Belize: Turneffe Atoll Bottlenose Dolphin Research Project

volunteer vacations
Join researchers studying the behavioral ecology of Turneffe Atoll’s bottlenose dolphins.


Assist researchers on a week-long program studying the behavioral ecology of bottlenose dolphins in Turneffe Atoll, Belize.

Bottlenose dolphin at Turneffe Atoll.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.

Read the recent blog post by our dolphin researcher Eric Ramos to find out what the experience of doing dolphin surveys is like.

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.

Volunteers lower a hydrophone into the water to record dolphin vocalizations.

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.

Participants will stay at either Turneffe Flats or Blackbird Caye Resort for the duration of the program (depending upon dates). Both hotels offer comfortable beachfront accommodations and delicious local and international cuisine. Snorkeling throughout the Atoll is excellent and there will be some free time for boat-based snorkeling and bird watching.


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

Day 2:
Morning orientation and training; snorkeling check-out.   Afternoon boat-based training in equipment use.

Day 3 thru 7:
Dolphin research in mornings and afternoons. This program also includes some time for guided snorkeling and natural history exploration

Day 8:
Return to Belize City. Fly home.

Optional Extensions:


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Upcoming Trips:

click on each trip for more information
Feb 21, 2015
Mar 21, 2015
Apr 11, 2015
Nov 7, 2015

Trip Cost:

$2,990 / person