Studying dolphin strategies

Our research

Swimming with dolphins in the wild is a very unique activity done in the Azores, an archipelago of islands off the coast of Portugal.  

However, the behaviour of dolphins is not always as straightforward as we, as humans,  may think. Dolphins have complex social structures with behavioural patterns that can be different than we expected. Sometimes they approach the boats, and sometimes they turn away. But what motivates their decisions? Do we disturb them? If so, how do we know if and when we disturb them?

Well, this is what we are working on during this research activity. We are a group of scientists, supported by Wageningen University, the Netherlands, partnered with the University of Azores, and with whale watching companies in Sao Miguel, Azores. 

Our aims are to 

- Collect scientific data on common dolphins with and without swimming-with-dolphin activities
- Publish results in scientific journals, as part of a PhD
- Communicate results to whale watching companies
-  Allow whale watching companies to improve swimming with dolphin tourism towards more sustainable practices

By using a drone, we can see what dolphins' behaviour from a birds-eye point of view looks like, without getting too close to them or interfering with their behaviour.

Our work looks like this:

and this:  

What do we need the funds for?

Springtime! Due to COVID-19, it is very likely that there will NOT be a lot of swim-with-dolphin activities in May. This is a great time to continue our research from last year (see website here: ) and collect some more samples of dolphins without the presence of swimming with dolphin activities. Doing research without the presence of dolphin watching/swimming activities is a highly exceptional circumstance!  

Our official season starts in June, of which we have secured the funding. However, with these data collected in May, we can compare the dolphins' behaviour with and without swim with dolphin activities, and do some testing of new methods before our official season starts.

Additionally, we might need some extra help during the season, of which we currently are tight on budget. See section below.


Who will receive this funding?

1) Look-outs! We might need some extra help....from look-outs on land! They are actively searching for dolphins for the whale watching companies, so when they are at work, they often can give us a hand with finding the dolphins. Without them, our chance to encounter dolphins drastically decreases. However, as tourism is not at the same level as it was before, we now have to ask look-outs to help us in their spare time, outside of their working hours. For this, we want to pay them a small stipend for helping us. They have a very specialized job and are incredibly good at directing the boat efficiently to where the dolphins are. Their help maximizes our efficiency of collecting data at sea. It is not a job that anybody can do! Believe us, we tried: 


2) Maintenance of the boat. Most days, we will be able to borrow the boats of the whale watching companies that currently do not use all of their boats due to the pandemic. However, we want to be able to help with the maintenance costs of the boat, for the hours that we spend using their boats.  

3) Gas of the boat. We have the agreement that we cannot cost the whale watching companies extra money. Each trip costs about 150 euros of gasoline. 

4) Gas for the car. We leave from multiple harbours, and have interns collecting data from land, who will need a car to get from a to b. This falls under the "other expenses" section.

Approximate break down of the costs:

5 research trips 
  -  gasoline
  - stipend for a skipper per day
  - stipend for a look-out per day 
= 1250 euros

+ the rest for maintenance & other expenses

When will we need the funding?

We want to start as soon as possible! The weather conditions in the Azores are slowly starting to improve. Our official season starts in June 2021, of which we have secured the funding from the Lucie Burgers Stichting. However, if we have the crowdfunding on time, then we can start our season sooner, in May 2021! 

What will YOU get out of this?

Did you donate 15 euros to our project? We will draw 1 name out of the donors, and send the winner our custom-made T-shirt, wherever you are in the world! If you donate double that amount (30), then you also get twice the chance to win....

The draw will take place at the beginning of May, at the end of this crowdfunding

In addition, your names (unless preferred to be anonymous) will be mentioned on our website in a list of donors.  

Interested in learning about our research? Follow the updates of this project here:

Facebook page: 

Instagram page: 


Twitter: @AzoresDelphis

Photo credits: Anxo Cao
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Fadia Al Abbar 
Ponta Delgada, Açores
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