Dolphin watching vacations in Greece

“I spent a wonderful, extremely interesting, quite exhausting and extraordinary week!” – Brigitte Horlitz on a dolphin conservation vacation in Greece
The dolphin is the national animal of Greece. They frequently surface in mythology, and the ancient Greeks knew them as philomousoi, or music lovers, for the way they appeared to dance in the waves. Yet despite the role they have always played in Greek culture, dolphins are under threat here just as much as anywhere else. There are four main dolphin species in these waters: striped, bottlenose, Risso’s and common, and they are all to some extent negatively affected by human activities such as overfishing, pollution, habitat degradation and waste, particularly discarded fishing gear. Tourist sailing and diving vacations offer opportunities to record sightings, but of course when boat skippers do not respect the animals, they also represent a danger.
Greece dolphin watching vacations take place in an undoubtedly idyllic location, but they also tend to be heavily research-focused. You take an active role, not simply oohing and aahing at these delightfully playful creatures and their antics, but assisting conservation experts with their studies of population numbers and behaviours in the hope of protecting them long term. You’re watching, but you’re also helping. It’s not especially hard work, though it involves putting in long hours, and while this may not be everyone’s idea of a vacation, for those to whom it is, dolphin watching in Greece will likely prove an incredibly rewarding experience.

Practicalities

Perhaps the most important thing to note about any dolphin watching vacation is that you need to manage your expectations – these are wild animals, and elusive. While boat crews are experts at finding the pods and getting you out to them in good time, sightings can never be guaranteed. With weather also a factor (though as these trips run through the summer it should be fine for the most part), it is possible, though unlikely, that you could not see any dolphins at all during your vacation. That of course doesn’t mean that you won’t have a great time, or make a positive difference, and naturally there is plenty of other wildlife around to see as well.

These are week-long, small group vacations operating between June and September which are the best time to see dolphins in Greece with calm seas. Families can get involved, the minimum age is 11, and solo travelers are also very well-suited. The work isn’t difficult or arduous, but the days can be long and kids will need to have enough patience and enthusiasm. Family dolphin watching vacations can easily be combined with another week on the beach, island hopping or exploring ancient civilisations.
Dolphin watching trips operate on either side of central Greece, just to the north of the Peloponnese peninsula. You might be on the west coast, staying at a working field station in a peaceful village called Vonitsa that overlooks the Gulf of Ambracia, or based in self-catering apartments in a fishing port on the east coast, close to the Alonissos National Marine Park. Either way you’ll be some distance from the crowded tourist centers.
Your daily routine will vary, but subject to the weather you’ll be embarking on daily research trips, working from around 9am to 4pm, then on your return to port helping out with tasks such as preparing meals or cleaning the boat. If you’re not scheduled to do anything in the afternoons you might go for a swim off the beach or hang out at a seaside bar with your fellow volunteers. Some trips also organise informative lectures and roundtable discussions on conservation in the evenings.

What will I be doing?

Daily tasks will be centerd on data collection. Along with a small group of other volunteers drawn from around the world, you’ll be assisting permanent researchers to collect data on population trends and behaviours using techniques including dorsal fin photography and GPS recordings. You’ll be studying distribution, social activity, environment and breeding rates, and also keeping an eye out for other local residents such as rare monk seals, turtles, fish and sea birds, and the relationships between the animals and different communities, particularly fishermen.

The aim is to support the work of organisations determining how and to what extend dolphins are being affected by human activity, to inform management techniques, and promote marine conservation in the Mediterranean region. And if that all sounds complicated, it’s not, and by the end of your first day you will be well into the swing of things.

It’s not all work however. These are still vacations, and every itinerary will have time set aside for volunteers to swim, snorkel, and wander island beaches in between research sessions. Lunches will usually be prepared and eaten on the boats, then instead of wiping your chin with a napkin, just dive in to the sea – one of those little cetacean comforts.

No prior experience or skills are required, as all training is provided by the welcoming permanent team. You just need an open mind, a positive attitude, and a willingness to get stuck in and help. In the evenings, optional talks or films may be offered by field biologists on subjects such as dolphin behaviours, marine research, or the environmental challenges that the region faces.

It’s worth pointing out that some itineraries may involve regular and lengthy traveling aboard rigid hulled inflatable boats – these can be quite a bumpy ride, so if you do suffer from any back or neck problems, you should discuss these with the operator before booking a trip.
we all could share the experience of being out on the water looking for, learning about and seeing dolphins and other marine life.
– Vanja Yates on a dolphin conservation vacation in Greece
“Make sure that you'll "survive" a five or six hours boat trip in the sun with no shelter (and no toilet...) And be aware that it is not a tourist dolphin watching trip. You don't necessarily go to the places where the most dolphins are expected but to the sectors that are on the schedule . Watching out for the animals and reporting is quite demanding (but I enjoyed it very much).” – Brigitte Horlitz on a dolphin conservation vacation in Greece

“The vacation was great – I got to spend time in nature and my boys got to have fun with the conservation team – while we all could share the experience of being out on the water looking for, learning about and seeing dolphins and other marine life. The only downside is the rarity of seeing the dolphins as they are wild animals.” – Vanja Yates on a dolphin conservation vacation in Greece
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Jeremy Ricketts] [Top box: Backlight02] [Practicalities: Ben Ramirez] [Review: Tony Hisgett]
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