Dolphin Research Expedition in Queensland

Play an important role in dolphin conservation in the beautiful waters of Moreton Bay, Queensland. Actively participate in research expeditions by collecting data from research vessels and helping with data entry.

Program Overview

Throughout the world dolphins are exposed to an increasing number of threats and the decreasing health marine environments. In all oceans, dolphins are exposed to a variety of threatening processes and activities from human sources. Those species that reside along the coastal zone are particularly vulnerable and face an uncertain future as the pressure to survive increases with the inundation of increased pollutants, boating, commercial activities, fishery practices and climate change, to name but a few. In recent years, there has been a general increase in the number dolphin strandings in Australian waters, more cases of disease, entanglements and evidence of human interference posing a risk to individual dolphins, their communities and environments.

CISaustralia has partnered with a charitable organisation with the mission to increase the understanding of the ecology of dolphins, whales, their needs for survival and to improve their conservation and protection of their habitats. Since being established in 2012, this organisation has been a voice for the protection of dolphins and the oceans. Their aims are to:

  • Aid in the protection and conservation of dolphins and other marine species through research and education
  • Undertake research into key ecological aspects of dolphins and whales to improve the understanding of their requirements for survival
  • Advance knowledge on the impacts of human activities on the health of dolphins, whales and the marine environment
  • Raise environmental awareness and conservation issues through education and training programs

This program is designed for your enjoyment whilst contributing to research projects, in which volunteers play a crucial role. You will have the opportunity to learn directly from researchers, not only in the field, but also through evening discussions and presentations. The project team is looking for highly motivated individuals who are keen to learn, contribute and be part of increasing the knowledge, awareness and conservation of dolphins and their marine habitats.

Project Details:

  • Program Activities: Boat surveys, marine debris surveys, collect behavioural observations of dolphins, data entry and analysis, process images for photo identification, complete study guide activities, lectures on the biology, ecology and conservation of marine mammals
  • Project Availability: Fixed program dates each year – see the program fees and dates tab (below) or contact CISaustralia for upcoming availability. Customised group dates may be available on request – please consult with CISaustralia
  • Project Duration: 10 days
  • Working Days: Daily (Sunday to Sunday)
  • Location: Moreton Bay, North Stradbroke Island, Queensland
  • Support: 24-hour support from Project Leaders
  • A valid Police Check or Working With Children Check is required
  • Minimum Age: 18+
  • Language: English


  • Play an active role in research expeditions dedicated to dolphin conservation.
  • Learn directly from researchers in the field, as well as through discussions and presentations.
  • Participate in boat surveys to collect behavioral observations of dolphins, an important step that helps to ensure the protection of dolphins and their habitats.
  • Immerse in a meaningful experiential service learning experience.
  • Explore the beauty in and around North Stradbroke Island with easy access to Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
  • Meet people from all over Australia and possibly the world while expanding your horizons.
  • This volunteer experience is a natural stepping stone to an overseas program that offers a range of additional diverse cultural, environmental, sociological, marine and wildlife scenarios. Students who enjoy this program will naturally progress to the Marine Conservation and Dolphin Research in Tanzania program, or another one of our conservation focused Volunteer Abroad Programs. Contact CISaustralia for more information.

Sample Itinerary

Please note that this itinerary is a sample only and subject to change. Weather will guide day-to-day activities. Every program is different and the amount of time in the field and in the office will vary depending on how the weather and the dolphins behave. As with all participatory expeditions, the more you put in, the more you’ll enjoy! Please note the program will continue to run and participation is expected regardless of any public holidays.

Note: This is not a scuba diving or snorkelling program. Fieldwork is based from boats and does not involve any swimming with dolphins.


  • Arrival and check into accommodation
  • Project induction, presentation and Quandamooka cultural tour


  • Depending on the weather and needs of the organisation, volunteers may be involved in:
    • Boat surveys – hands on experience observing and recording dolphin behaviour
    • Data entry and analysis
    • Marine debris survey
    • Lectures on the biology, ecology and conservation of marine mammals
    • Discussions and reflection
    • Exploring North Stradbroke Island


  • Check out of accommodation and program departure

During expeditions, all activities, especially boat surveys, are entirely weather dependent. Calm conditions are needed to locate and observe dolphins in the wild. The surveys are allocated to take advantage of the best weather conditions on average for Moreton Bay, however, bad weather days are likely. The program aims to get participants on boat surveys for 70% of the days during your program, however, this cannot be guaranteed. We also cannot guarantee that you will encounter dolphins each day. These are wild dolphins and researchers try their hardest to find them during the surveys.

A typical day in the field, if the seas are calm…

  • 6am: Breakfast and get ready for a day out on the boat (volunteers will be working from two different types of small, rigid hull inflatable boats)
  • 7am: Boat is launched to start survey and scan the water for any signs of dolphins
  • Once dolphins are found, it’s all hands on deck. One volunteer will be required to write notes and record the encounter, other volunteers will be required to keep track of the location of the dolphin group and the group’s behaviour, others will be required to prepare the sound recording equipment and make acoustic recordings of the dolphins, while others will assist with taking photographs for the individual identification of dolphins. To collect the information needed, the boat will spend up to one hour following each group of dolphins (unless they show any signs of stress or disturbance from the boat’s presence)
  • Continue the survey to search for another group of dolphins
  • By 4pm: Head back to the research station
  • Volunteers will be required to assist with downloading the day’s recordings and entering the data into databases
  • 7pm: Dinner is served; Volunteers help wash dishes and clean up

A typical day in the field, if the seas are rough…

  • Entering and analysing data at the research station
  • Presentations on dolphin ecology and conservation
  • Possible visit to Amity Point or Point Lookout to do some land and marine debris surveys
  • Opportunity to explore the beautiful North Stradbroke Island with a trip to North Gorge at Point Lookout to enjoy the spectacular views and coastline

Note: As with any experiential service learning experience it is important to remember that things don’t always go to plan. During your placement, we ask that you remain patient, flexible and use initiative while volunteering.

COVID Safe Travel

The health and safety of our students is our highest priority. We take our duty of care for our students, their families and our Australian University partners seriously. For all of our program locations, we have developed a site-specific COVID-19 risk matrix and risk management and emergency response plans so that health and safety response protocols are monitored, managed and communicated.

We have also developed a flexible COVID-19 Refund Policy that limits the financial impact on students should CISaustralia (or one of our program partners) have to cancel or suspend a program due to COVID-19.

In preparation for your Australian volunteer program, it’s important that you carefully read and understand information related to COVID-19 Travel Safety.

The Volunteer's Role

This program has been developed and designed to give you an immersive experiential service learning experience. As a volunteer, you will actively participate in research expeditions by collecting data from research vessels and helping with data entry. At a minimum, all participants will be involved in the following project-related tasks:  

  • Assist to collect behavioral observations of dolphins during boat surveys (fieldwork is from boats, it does not involve swimming with dolphins)
  • Assist to enter data collected from surveys and process images for photo identification 
  • Participate in lectures on the biology, ecology and conservation of marine mammals 
  • Help with marine debris surveys 
  • Complete study guide activities 

The program will include both boat survey days (aiming for 70% of the time) and off water days (to account for weather conditions). Many evenings will include a lecture series. By the end of the program, you will learn and be able to apply the following skills:

  • Basic understanding of field methods related to marine mammals
  • Understanding of data entry and processing
  • Knowledge about the biology, ecology and conservation of marine mammals
  • Learn about the cultural importance of the region
  • Applied skills in science communication
  • Applied skills in marine debris surveys and addressing key processes

Two species of dolphins, the Australian humpback dolphin (Sousa sahulensis) and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) inhabit Moreton Bay all year round. These species are the focus of the research project, particularly the humpback dolphin which has been classified as vulnerable and a species of high priority. Assessing the trends in abundance and ecology of dolphin populations requires long-term research projects to determine the health and risks associated with threatening processes. The objectives of the research are to:

  • Assess and monitor the abundance and trends of coastal dolphin populations in the Moreton Bay Marine Park
  • Examine the use of habitat areas over space and time to identify critical areas
  • Establish a baseline acoustic catalogue of communicative sounds used by coastal dolphins in Moreton Bay
  • Investigate the social systems and stability of communicative systems of coastal dolphins in Moreton Bay Marine Park overtime
  • Determine the threats to coastal dolphins over space and time to provide important information to be used in conservation and management plans

This data provides important information on the ecology of the species, their health and informs conservation planning and management to ensure the protection of the animals and their habitats for the future.


There are a variety of activities, attractions and things to do in and around North Stradbroke Island that volunteers can choose to do on their own (at own expense) outside of project hours. You might also consider exploring Brisbane and surrounding areas before the program begins or after it ends. Project leaders onsite will be happy to give recommendations.


This program is based at the University of Queensland’s Moreton Bay Research Station on North Stradbroke Island, Queensland. North Stradbroke Island is referred to by locals as “Straddie” or “North Straddie” and is an island that lies within Moreton Bay, approximately 30 kilometres southeast of Brisbane. It is home to a diverse array of marine life, including multiple species of coastal and oceanic dolphins. Similar to other areas in Australia, the local populations of dolphins in Queensland are considered to be vulnerable to decline or localised extinction because of small population sizes, low population growth rates, high site fidelity and geographic isolation.

Moreton Bay Marine Park covers more than 3,400 square kilometres and hugs the Southeast Queensland Coast. It encompasses coral reefs, islands, sheltered inlets and open ocean.  Established in 1992, the Moreton Bay Marine Park protects many ecologically significant habitats and species. The Bay is inhabited by the southernmost population of dugongs (Dugong dugon) in Australia that graze along the seagrass beds. Green, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles are also commonly seen. The Bay is a haven for shorebirds with numerous Ramsar-listed sites for migratory bird species.

The Quandamooka People are the Traditional Owners of North Stradbroke Island and surrounding area. The Quandamooka People settled over 25,000 years ago on the Island and have a unique cultural heritage and strong connections to Sea Country. In 2011, the Quandamooka People were officially acknowledged as the traditional owners through their native title rights to areas of North Stradbroke Island and the surrounding waters.

North Straddie is one of the largest islands in Moreton Bay and is 38km long and 11km wide. Known for its surf beaches, fishing and diving, the island is full of surprises! There are three main townships on the Island – Dunwich, Amity Point and Point Lookout – being home to 2,500 permanent residents. Being only 30km from Brisbane, it is also a popular holiday destination. North Stradbroke Island and Moreton Bay are truly amongst the top destinations in Australia.


Accommodation is included for the duration of this program (9 nights) at the University of Queensland Moreton Bay Research Station in the small village of Dunwich. Accommodation is in shared bunk rooms in either the Research House or in the dorm-style rooms at the main Research Station facility with shared bathrooms. Each facility has a common room for the team to enjoy each other’s company and relax at the end of the day. Note that accommodation could be mixed gender and could be shared with others not on the program. We always try for standalone rooms for program participants, however this cannot be guaranteed.

Linen is included and Wi-Fi is available. Laundry facilities are available for an extra cost. There are also some washing facilities in Dunwich village on the island. It is recommended that you pack enough clothes so you do not have to do laundry during your program.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are included. Students will be involved in preparation of meals and cleaning dishes. If you have any good recipes or love to cook, you may have the opportunity to be the lead chef for a night or two! Meals will be basic and can accommodate for different dietary requirements. You must advise your CISaustralia Program Advisor of any dietary requirements and preferences prior to the program as all food is purchased the day before your arrival.

Program Fee & Dates

10 DAYS (Set dates only)
This program is available on fixed program dates (only). Programs start on a Monday and end on a Wednesday. Application deadline is 30 days prior to commencement. There is a minimum of 3 and maximum of 4 participants for this program at any one time. Please see specific start dates below or enquire for upcoming availability.
Application FeeA$ 95
Program Fee A$ 4,699
NOVEMBER 2022 (10 days)
Note: Places are limited. First in, best dressed. Programs start on a Monday and end on a Wednesday.
Application Deadline07 October 2022
Arrival Date07 November 2022
Departure Date16 November 2022
Application FeeA$ 95
Program Fee A$ 4,699


Program fees include the following:
  • Volunteer placement and supervision
  • CISaustralia support services before, during and after the program
  • Academic advising
  • Financial advice
  • Assistance with travel arrangements
  • Pre-departure guide and session
  • On-site orientation and project induction
  • Accommodation – shared bunk rooms at the research station
  • Meals – 3 per day
  • Program activities and workshop
  • Passenger ferry transfers (return from mainland)
  • Hands on experience with dolphins
  • Program risk matrix and COVID-19 risk assessment
  • Risk Management and Emergency Response Plan
  • On-site support – Project Leaders
  • CISaustralia Certificate of Participation (available on request)

What is not included:

  • Program application fee
  • Flights (CISaustralia travel support)
  • Airport transfers
  • Medical insurance
  • Travel insurance
  • Police or Working With Children Check
  • Extra travel/excursions (other than those mentioned above)

Dates are for reference only and are subject to change. Please do not book flights until you have received the dates in your acceptance paperwork and you are confirmed on the program.

CISaustralia reserves the right to alter fees at any time due to fee changes made by our partners.

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