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Belize: Turneffe Atoll Bottlenose Dolphin Research

Join Oceanic Society researchers studying the behavioral ecology of bottlenose dolphins in Turneffe Atoll, Belize on this week-long volunteer vacation. No prior research experience is required.

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Turneffe Atoll is composed of mangrove islands, seagrass beds and coral reefs that form an intricately related system. Although bottlenose dolphins have been generally well documented, to date there have not been any long-term studies in such a diverse ecosystem. The warm waters of Belize are conducive to surface and underwater studies of dolphin behavior and ecology.

In 1992, Oceanic Society began a long-term study of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) aimed at documenting their abundance, distribution, and behavioral ecology in Belize. Oceanic Society researchers have found Belize dolphins exhibiting similarities to and differences from bottlenose dolphins studied elsewhere. This may be due to the unique ecosystem found in Belize and the behavioral flexibility of the bottlenose dolphins.

The research will focus on dolphin behavior in the context of specific habitats. As a research assistant, you will accompany the researcher to known dolphin "hotspots" within the atoll. Our goal is to determine habitat use, and our days are spent working in small teams recording dolphin behavior on standard data sheets, plotting location, and identifying dolphins individually through natural markings.

At locations where dolphin sightings occur, the researcher, with the assistance of those volunteers comfortable with snorkeling, will conduct underwater examinations of the habitat and record prey availability while boat-based team members collect environmental data. Opportunistically, and at the discretion of the researcher, we will also attempt to observe the dolphins' behavior underwater.

Manatees are also found in our study site and we will opportunistically collect data on their distribution. All research is conducted from small boats inside the atoll. You must know how to swim but no other skills are required to participate.

Trip Dates & Cost

2015: November 7–14. $2,990 per person.*

2016: February 20–27. $2,990 per person.*

* Trip prices do not include international airfare.


Eric Ramos is a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at the CUNY Graduate Center in new York City in the area of animal behavior and comparative psychology training. He has been working as a field researcher and trip leader with Oceanic Society since 2011, leading boat-based research trips with volunteers and students to gather data on the population of bottlenose dolphins at Turneffe Atoll, Belize.


Day 1:
Belize City/Blackbird Caye. Arrive in Belize City. 90-minute boat transfer to Blackbird Caye, Turneffe Atoll.

Day 2:
Morning orientation and training; snorkeling checkout from beach. Afternoon boat-based training in equipment use.

Day 3 thru 7:
Dolphin research in mornings and afternoons with lunch break at the lodge. This program also includes, some time for guided snorkeling and natural history exploration

Day 8:
Return to Belize City. Fly home.


Cabins at our Blackbird Caye field station. © Eric Ramos

Participants stay at our Blackbird Caye Field Station on the eastern edge of Turneffe Atoll. Since 2001, the Oceanic Society field station has served as an active platform for exploration of the Mesoamerican reef ecosystem. Hundreds of researchers, students, travelers, and volunteers from around the world have come here to enjoy, study, and protect the area's outstanding biodiversity.

Accommodations are in rustic beachfront cabanas that offer double occupancy rooms with private baths. The field station is located on 11.5 acres of protected land with one of the healthiest reefs in Belize just offshore. Facilities include six simple beachfront cabanas, each with a private porch and bath, a large thatch roofed palapa with dining and lounge areas, plus a library and classroom, and three vessels for transfers and local excursions. Our knowledgeable and caring staff help make guests feel right at home.

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