Volunteering with the dolphins of French Polynesia. Forget all your prejudices about dolphins... We invite you to immerse yourself, literally and figuratively, in the world of a group of bottlenose dolphins targeted by a new form of wildlife tourism. You'll get to know Maui, Tikei and the other members of the "Tiputa community" better, and understand the issues involved in their conservation. All cetacean programs here
The human/animal relationship at the heart of research work
Over the last 40 years or so, the encounter between man and 'wild' animal has never been so popular, and has given rise to a new form of tourism tinged with paradoxes. More and more human beings want to enjoy predictable observations and close contact with emblematic animal species, while at the same time promoting a modification of their wildness through behavioral processes such as habituation and conditioning.
The case of the dolphins is exemplary
Dolphins are a case in point. Emblematic animals par excellence, these cetaceans are the victims of many cultural prejudices and are at the heart of the spectacular development, drifts and shortcomings observed in the close interactions between man and wildlife.
Rangiroa dolphin community
In Rangiroa, the largest atoll in French Polynesia, Pamela Carzon, a doctoral student in ethology and president of the 'Dauphins de Rangiroa' association, has been coordinating the demographic, ecological and ethological monitoring of a community of common bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus, for the past twelve years, targeted by tourist diving activities that encourage close and regular interactions with these animals.
The relationship between humans and wild animals
In our research, we are interested in the history, personality and behavioral profile of each dolphin member of the "Tiputa community". The aim of our work is to establish ethical tourism that takes into account the short- and long-term well-being of cetaceans, the safety of observers and public awareness of a complex situation within a global ecological context requiring urgent and effective management of human-wildlife relations.
The role of ecovolunteers with dolphins
For more than ten years, ecovolunteers have been joining the research project in the field as part of two-week missions for divers organized between June and October.
Each mission welcomes between 3 and 5 participants who discover, are trained and get involved in the work of the bottlenose dolphin research association from an observatory on land and by scuba diving. They are supervised by Pamela, the project's scientific manager, Martin, the diving instructor, and Irianu, the captain. All three have extensive experience of the area and are passionate about their work.
Ten scuba dives per mission
Ecovolunteers are accommodated in a local guesthouse within walking distance of the dive center and Tiputa pass, home to the dolphin community and many other marine species. Guests can choose to stay in a dormitory (with cold water shower) or a private bungalow (with hot shower). Breakfast and dinner are provided by the guesthouse, while a packed lunch is distributed at the start of the mission to help organize lunches. The days are structured around sea outings, shore excursions, debriefings and training. Ten dives are scheduled for each 14-day mission, with two days free for volunteers to discover other aspects of Rangiroa atoll.
Missions planned for Rangiroa in 2023
- July 8 to July 21, 2024
- August 16 to September 29, 2024
- October 21 to November 1, 2024
- July 7 to 20, 2025
- September 8 to 21, 2025
- October 20 to 31, 2025
Participation fees for an volunteering program with dolphins
- 2030 € in dormitory
- 2750 € in bungalow
- 2,110 / participant with dormitory accommodation
- 2,950 / participant in private bungalow.
Whatever your choice, participation fees include accommodation, meals, outings and supervision. They do not include local and international flights to Rangiroa.
A minimum of Level 1, Open Water PADI / SSI or equivalent is required to take part in the scuba dives, as well as at least 15 or 20 ocean dives. Don't forget to bring your dive card and logbook.
The Tuamotu archipelago, in the heart of the Pacific Ocean
Threatened by rising sea levels linked to global warming, the Tuamotu archipelago comprises 78 atolls scattered over a maritime area of 800,000 square kilometers. These lands, outcropping on the ocean's surface, are particularly fragile oases of aquatic biodiversity. The Tuamotu atolls are characterized by their size, shape, openness to the ocean, population and activities. They range from small, enclosed lagoons, over-salted or brackish, to large lagoons open to the ocean, such as Fakarava.
Rangiroa, an oasis of biodiversity
Just 350 kilometers from Tahiti, Rangiroa atoll - "Big Sky" in Paumotu - is a veritable oasis of life in the heart of the tropical Pacific. With its 170 kilometers of coral reef, sand and coconut palms surrounding a 1,600-square-kilometer lagoon, it is one of the world's leading diving destinations. The imposing dimensions of this atoll - 80 kilometers long by 20 kilometers wide on average - and its two large passes, Avatoru and Tiputa, located to the north, are home to an underwater fauna as exceptional as it is impressive.
The bottlenose dolphin
Common bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus, have been recorded in all five Polynesian archipelagos. However, it is in the north-western part of the Tuamotu Islands, mainly Rangiroa , that the species seems to be most frequently observed. Bottlenose dolphins were popularized by the TV series "Flipper". In French Polynesia, adults measure up to 3.3 meters and weigh up to 450 kilos. They are easily identified by their stocky, grayish bodies, which end in a thick beak separated from the melon - the forehead - by a pronounced furrow.
A deceptive smile
The upward-curving line of their mouths gives them a "smiling" appearance. However, this "look" does not correspond to the reality of the species, whose habits and social life are extremely complex, marked as much by affiliative behavior - play, petting - as by agonistic behavior - intimidation, aggression. The numerous marks and scars visible on the bodies of adult males illustrate the power of these animals.
About the partner association
Created in 2019, the partner association is based in the Tuamotus. It benefits from fifteen years' experience monitoring dolphins and whales in Polynesia, including twelve field seasons conducted with eco-volunteers. DDR's objectives are scientific and participatory research, conservation, awareness-raising and information-sharing on the bottlenose dolphins of Rangiroa atoll. Since 2009, DDR's scientific manager has been studying the bottlenose dolphin community that frequents the Tiputa pass, located to the north of Rangiroa atoll, and in particular the impact of tourist activities on dolphin behavior. These animals are in fact targeted by daily "dolphin watching" activities - commercial and non-commercial observation of dolphins in their natural environment.
For more information on the mission, read the interview with the association's president.