Here you will find answers to some of the common questions participants/interns have before joining us in the field.
All of the questions listed are organized by category. Please review these questions before contacting our office. If you have a question that isn't listed below, please contact our field office at 561-575-5660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: Will Dr. Herzing be participating on my trip?
A: Dr. Herzing does not participate on all trips during the field season, so there is a possibility that she will not be present on your trip. Even though Dr. Herzing may not be present on your trip, rest assured that our qualified staff at WDP as well as Dr. Herzing's graduate students will be present onboard R/V Stenella to answer any questions participants/interns might have.
Q: Can I help with basic research tasks?
A: Yes. We encourage passengers to assist with dolphin watches during the day, and other basic research tasks for exposure into collecting field work if they want. However, even though we have research data and educational materials around the boat for you to learn from, no copying of these materials is allowed, as it is proprietary information.
Q: Will I get to see a dolphin?
A: They are wild animals and we cannot guarantee that we will definitely see dolphins; however, it is rare that we have a trip where no dolphins are sighted.
Q: Will I get to observe the dolphins underwater?
A: When we come across spotted dolphins, you will usually have the opportunity to observe them in the water. Again, they are wild animals and may not stay around; however it is rare that we have a trip with no underwater opportunities. Passengers will be paired in teams that will alternate, so you may not be in the water every time the spotted dolphins are encountered.
Q: Can I touch the dolphins?
A: NO. We are strictly non-invasive. No touching, chasing, feeding, or harassing is allowed. It is important to respect that we are in their world, on their terms.
Q: Are there other swimming opportunities, such as reefs or shipwrecks?
A: Yes. You may have the opportunity to snorkel a local shipwreck, as well as other reef areas. Many of the places we anchor have interesting marine life; you are welcome to swim anytime we anchor.
Q: What other marine life, besides the dolphins, may I encounter?
A: The Bahamas has a rich variety of sea life. You may see many types of fish, possibly crustaceans (if your eyes are keen enough!), conchs, corals, sea turtles (often seen from the surface, resting) and sharks.
Q: Are sharks or other large predators a problem?
A: This is a wild environment and sharks do live in the area. The most common species are nurse sharks (fairly harmless), reef sharks, lemon sharks and the more dangerous tiger, bull and hammerhead sharks. We often see nurse sharks, and occasionally reef sharks underwater. Tigers, bulls and hammerheads are not seen as often, and usually from the surface, in which case we do not get in the water. Sharks are part of the ecosystem, but usually mind their own business. We have not had any problems with sharks in over 30 years of research.
Q: Are sea lice (larval jellyfish) present?
A: Yes, to varying degrees. May and early June usually have higher amounts of sea lice present, however this can vary within a season and between seasons. Sea lice are usually not a big problem, and if present, you do not have to get into the water. Reactions to sea lice vary from person to person.
Q: Is this like a cruise ship?
A: No. Although we do have fun while on the boat, we are a research vessel, and research takes precedence. We work hard, and in turn have fun in between.
Q: What is the boat like?
A: R/V Stenella is a 62′ power catamaran (two hulls), which makes it a more stable, comfortable ride than typical mono-hull boats. It has an air-conditioned cabin where all sleeping rooms, salon, bathrooms and kitchen are located. The bridge has a hard top cover with plastic windows that unzip to allow for breeze. We have a barbeque and large picnic table on the aft deck for dinner.
Q: What are the sleeping arrangements?
A: There are two staterooms: one with four bunks and one with two bunks. Each passenger gets one bunk and a drawer to store clothes and personal items.
Q: How many people will be aboard?
A: The number of people on board varies. However our minimum for a trip is 6 people, and a maximum of 12 (including crew) on board at any time.
Q: Is there drinking water and fresh water showers?
A: We make our own purified fresh water, so we have drinkable water on board. We also have fresh-water showers, though because we make our own water, we do try and conserve as much as possible. We take Navy-style showers (rinse, turn off water, lather, rinse, etc.).
Q: Is this a live-aboard boat?
A: Yes. We spend most of the trip far from shore, and we do not go into the harbor except to clear customs. We often won't see land for the entire trip.
Q: Is fishing allowed on board the boat?
A: Yes. We have fishing gear and will fish when time/weather allows in specific areas.
Q: Are there electric outlets on board?
A: Yes. We have plenty of outlets on board for general use.
Q: What kind of communication means are available while on board?
A: We are far from shore for most of the trip and in another country. There is no phone or internet available while out at sea, we are basically out of regular communication during the trip. We do have a satellite phone for emergencies only. During the brief time when we clear customs in West End, Wifi is available, and there are land phones you can use with calling cards. Calling from your cell phone from the Bahamas will likely create both roaming and international charges, so please check with your provider if you choose to use your mobile device.
Q: What is the drug policy?
A: Absolutely no illegal drugs are allowed onboard R/V Stenella. Please keep any prescriptions in original containers with a label. Refer to the drug policy page in the application for more details.
7am – 8am: Rise and shine and jump into your bathing suit. You never know when the dolphins might show up, so you have to be ready to get in the water at a moments notice. The dolphins are sometimes early risers; it is not uncommon to have encounters by 7am, so it is best to be up and ready. Grab some breakfast in the salon: cereals, yogurts, bagels, breads and fresh fruit on most days, sometimes hot breakfast (eggs, bacon) on others.
9am – 12pm: We usually pull up the anchor around 9am to start searching the area for dolphins. You will be put to work, as you do your first dolphin watch of the day. After your 1 hour shift, you have down time to read, listen to music, talk or just enjoy the view. We have plenty of scientific articles, information on individual dolphins and other interesting educational materials to read. We encourage you to learn more about the research you are helping with, as well as the individual dolphins you may meet along the way.
12pm – 1pm: Lunch is set out. Lunch is at the discretion of the cook, though there is often sandwiches, various salads (regular, pasta, tuna, etc), sides (chips, crackers), sometimes soups, hot sandwiches or leftovers (always a boat favorite). Sandwich fixings are always available. But beware, this is a favorite time for the dolphins to show up, so just as you are about to bite into your sandwich, here they come and next thing you know it is 2pm!
1pm – 8pm: The boat is still underway, however we may take some time to drift or anchor depending on the day. During the afternoon hours you will work your second dolphin watch. Other hours are down time, this is often a popular time to take a nap but remember, the dolphins can come at anytime, so don't sleep too deeply! Snacks are usually put out to nibble on throughout the day.
8pm: Watches are over and dinner is served. The cook serves a wonderful meal, which can include beef, chicken, ham or turkey, with sides of a variety of fresh vegetables and/or salads, rice or pasta. We love to barbeque, and have a full size grill on board. Enjoy dinner on the aft deck on our picnic table large enough to seat everyone. The sunsets are beautiful, and sometimes we see gorgeous lightening shows from large storm clouds in the area.
9pm – 11pm: Dishes are done and now it is time to watch dolphin video. Every night we review the video that was taken during encounters that day. Sit in the salon and watch the video, learn identification marks of individuals and learn about their behavior as well. Feel free to ask questions, about what you see, or saw while you were in the water. Video can be anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour or more, depending on the encounters of the day. After video you have free time. People often enjoy the aft deck and stargazing. Away from all the city lights, you will be amazed at the beauty of the stars and the night sky. You are free to stay up as late as you want, but most people are in bed by 11pm, because they days are long, they start early, and the dolphins can tire you out in a day! Sleep tight, and wake up refreshed for another great day on board R/V Stenella!
These are wild dolphins, and you never know when they will show up (anytime between 7am and 8pm), or how long they will want to stay (encounters can be anywhere from 5 minutes to 3 hours), so you must always be prepared and ready to go anytime during the day. There can be days with no encounters, and others with up to 4. Consequently there is a lot of down time, so be sure to bring things to keep you occupied it is a great time to catch up on reading.
We hope this gives you a better idea about what happens on a day-to-day basis during a trip and answers some of the questions you have. If you have more questions, check out our trip FAQs page.
Q: Do I need to bring my own food?
A: No. All meals/snacks are included in the trip price, and there is always plenty of food on board. If you have something specific that you prefer, please feel free to bring that along.
Q: With regard to food available on board R/V Stenella, do you accommodate vegans, food allergies, etc?
A: All diets and dietary preferences can be accommodated including vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free, and of course allergies. The trip application asks for this information so that our provisioning team and onboard cook can best prepare.
Q: Will Interns/Participants be able to assist in the CHAT (Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry) research?
A: During all of our trips we document dolphin ID's, their behaviors and sound, and life history information. You will learn about their natural behavior and sounds, their relationships, and their lives in the wild. During the summer, Dr. Herzing and her colleagues focus on specific projects such as our two-way work with CHAT. However, this is very advanced work and is limited to Dr. Herzing's colleagues and research scientists. We will not be doing our two-way work with the general public onboard, but we can share certain aspects of our attempts and vision of the work with you while you are onboard.
Q: Can I participate while I am pregnant?
A: Due to the sometimes rough conditions of working in the open ocean, our distance away from land and medical help, and the risk of dehydration during morning or seasickness, we cannot allow pregnant women, at any stage, onboard. If you become pregnant after signing up for a trip, please contact us at your earliest convenience and we will be happy to issue a refund.
Q: What is the minimum/maximum age allowed?
A: There is no maximum age, however you should be able to get around easily, be comfortable on a boat and snorkeling in ocean waters and strong currents, and be in good physical health. Minimum age varies. Unaccompanied persons must be 16 years or older with permission from a parent or guardian (some exceptions for slightly younger individuals depending on maturity level). Younger passengers, 10+, may be allowed with a parent/guardian. Contact our office to find out.
Q: Do I need trip insurance?
A: Trip insurance is not required, but we highly recommend that you purchase this type of insurance. Check with your airline, credit card provider, or general insurance agent for information about coverage. Airline and hotel costs cannot be refunded to you by WDP in the event a trip is cancelled due to weather or other unavoidable events. Refer to the full trip cancellation policy in the Trip Application.
Q: What do I bring?
A: Look at the general information sheet (packing list) for details. Space is limited on the boat, and you do not need much; please try to use a collapsible bag (such as a duffle) rather than a hard suitcase.
Q: Do I need to bring snorkel or scuba gear?
A: You must bring snorkel gear: mask, snorkel, fins, and thin dive socks (for snorkel fins) or booties (for dive fins). Please make sure you practice using all snorkeling gear prior to your trip. Make sure that your fins are made for snorkeling in the ocean when purchasing and can withstand strong currents. Also, mono-fins are not allowed onboard R/V Stenella for all participants/interns.
We do not carry extra snorkeling equipment on board. Therefore, please test your snorkeling gear before you participant on your trip. This will ensure that your gear will fit properly.
We do not use scuba gear. The water is shallow (average 10-40 feet) and the bubbles from the scuba can be distracting to the dolphins and researchers.
Q: Can I bring a camera?
A: Yes. We encourage you to bring an underwater and/or surface camera. However, in order to protect the research methods and materials, and in some cases to protect the dolphins, it is necessary to restrict publication (defined as the communication of information to the public) of any images, photographs and written materials taken or drawn from your participation in the program. PLEASE NOTE THAT PUBLICATION INCLUDES SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES LIKE FACEBOOK, TWITTER, YOUTUBE, GOOGLE PLUS, AND ANY OTHER INTERNET OR SOCIAL MEDIA SITES. Please also note that underwater and/or surface video is not allowed, this includes small clips on your camera, phone, or other video device. You can take still photography for your own personal use, but please no video.
Q: Do I need to bring any extra money?
A: The only money you may need onboard Stenella is if you would like to buy WDP souvenirs (T-shirt, book, etc.). However, you will need cash for taxis (to get to and from the airport, your hotel, the marina), and for any shopping you do before, during, and after the trip. You must also have cash for departure tax ($20.00) when we leave the Bahamas and clear customs in Florida, and it's a good idea to have extra just in case of an emergency.
Q: Do I need a passport?
A: Yes, you will need a passport. If you don't already have a passport, please keep in mind when signing up for your trip that it takes several weeks to obtain a passport; you will also need a small amount of cash to pay your Bahamas departure tax ($20.00) while onboard R/V Stenella.
Q: Do many people get seasick?
A: Because Stenella is a catamaran, it is more stable than mono-hulled boats and most people are ok, however it does still rock. If you are susceptible to seasickness, we suggest you bring out medications, such as Dramamine or Bonine. PLEASE NOTE: Crossing over from Florida to the Bahamas may sometimes be quite rough (even for seasoned boaters). We suggest you take preventative measures prior to boarding the boat.
Q: Is there down time during the trip?
A: Yes. There is often a lot of down time in between dolphin sightings/encounters. Bring materials to keep you occupied, such as books, music, computers, etc.
Q: What time of year is the best to come out?
A: Each time of year has its pros and cons. Early in the season, May to early June is often windier and has choppier seas. July begins hurricane season (and begins to be very hot). August and September have the greatest risk of hurricane formation (though they can form any time starting in July). Weather can change during any trip at any time of year, and it is not guaranteed that a certain time of year is typically good or bad.
Q: What happens during bad weather? What happens in case of a hurricane?
A: During bad weather (choppy, windy) we will go to anchor spots that are in protected calm areas and wait out the bad weather, or in some cases go into the nearest port. We keep close track on weather, especially possible hurricane formation. If a hurricane or a very bad weather system threatens to hit the study area, or Florida, for safety reasons we will have to cut the trip short and return to Florida early. Trip costs are not refunded, and trip insurance is highly suggested, just in case of this unavoidable circumstance. This does not happen often, but must be taken into consideration as a possibility when making your plans.
Q: What is the water temperature? Do I need a wet suit?
A: In May the water temperature is 78-79 degrees, a shorty suit or dive skin might be useful if this is too cool for you. From June–September the temperature is warm, at 80-90 degrees, and no wet suit is needed, although we highly recommend a rash guard for sun protection.