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Cetacean Creatures of the Canary Isles


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Tenerife is the largest of the seven stunning Canary Islands which are situated in the mid-Atlantic Ocean. Out of all seven, Tenerife is the most biologically diverse. It’s most popular for whale and dolphin watching since they swim so close to the shore.

As one of the top whale and dolphin watching destinations in the world, the south-west coast of Tenerife is a truly beautiful location for the observation of free-living whales. There are 2 resident species; The Pilot whale and Bottlenose dolphin, which remain throughout the year, and can be observed on 80% of days. There is also a total of 24 other species that ripple through clear Canarian turquoise at different times of the year.

The difference between Whales and Dolphins

Whales are generally much larger in size and more adaptable to different water temperatures. Baleen whales have sharp teeth that grow from the upper jaw. In comparison, other toothed whales and dolphins have rows on the top and bottom.

What is the issue?

Currently these marine beauties face a number of life threats such as habitat degradation, injury from ships and noise and health effects from in-water pollution. Whales and dolphins are beautiful and have been around for millions of years so it’s of extreme importance humans conserve and respect these creatures. 


Climate change is also a threat to cetaceans. The changes in temperature with logically result in a change of sea temperature which will alter habitat environments, especially for dolphins that prefer colder seas. Additionally, the melting of ice creates a freshening of the seawater.

What happens when dolphins are captured

Cetaceans experience high physical and psychological shock when captured. They possess very sensitive and fragile skin which can get bruised and infected easily. Some have become paralysed and drown. Others refuse to eat, or eat foreign material which they consequently react badly too. Dolphins have also been known to swim full speed against the walls of their captivity tanks in a desperate attempt to be free, resulting in their death. Over half of the dolphins that do survive their violent capture, die within 90 days. It’s truly horrific!

What can I do?

Frontier offers an exciting Whale and Dolphin Conservation Project in Tenerife where volunteers are committed to ensuring the conservation of a number of endangered cetacean species. The baseline data collected contributes towards the long-term management of the area, and assists in promoting marine conservation in the wider Mediterranean region.


 In the Field

Volunteers will undertake visual surveys whilst aboard whale watching boats, up to 3-5 times a week.  This may include taking photographs, in order to help grow the catalogue of how many are recorded in that particular area, and to improve our knowledge of family and community groups and sizes. Interaction behaviours are also recorded.

It’s not unlikely that the shore will be washed with tourists wanting to witness and learn more about the marine populations. Volunteers will have the opportunity to act as guides and pass on vital information. Education is exceptionally important as it means that the individuals can pass the knowledge on to people that they know and it will begin to spread.  

At Field base


After each survey day, volunteers will collate the data into research databases. The photos of the whales and dolphins are also analysed and identified by natural marks on the fins.

How to get involved 

#Visit the project page at http://frontiergap.com/Volunteer/Volunteer.aspx, click on “Apply Now” and fill in the application form.  One of our advisors will give you a call back to answer any questions and progress your application.

Rebecca MacDonald-Taylor is an Online Journalism Intern for Frontier, a non-profit conservation NGO that helps people plan their gap year with over 300 opportunities to volunteer abroad and take part in adventure travel across the globe. Read more articles like this on their blog, Into the Wild, or connect with them on Facebook or Twitter.