Before going to university, I wanted to travel and to have a gap year experience. While looking on the Internet I found the Whale and Dolphin Research Centre based in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa and was instantly caught. Not only does it link well to my university course, but the description of the activities there sounded fascinating. I have been here for 7 weeks and it hasn’t let me down!
Since the day I arrived, I’ve learnt something new everyday and with the wide variety of activities I am constantly occupied with research and projects. The Whale and Dolphin Centre’s directors, Vic and Debbie Cockcroft, throw volunteers right into the projects. In my first week I was taking part in a dolphin dissection, which is one of the most amazing experiences I have seen since joining the CDS.
At the beginning of every week we set up a rota of activities for each volunteer, however since some of our research is spur-of-the-moment sometimes our rota is slightly disrupted. Our regular activities include analysing data at the office, washing bones out of our rotting pit, constructing skeletons, looking at seal faeces (scats) to study their diet and a land based survey at our local beach to study the behaviour of marine animals. Although some of these activities smell quite bad (scats and bones), its great fun and really interesting!
Other activities which are weather dependant include dissections whenever there’s a dead stranded animal, walking Robberg Peninsula to collect seal scats, organising and taking part in educational work and going on boat trips. My favourite activity is going on boat trips. We go on approximately 2 excursions a week which can be research or commercial trips, but they are weather dependant. Its great fun studying the marine animals, but seeing them in the wild is fantastic and still doesn’t cease to amaze me.
Not only is the CDS course exciting, but our base in Plettenburg Bay is one of the most remarkable places I have ever visited. We are surrounded by mountains and golden beaches, and everywhere you look is a picturesque view. It’s the perfect place to visit! I live in a wooden house on Vic and Debbie’s farm with the other volunteers, which is placed opposite Knysna Elephant Park. The elephants come as close as 100 yards from our house, an incredible sight to wake up to every morning!
I am here for another 5 more weeks, and I know that there are many stimulating activities lying ahead. I have so much more to learn, and staying in such a great place with so many friendly people, I won’t want to leave!
By Natalie Bell