four dolphins seen from above swimming in turquise water

(Florida) Bottlenose Dolphin Ecology, Behavior, and Communication

IMPORTANT: Due to the ongoing situation with COVID-19, this course has been canceled for 2022. 

Course Title: Bottlenose Dolphin Ecology, Behavior, and Communication

Location: Sarasota, Florida, USA

Faculty: Laela Sayigh, Associate Professor of Animal Behavior

Learning Collaborative Theme(s): Environments & Change
Course Number:  TBD
Departure Date:  January 10, 2022             Return Date:  January 23, 2022
Course Fee (tentative):  $2,700 + airfare

*Dates & fees are subject to change

Course Summary

This course will explore ecology, behavior and communication of the exceptionally well-studied resident population of bottlenose dolphins in the waters near Sarasota, Florida, U.S.A. This population has been the focus of a long-term research program since 1970. Age, sex, and matrilineal relatedness, as well as the individually distinctive signature whistles, of virtually every one of the 160 resident dolphins are known, making this the ideal population for field studies. Students will spend most days on a boat, collecting photographs for identification, acoustic recordings, behavioral observations, and environmental measurements. We will also have the opportunity to observe and quantify human impacts, including boat traffic, underwater noise, recreational fishing, and pollution. Time off the boat will be spent learning how to analyze the data collected, which will contribute to an ongoing research collaboration between L. Sayigh, the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program (SDRP), and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).


None, although students with some coursework in biology may be given preference if more students apply than can be accommodated.


Short-term field course eligibility requirements: for Hampshire and non-Hampshire students

Financial Information

Short-term field course finances and fundingImportant information about fees, payments, and financial aid.

Course Fee

How to Apply

Short-term field course application deadlines and instructions

Full Course Description

Course objectives are to learn about the ecology, behavior, and communication of coastal bottlenose dolphins, while learning observational and bioacoustic data collection methods for studying animal behavior. The course will be field based, with supporting lecture, discussion, and laboratory activities. Ten of the 12 days will be spent on a 24' power boat, collecting data in the field. During this time we will survey for dolphins and will photograph and obtain acoustic recordings from any that are sighted. We will collect behavioral data from observed groups, as well as environmental data such as temperature, salinity, and depth, in order to document possible correlates of observed behavioral patterns. We will also have the opportunity to observe and quantify human impacts, including boat traffic, underwater noise, recreational fishing, and pollution. Data will be examined on shore following each day's excursion, and on any days/times where weather prevents us from going out on the boat. In addition to analysis of collected data, shore-based activities will focus on background material relevant to the dolphins under study, and will include readings from scientific literature that will be discussed as a group. Observational and acoustic data collected will contribute to an ongoing collaborative research program between L. Sayigh, the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program (SDRP) and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).

Academic Program

Academic Expectations & Evaluation

Students will be expected to be active participants in field work and data collection, as well as in shore-based activities including analysis of observational and acoustic data. Students will maintain a detailed field journal that describes their learning and field experiences. We will also read relevant scientific literature and students will be expected to be active participants in discussions of these readings. In addition we expect that students will be good community members. Specifically, since we will be traveling together in close quarters, we expect that students will actively strive to be cooperative and helpful with one another and to maintain open communication with me and with the grou

Diversity & Multiple Cultural Perspectives

Not Applicable

Language Learning

None/Not Applicable

Community Engagement

Does not fulfill CEL-2 requirements. Group will be working closely with the local organization involved with dolphin research, the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program (SDRP), which is based at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota. One SDRP scientist will come out on the boat with us each day, to assist with individual identification of animals in real time, and to ensure that the data we are collecting meets the necessary standards to contribute to their science objectives.

Program Logistics

Visas & Other Travel Requirements

All participants are required to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and follow any additional COVID-19 testing and quarantining requirements.

Program Itinerary

January 10 – fly Providence – Tampa

January 11-22 – 12 days on site in Sarasota

January 23 – fly Tampa to Providence

Environment,  Level of Physical Activity and Dietary Needs

Sunlight is intense in Florida, although weather should be mild. Average temperatures for January in Sarasota are highs of 71° and lows of 52°. However, wind off the water can make the temperature seem much colder.  Students must be open to basic and community living conditions, and long working hours outdoors. Participants will be exposed to intense sunlight, and depending on weather, potentially chilly conditions.

Participants will have access to a major supermarket and will shop once per week to obtain necessary groceries for that week for breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Participants will bring lunches to eat on the boat; group will cook meals together for dinner. Dietary restrictions should be able to be accommodated.

Travel Plans

Participants are encouraged to travel with the group from Providence, Rhode Island on the same flight. Anyone leaving from different airports needs to arrive in Tampa within 2 hours of the rest of the group as the entire group will ride together in the rental van to Sarasota.

Housing Arrangements

The group will rent unit/s at Beau Lido Suites in Sarasota, which is situated near Mote Marine Laboratory, where the boat will be docked. This is a communal-living situation, with a shared kitchen. 

Pre-Departure Preparation


Questions about the application and selection process or financial aid should be directed to the Global Education Office:

Global Education Office

Questions regarding the academic content or itinerary should be directed to the faculty director:

Laela Sayigh



Stay In Touch
With The Global Education Office (GEO)
Snail Mail
Global Education Office
Hampshire College
893 West Street
Amherst, MA 01002