dropped in the region. Trawler boats and fish farms have become a threat to their food source, and higher levels of noise pollution due to increased boat traffic in the summer months has led to much of the population traveling away from the coastline to find food. For the dolphins who stay in the area, threats such as chemical pollution from agricultural runoff into the Po River, which flows into the Adriatic water column, affects their physical fitness and viability of their population. All these things, in addition to females traveling further distances as they are critical to gene flow, result in the need for frequent data collection, identification and monitoring of both the local and visiting population.

Each morning, we would board a research vessel, complete with acoustic equipment to monitor dolphin calls and communication patterns, and head out into the protected area to spot. Once we tracked a sighting, we would spend time recording in 5-minute intervals, data on their group makeup, movements, behavior, and identification. We would then use the acoustic equipment to understand further, their behavior underwater. Each afternoon, once we returned from the sea, we would break out into groups to enter the data into the database, upload the images into the catalog, and identify as best as we could, pairs of docile fins to correctly record each dolphin.

For us, this was an invaluable experience, as we learned more than we ever thought we could about this species. We were also able to exercise our skills to support where we could, with things around the office and Education Center (i.e. crowdfunding consultation, script writing for new statistical programs, and simple IT support with some monitors in the Center, etc.). The program was run extremely well also, with each volunteer extremely passionate about the cause. Each one of us had a frictionless experience, which helped us all walk away close friends for life.

If you’re interested in volunteering with BWI, we’d be happy to put you in touch. You can find more information about them here in the meantime.

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