Atlantic Whale and Dolphin Foundation

My inspiring volunteering journey

By Toria Hateley

When I volunteered for a couple of weeks at the Atlantic Whale and Dolphin Foundation  in the Canary Islands , I was excited to find out I could get involved with lots of local charities on the island of Tenerife – including spending time at a local dog shelter. I made the decision to spend some time on this beautiful island volunteering between placements as a first year student veterinary nurse.

During my time with the AWDF I learnt about the resident whales and dolphins, helped conduct and collect research out on the whale watching boats, joined campaigns against the captive dolphins at some of the biggest parks on the island and walked , groomed and helped with re homing of the local shelter dogs.

The Atlantic Whale and Dolphin Foundation (AWdF) , is a UK Registered charity. It was founded to continue the work of Spanish environmental agency, Proyecto Ambiental Tenerife, some twenty years ago and runs the volunteer programme on the island’s whale watching boats, one of the largest whale watching centres in the world.  The AWdF runs cetacean educational awareness, research and conservation programmes. Its volunteers act as ‘Research Guides’ on the whale watching boats. The AWdF also works with the tourism industry in Tenerife, promoting cetacean conservation and promoting responsible whale watching and other eco-tourism opportunities on the island and works with local charities and animal shelters.

 When I was changing placements I desperately wanted to use the two week gap gaining some experience in a different part of the world, I wanted to use some of my student veterinary nurse skills in this but also wanted to experience something completely different to anything I had before. After weeks of searching I came across the AWDF website online and within half an hour of being inspired by their campaign I had booked a volunteering placement and flights to Tenerife.

As the plane was coming in to land at Tenerife South Airport I could see a sheet of blue ocean below us and a range of tall mountains in the distance with the sun creeping down behind them.  I was feeling exited and eager to get off the plane, one of the co-coordinators was waiting to take me back to headquarters to meet the rest of the team.  Lots of things were running through my head but I couldn’t stop thinking about the sheer size of the ocean below us, the creatures that inhabit it and the exiting time I had ahead working with them.

After driving up the windy roads of Arona we arrived at AWDF headquarters in the hills, known to the locals as “The Dolphin House”. The buildings were old, rustic and beautiful with a giant dolphin sculpture looking over the sea. I was shown to my room in the “back apartment” where I met my new roommates – who were also exited as it was their first day too!  I dumped my bag on the bed (bunk beds – think hostel not hotel) and headed into the main building for a tour. Everyone I met on this amazing journey was from all areas of the globe , it was amazing listening to everyone’s stories and backgrounds – we all have one thing in common , we love animals and were brought together to help them and the planet by this amazing foundation.

Over the weeks I learned about the different resident species of whale, dolphins and sharks on the island, how to track their co-ordinates, their behavior and how to take fin shots (this is how they identify the different families – called pods). The experienced volunteers could tell them all apart by the shape of their dorsal fin! The aim was to collect data to monitor their movements, their population and to see if the human traffic on the oceans were affecting them.

Going out on the boats was so exciting for me, I loved being out on the ocean and I can’t describe the ecstatic feeling that I felt when I saw my first bottlenose dolphin in its natural habitat; they were so playful with the boats! I saw Atlantic spotted dolphins, pilot whales, sea turtles and even a hammer head shark. We would spend each day, all day on the boats filling out data sheets of our encounters and taking fin shots to uploads on the data base back at the dolphin house. The AWDF also have a petition to try to ban single use plastic, so at the end of each trip we would collect signatures off the different tourists from around the world.  The majority of marine waste is single use plastic pollution, combines of lots of different household wastes from humans.  The AWDF organize beach cleanup campaigns around the island to collect and correctly recycle single use plastic and waste on the shores – I was lucky enough to get involved with one of these while I was volunteering with them.

When signing up to volunteer with the AWDF they encourage you to conduct a personal project to help the foundation. I decided to write a day to day blog to post to my peers on social media to highlight the work and encourage others to volunteer, as well as offering to help at the local dog shelter in Arona, the local village. The shelter was really close by the house so one of the coordinators would drop us of there for a few hours. The set up was high in the hills, housing around 30 dogs – all handed in as strays on the island. They would be vet checked, trained and re-homed if they were all signed off. They also had a cattery with some cats and kittens. There was lots of volunteers every day, sometimes the dogs would have already had two or three walks through the hills so we could spend time in the kennels grooming or keeping them company, the volunteers would sometimes be tourists with a love of dogs who just wanted to help , or locals who had been there for years.  When walking the dogs we would go in pairs with a dog each, usually I would choose my favorite dog to walk – Scar, a large cross breed with the biggest eyes and the waggiest tail.  We would walk them on a designated route up the sandy hills with water stops on the way. The re homing of the dogs was fairly difficult for the shelter however sometimes external charities aboard would re home them with some even coming to live with new families in the UK!

The  AWDF also encourage  volunteers to take part in other activities whilst with them such as surfing , diving , snorkeling , horse riding and hiking the third highest volcano in the world (El Teide).

I absolutely loved this experience and will definitely be returning whenever I next can, it has sparked a further love for traveling and learning for me. I believe this volunteering journey really helped inspire me as a student nurse because it opened my eyes to all the opportunities we gain from this journey. Understanding that learning about any animal is beneficial and knowing how important it is to look after our planet and everything living on it, as well as experiencing different cultures.

The main thing I learnt is how important it is to meet like minded people, from anywhere in the world and let them inspire you to be the best person, and student veterinary nurse, that you can possibly be!


Swimming with Dolphins

by Emma Chereskin

Today, we set our alarms for 5:45 in the morning.

Arming ourselves with coffee in water bottles, we set off for the village of Moro Peixe with Maxime, owner of Sao Tome’s Paradise Tours for a morning out on the water.

At the village, just 20 minutes north of the city, we were brought to the Turtle Museum and Hatchery. A part of Project Tato, the hatchery trains eco-guards to patrol the beaches looking for turtle nests. By bringing the eggs safely to the incubation center at the museum, the baby turtles have a much higher survival rate when they are born.

The eco-guards and museum are doing amazing work for the conservation of 7 different species of sea turtles. We cannot wait to further develop a relationship with Project Tato and the Turtle Museum and Hatchery and to have our future volunteers experience turtle hatching season first-hand.

After getting to see the incubation room for the turtle eggs, we headed out to sea to find some mammalian wildlife, namely cetaceans. We scanned the horizon looking for any splashing or a glimpse of a dorsal fin. And finally, seemingly out of nowhere, we were surrounded by around 200 Pantropical Spotted Dolphins. We watched in awe as they breached, lunged, surfed, and porpoised all around the boat.

As the boat slowed down, we were able to get in the water with them, maintaining a respectful distance. One at a time, we put on our snorkels, jumped in the water, and held on to the boat as we meandered behind the group. Holding on to our swim suits with our left hand and the boat with the right, we lowered our faces down to see the world below us. And it was magical.

The dolphins swam so gracefully through the water, some with calves trailing beside them. We could even hear the dolphins click and whistle as they called to one another! It was an amazing experience, to see these animals in the open sea, where they belong. While we were watching the dolphins, we almost forgot to hang on to the boat!

It was sadly time to leave the dolphins to their own devices. It is so important to us that we only work with organizations that value and observe strict whale watching guidelines. Throughout our excursion with Maxime and Paradise Tours today, we maintained a safe distance, never interacted with the dolphins directly, and left after 30 minutes of watching these beautiful creatures.

On our way back to shore, we were able to stop for a brief swim in the shallows of Cabras Island. The crystal clear water was amazingly refreshing. As we headed towards home we snacked on fried sliced breadfruit and sat in awe of the amazing morning we were given by the dolphins of Sao Tome and Maxime.




Sao Tome Botanical Gardens

by Emma Chereskin

Today we headed for Sao Tome’s Botanical Gardens at Bom Sucesso. Located high up in the mountains, it took a 2-hour long trek to get there from the city center. We were treated to a lovely road trip through villages and gorgeous rainforest, where we learned that wild pigs and goats abound on the island. The gardens are situated above the cloud bank, so we were surrounded by surreal mist as we toured the grounds.

Our guide led us around the gardens, pointing out different species of plants, some endemic, and describing their properties and uses. We were captivated by the beauty and colors of the plants. We learned which plants were good to make tea out of and which were used for medicine when you were sick. We even learned which plants were considered aphrodisiacs. One of the most interesting plants turned out to be the cinnamon tree. Cinnamon sticks come from the bark of the cinnamon tree and we were able to sniff the bark in its natural state before the drying process. So cool!

We eventually came to a small greenhouse with many hanging plant boxes. We had reached the orchid house! Our guide explained that there were many different species of orchids on the island, roughly half of which were endemic, meaning we could only see them here. The way they had planted the orchids in the hanging boxes was unlike anything we had ever seen. So beautiful!

A papaya tree was also featured on our tour and we learned that the bottom of the tree had large beautiful yellow flowers while the papaya fruit was located up at the very top of the tree. Who knew? We journeyed on to see huge elephant ear plants, a mangrove tree and even giant snails! The snails live in the jungles and make for a tasty snack in a pinch.

After the tour we were able to try some bananas that had just been cut down from a tree. We both agreed they were some of the best bananas we had ever had. The journey through the botanical gardens at Bom Sucesso was definitely worth the trek up into the cloud bank.

Sao Tome – First Day at Sea

by Emma Chereskin – Research Coordinator

After the 10 hour flight to Sao Tome, and after a couple of days of settling in, meeting some fabulous people and planning our schedule for the next three weeks; today was the first day we were able to get out on the water to see our humpback friends.

After a 2 hour trek along the eastern side of the island from Sao Tome city to Porto Alegre, we were greeted by beautiful beaches and a large number of hermit crabs.

Out on the water, the sea was quite rough, with whitecaps and huge swells that obscured our view of the horizon.

Our captain drove the boat around Rolas Island, a beautiful little volcanic paradise. As we took out the GPS, we watched the latitude get lower and lower until finally, we were at the equator!

We were fortunate enough to say that our trek took us all the way from the Northern Hemisphere into the Southern.

Rounding Rolas Island we stopped the boat the submerge the hydrophone. We waited anxiously to hear the characteristic humpback song or whistles of dolphins, but alas the sea was silent.

We journeyed onwards with a brief pit stop at the docks on Rolas Island.

We were treated to views of a gorgeous beach with crystal clear water and were able to watch a fisherman swim home with his daily catch of octopus and red snapper.

We headed back to shore, unable to spot any whales. But a day out on the water is still better than a day spent on land.

We drove back to the city with salt drying on our skin and smiles on our faces.

So begins our whale watching season!

Here’s to better luck next time around.

Mount Teide – A tough yet rewarding challenge!

by Michael Panaretou

Mount Teide is the 3rd highest volcano on the planet and is located in the centre of Tenerife.

We started our ascent at around 0100 at the bottom of the Monta Blanca trail located just a couple kilometres up the road from the visitor centre and Mount Teide cable car.

At the bottom we quickly realised why the area was called a dark sky park as we were able to see hundreds if not thousands of stars. This was all possible as a result of a lack of light pollution in the surrounding area.

As we ascended up Mount Teide we saw views of all around the island, from the tourist areas of the south to the hills and mountains that make up the Volcanic landscape of the Island.

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As we climbed we began to feel the effects of the altitude. At around 3000m above sea level the lack of oxygen resulted in us feeling light headed and dizzy, because of this we had to take frequent breaks in an attempt to acclimatize which only slowed us down.

By around 5am we were nearing the peak and the temperature was quickly plummeting however due to us climbing up at a far greater speed than expected we had to stop for around half an hour.

During this half hour stop we were all exhausted and decided to lie down for a bit, however, due to a lack of sleep one out of the three of us managed to fall asleep, probably to surprise of many of the other hikers.

At around 0615 we started to notice that the sky was beginning to brighten up which was our indication to begin the final ascent to the top.

After powering up the final slope we had finally made it the peak of Teide.

The view was breathtaking. The feelings of the relief and accomplishment went abundantly clear at the top and almost helped to balance out the freezing temperatures and lack of oxygen.

We probably spent around an hour sitting on the peak and taking in our surroundings before eventually we decided it was time to begin our descent.

On the way down we walked down the same paths as on the way up but this time we were  actually able to see what was around us.

To our surprise the landscape was greatly varied with our initial surroundings being your typical volcanic landscape and as we got closer to the bottom the landscape resembled that of a desert.

By 1035 we had reached the bottom and our hike up and down Mount Teide was completed.

My Experience as an AWDF Volunteer

By Rhiannon Jordan

The Day Before:

As my flight was on final approach to Tenerife, I found myself mesmerised by the beauty of this volcanic island. In between black basalt rocks were white sandy beaches, and amongst the urban sprawl of Los Cristianos were rural pastures and fields. The most awe-inspiring feature was rising above the layer of clouds as the volcanic peak, Mt Teide.

It was even more beautiful and impressive once I was on ground level. As my taxi was driving up the mountainous road to Arona, I could see falcons soaring above on the thermals, with jagged rock formations surrounding the roads and, in the distance, a neighbouring island about a mile off the coast of Tenerife.

My hotel for the night was in a quiet street not too far from the bustling town centre of Arona. The hotel owners were very helpful, which for me as a first-time single traveller made the start of my week-long holiday easier, more relaxing and stress-free. The local dish I tried at the hotel bar was huevos estrallados (eggs with chorizo, serrano ham and fries). It was very tasty, and I enjoyed every mouthful of the food.

The town of Arona is a peaceful and safe neighbourhood, much unlike the busy tourist area of Los Cristianos. Even though on the first day of my holiday I stayed close to the hotel, I could tell that the local culture of Arona was that of a relaxed and friendly place.

As I laid down for the night, I was feeling excited, nervous and eager to start my week as a volunteer at the Atlantic Whale and Dolphin Foundation (AWDF).


Day 1:

My day started off with one of the Co-ordinators, Katrina, picking me up from the hotel I was staying at. It was only a five-minute walk to where I would be volunteering for the next week, which was a beautiful Spanish townhouse with a statue of a dolphin on the roof.

After dropping off my luggage at the adjacent apartment, I was given a tour of the facilities. As I wandered around, I noticed other volunteers cleaning up the bathrooms and kitchen. It was lovely to see how much they cared about the AWDF headquarters, and that the volunteers were keen to get their hands dirty whilst cleaning up.

I had my induction to the AWDF at 10am, where I, as well as other new volunteers, were introduced the organisation and what our roles would be during our time here, which depended on how long you would be staying for. Luke, another co-ordinator, was presenting the induction. I expressed a lot of enthusiasm for my week here, as I was excited to be given the opportunity to make a difference for the better of the world.

After the meeting, Katrina took us on a tour of Arona, so we could familiarise ourselves with the walk into the town centre and the facilities available in Arona. She told us where we could find the small supermarket, nearby ATM machines and the local pharmacy, and she pointed out the bus stop and bus number that goes to Los Cristianos.

From 3pm until 7pm, we were given free time to ourselves. I decided to spend some time exploring a bit of Arona, saying hello in Spanish to the locals. The supermarket had everything I needed to keep me by, including a 1.5 litre bottle of water for 60 cents. It was a quaint and lovely place for me to sit down and enjoy the views.

At 7pm, we were given our evening meal. We had a local resident, Teresa, cook dinner for us. She prepared two dishes; a traditional Spanish soup and a homemade spaghetti bolognese. It was tasty and filling, and I finished my dinner feeling satisfied and happy.

We had a final meeting at 8pm to find out the plans for the next day, which involved finding out who would be going whale-watching on the boats, and who would be staying at the house and be working on individual projects. Afterwards, we were free to go to our rooms or grab a coffee before bed.

So far, my time as an AWDF volunteer has been amazing; not only have I had supportive staff, whom were approachable and helpful, but also met other volunteers who share a similar interest in protecting the environment and saving endangered species.

I would highly recommend volunteering with the AWDF, and I very much look forward to continuing the rest of my week here in Arona and in Tenerife.

I’m sure everyone reading this knows or at least has heard about the plastic pollution epidemic…


…but what do you think of when you hear about it? The straws pulled out of turtles, or a plastic bottle left on the side of a road. Of course there are plenty of people who have said to me that plastic degrades or a classic is “I can’t see any”. It’s true that plastic breaks up but it doesn’t disappear, it simply breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces until we can’t see it with the naked eye. Plus we have so much plastic around us that some people don’t realise it’s there. The Ikea furniture you bought the other day has layers of laminate (plastic) or perhaps your toothpaste you brush your teeth with everyday which contains silicone. In a world where plastic is seen as a convenience is also a world where plastic is seen by our environment and inhabitants as a poison, a trick or an obstacle.

So what is my point?

Well the AWdF is helping Earth Day, petitioning to ban single use plastics, the types wrapping your food in the supermarkets or from your favourite chinese takeaway. Not forgetting those drunken nights you may or may not want to remember, where a straw is always given to you which, let’s face it, it will be a miracle if that even ends up in the bin. The aim is to collect 1m signatures to take to the UN so that governmental action can take place. This will hopefully lead to the creation of legal action against plastic production, consumption and disposal. Most plastics are not recyclable and of the 6.3 billion metric tonnes of plastic produced, only 9% is recovered. The crisis has become so big that a 17yr old invented a floating rubbish collector powered by solar energy. The Ocean Cleanup have now got several of these operating systems around our seas.

You may be wondering how you can help. Public awareness is one of the greatest challenges. There are so many ways that you change how you live your lifestyle. For example if you find yourself at starbucks or costa often for your coffee or chai latte fix (like me) buy a travel mug, you also save on every drink too! Go to the counters in the supermarket and ask for how much you want rather than picking up a pre-packaged item, the price is the same or if you don’t have that ensure the plastic packaging can be recycled. My family had no idea about the real impact of plastic pollution until I explained it. Take a look at this website for little tip bits on how to reduce your plastic consumption. Telling friends and family is also a great way to spread the word.

Just remember to have fun! (plastic-free).

Tips ->

Marina Godin is on a funded placement with the AWDF – for more information on our funded placements please email us now!

A Day on the Freebird One

freebird-one-catamaran-tenerife1cKnowing that I was going on the Freebird 1, I was awake and ready by 8:30 to set off for Puerto Colón, early but excited for the boat trip. On arrival, we had an hour to relax at a café and get something to drink before the first trip. At 10 am, we took off for the boat, not knowing what to expect, we had heard good things about the boat, and when we spotted the boat, we were not disappointed!

The Freebird 1 was a large white boat, with a really nice outside area for the passengers to sit on and an aesthetic inside area with a bar and nice sofa seats. When we boarded the boat, the staff of the boat were extremely welcoming and came straight to talk to us and make us feel comfortable on the boat.

The boat set off for the first trip of the day just after 10 am with a large number of excited passengers ready to see some whales and dolphins. The passengers were welcomed with a few sandwiches at the start of the trip prepared by the staff. The first encounter did not take too long to happen with a family of 3 pilot whales showing up first. The whales stayed around the boat for about 20 minutes, making it for a fantastic first experience of seeing whales.

The second encounter did not seem to come that much later! This time it was a family of bottlenose dolphins that were seen swimming and playing around the boat for around 10 minutes, giving off a small show for the passengers when they decided to breach the
water a few times. After these small encounters, the boat took a small break at an area with an impressive view for a small swim break for the customers. The staff at this point approached us and were very generous, offering us the opportunity for a swim. For the rest of the trip, no whales or dolphins seemed to want to surface, but
nonetheless, a great trip.

After the trip was finished at 1pm, we had a nice talk with the staff and helped them set up the boat for a second, longer trip by cleaning and setting up the boat with towels.
The second trip started at 1:30 pm and was a longer trip. The sea had seemed to become a lot choppier by this point and seemed to cause a few problems for the passengers. Even if there was this problem, the staff did all they could to keep all these customers happy and did a great job at it! As the sea was so choppy, the boat had to take a shorter trip closer to the shore, but still did not stop the great views and atmosphere, with them taking us to around the most beautiful areas of the coast, including the great
cliffs of Los Gigantes, which was also the swim site for this trip. The boat staff were very happy to let us have another swim. About half an hour after the swim break, the staff provided food for the customers and us which we helped with giving around. They
cooked some fantastic food, really filling us up!

The only small problem with this trip at the moment was that we had no encounters with any whales or dolphins. At this point we were called to the captain’s area and given binoculars to search for them which was an amazing experience. After about 45
minutes, we managed to find a family of Pilot whales, giving the customers great joy. This encounter seemed to have a really large number of individuals, giving us a great experience seeing so many of them around us. The boat then went back to the pier where all the customers got off. At this point we did a full clean of the boat, the least we could do for the staff providing us with such an adventure.

Just before we left, the staff called us over and offered us refreshments, which we all took with gratitude. Overall, this trip was an amazing first experience of the boats in tenerife!

“Myself and 5 others squeeze into skin tight wetsuits, which quickly reminds me to cut down on fast food”


Turning up to the beach with our surfboards, which had seen better days, and seeing people effortlessly gliding over waves made me think ‘this is going to be embarrassing’.

Myself and 5 others squeeze into skin tight wetsuits, which quickly reminds me to cut down on fast food. Before entering the sea, the instructor (with stereotypical long surfing locks of hair and body like Zeus – weep) runs through a tutorial on how to surf.
We lie flat on the board and practice paddling and standing up on the board, strongest foot first followed by weakest foot which is placed in front. Right foot behind is called regular, left foot behind is known as goofy.

Now all experts on how to stand, we enter the water. We swim out on our boards, getting bashed by oncoming waves as we go further. It comes apparent that catching a wave is much more difficult than I thought. “Paddle like your life depends on it” are the instructions shouted by a friend, who has surfed before.

With his advice I catch the next wave and have an image of myself gracefully skimming over a wave like a cool scene from surfs up. In reality, I attempt to stand and instantly get flung upside down beneath my board.

Luckily, I wasn’t the only one who struggled to stand. Each of us took it in turns to catch a wave and attempt to ride it. It usually ended up with the person falling head over heels followed by a roar of laughter from the rest of us and themselves once they resurfaced.

Nick, one of the other surfers, managed to ride several waves and so he took home the honour of being surfer of the day. The rest of us managed to stand up for a few seconds but would usually end with us being thrown off the board like ragdolls.

The day was filled with laughter and each of us thoroughly enjoyed trying to learn something new to us. With a bit of practice, I could easily see us all riding 50ft waves in the near future (by that I mean being dragged by the attached surfboard and we skim off the water like pebbles).

Finally, we leave the water and I realize that looking like David Hasselhoff in Baywatch, running down the beach, really only happens in the movies.

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