Marine Mammal Science Job Openings

Field Assistants Needed in Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia

Job Category: Volunteer Opportunities
Date Posted:

Seeking experienced field assistants for research on tropical dolphins around Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia

Fieldwork dates: Commences 1st April 2018 – 25thth September 2018

Application deadlineWednesday 31st January 2018

Project title: Ecology and conservation biology of the Indo Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) in the North West Cape, Western Australia

Institution: Cetacean Ecology, Behaviour and Evolution Lab (CEBEL); Flinders University; South Australia<


I am seeking experienced field assistants to assist with boat-based photo-Identification and laser photogrammetry of Australian humpback and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins around the North West Cape in North-Western Australia for 6 months from the 1st of April 2018.

I am looking for four research assistants for April-June and another four for July-September. Commitment to a full 3 month/12 week period is preferred. Volunteers can apply for the whole 6-month period if they wish.

This is an opportunity to gain experience in field techniques for small cetacean research and contribute to a project with very high conservation and management value. Furthermore, it provides assistants the opportunity to conduct research in a truly unique natural setting along the World Heritage Listed Ningaloo Coast, home to one of the longest near-shore reefs in the world, Ningaloo Reef. The region is highly abundant with marine life, including seasonal visits from whale sharks (April-August), humpback whales (June-November), Killer whales (July-August) and manta rays (June-October). It really is a spectacular research setting!

About the project:
This project is part of a PhD I am doing at Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia with CEBEL.
The aim of this study is to establish baseline ecological information on the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin population in the North West Cape of WA and improve the scientific basis behind their conservation and management.

The project has four main objectives:

1.       Estimate the abundance, site fidelity and residency patterns of the bottlenose dolphin;

2.       Identify critical habitat areas for feeding, socialising, resting and breeding;

3.       Assess the social structure and home ranging patterns of the bottlenose dolphins;

4.       Estimate age and growth curves for the population and sex of individuals using laser photogrammetry


We will be staying in a spacious house in Exmouth for the duration of the field season.


The season will be split into “boat days” and “land days” which is purely dependant on weather.
“Boat days”: Boat work is conducted 7 days a week (often for extended hours) throughout the entire field season depending on weather conditions. Boat days will consist of preparing and cleaning of the boat and field equipment, boat based transect surveys searching for dolphin groups, taking images of dorsal fins and recording information on group size, composition, behaviour and environmental data. At times, there will be opportunities to drive the boat. At the conclusion of the day, photo-id images will be loaded onto the CEBEL computer and cameras will be charged and set up for the next morning. In order to keep on top of data entry, it is expected that some work will be done in the evenings on returning to the house. A structured schedule will be set up with rotations of field duties, time off and specific duties for each person.

“Land days”: when conditions are less than ideal, expect to spend time in the office doing data entry, scoring photographs and fin matching. During these days, there will be also plenty of opportunity to explore the surrounding area, which is an ideal location for those who enjoy scuba diving, surfing, hiking and wildlife.

Cooking and housekeeping will be shared among participants.

What to expect:

Field assistants need to be available full-time, including weekends, and be prepared for early morning departures (6-7AM), long days (8-10 hours) on the water in warm weather for multiple consecutive days, and lengthy days transcribing data. Fieldwork is weather dependant. If the weather is not right, we will not be conducting surveys and could spend several days in a row on land. However, if the weather is good it could be several days before we get a day on land. Bring some books or movies to watch in the down time.

Ningaloo is home to a large array of marine fauna so expect to see whales, sea turtles, whale sharks, dugongs, manta rays, sharks, and crystal clear waters over beautiful tropical reefs. Most of all, expect to learn a lot while having an awesome time.


*          Enrolled in or completed a degree in marine science, ecology, biology, animal behaviour, life sciences or a related field (highly desirable);

*         Experience in working on a small boat and no history of sea sickness (essential);

*         Experience in photo-ID survey techniques (highly desirable);

*         Experience in field research on small cetaceans (highly desirable);

*         Experience in working in remote areas (highly desirable)

*         Be team-oriented and have an enthusiastic and proactive attitude to hard work, long hours and collecting data on the natural environment (essential);

*         Proficient use of Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Access (highly desirable);

*         Experience in using DISCOVERY photo identification software (highly desirable);

*         Fluent in English (highly desirable)


Unfortunately, we are unable to provide monetary compensation or living provisions and research assistants will be responsible for their own travel to Exmouth (direct flights available from Perth) and living expenses. Costs for accommodation and food will be split among the research leader and participants.

How to apply:

If you are interested to be part of ‘Team Tursiops’ please send a CV (max. 3 pages), a 1-page cover letter outlining your relevant experience in regards to the above prerequisites, and contact details of two relevant referees to<> by Wednesday 31st of January 2018. Short-listed candidates will be contacted to schedule an interview.
For more information on the project and associated fieldwork contact Rebecca on the above email or please check out the field blogs from previous field seasons at or check out the NWCDRP album on the CEBEL Facebook page at<<>.