At Tethys, we have been welcoming volunteers at our field stations and on board our research boats since 1990. These people support our projects financially by participating in 7-9 day courses, and this allows us to work over long periods of time and remain independent. Their contribution is essential. In addition, volunteers engage in field data collection, help us process the data, and provide the researchers with motivation and moral support.
Most volunteers come because they want to see whales and dolphins in the wild, but many eventually realize the implications and challenges of a research project, learn about the problems faced by the animals, and eventually become supporters and advocates of conservation efforts.
Many volunteers joining our field courses see their experience as a special one. Getting close to cetaceans in their natural environment is nothing like watching them on TV. Volunteers are touched by their elegance, beauty and behavioural complexity. They realize how ‘special’ these animals are, and (sometimes) get to understand the link that ties them to their environment. They start seeing them as enormous, and yet fragile creatures exposed to a range of threats caused by human activities. They can also spend much time talking with the researchers and understand their motivations and the reasons behind their unusual choice.
I have been working in the field with hundreds of volunteers, and although there may be personal likes and dislikes, it has been an amazing and enriching human experience. Many of them have become good friends, and even colleagues.