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Great White Shark Conservation Project - Gansbaai

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This exciting project is situated in Gansbaai - the shark cage diving capital of the world - and is about a 2-hour drive from Cape Town. The coast around Gansbaai is home to multiple marine species. There are shark sightings all year, peaking in the southern hemisphere in winter (May - September). Southern Right Whales including their calves return every year in July and stay around until December, when they return back to Antarctic waters. Other species including seals and penguins are resident all year and we sometimes have sightings of bottlenose, humpback and common dolphins sightings. Our volunteer programs here offer a limited number of places each year which allows participants to gain the maximum from their time working closely with biologists from our research team on our shark cage diving vessel.

As for your research expectations, remember for every hour a biologist spends at sea, they spend another 15 back in the office punching, verifying and analysing data - so if you help us with research you could also be doing data capture, measuring shark eggs that have washed ashore, weighing and classifying plastic pollution etc. If you feel creative, you could even help us with the daily blog after hour, but remember, your team mates will be back at home chilling while you are still working. However, you will have good work experience and go home with the knowledge that you have really contributed to what we are doing.

Please note that you won’t be lobbing tags into sharks all day - only qualified people may do this and if you are really lucky you might be able to see this in action, but the reality is that if the research vessel goes out to track tagged sharks while you are here, then you will be following a beeping noise on the hydrophone for hours and you most likely won’t actually see the shark. You will only know that it is there. However, if you are feeling generous and want to buy a tag for us you can even name the shark and come along on the tagging trip - the tags cost a lot though!

You can take turns with other volunteers to assist with data recording, sketching pictures of sharks and taking photo ID shots, but please note that these pictures are of the dorsal fins and scarring, not of the exciting front end of the shark. Remember that when you are doing data and taking research pix that you will miss out on photographing gaping sharks. So this is why we cycle volunteers’ tasks and you won’t only be doing research every day, you will also be helping clients with their wetsuits, those who are feeling seasick, assisting the crew and so on.

Do you have microscope skills? You might even be able to help us out with looking at blood slides of African Penguins and help with data recording or medicating their fish, but remember that rehabilitation centers are hard work and entail a lot of cleaning, so prepare yourself for that.
  • Project Highlights

    - You will work with professionals and clients in a world-class ecotourism environment, learning all about how responsible ecotourism and conservation learning all about how responsible ecotourism and conservation work hand-in-hand
    - You will learn about the behaviors and biology of Great White Sharks and the other species in our seas
    - We will help, support and encourage you to get the most out of your stay
    - Every volunteer gets involved in our ecotourism (cage diving) and conservation work throughout their stay
    - Everyone spends the majority of time at sea aboard Slashfin - our cage diving vessel - or our newly commissioned research boat Lwazi ("seeking knowledge"). Research trips are fully weather dependent and performance of volunteers are rated on our shark cage diving vessel, for the chance to go on our research boat. These trips are rare, depending on which project is on the go, so do not assume that you will go out on 2-3 presentations on conservation, research or marine safety every week.
    - The opportunity to help out at our African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary which is a world-class centre for the rehabilitation of seabirds in distress, with a particular emphasis on conserving the African penguin
    - We research the feeding, migrating and behavioural habits as well as various other aspects of the Great Whites by recording sightings, tagging, dorsal fin identification and taking thousands of photos for an ongoing data base in conjunction with various national and international academic and research institutions. Taking a closer look at their superior immune system and wound healing capabilities, their interaction with other marine species, as well as the parasites that are found on sharks is all part of the comprehensive and ongoing research we do.

  • Welcome Orientation

    Day 1: Welcome to South Africa
    You are collected from the airport and taken to your volunteer accommodation. You will be shown around and given a map of the area. Depending on your arrival time, you will meet your volunteer leader and learn more about your project, if you arrive late you will be given a time to meet your leader. You have the day at your own leisure so you can explore the beach, shops, bars and restaurants. In the evening we have a traditional South African BBQ, called a braai, at the hostel.

    Day 2: Orientation Tour of Cape Town
    Start the day with breakfast and head to SaltyCrax backpackers. A SaltyCrax staff member will teach you about the bus system before you head out to Cape Town city centre. You have two options to choose from:

    1) Walking Tour
    Do a walking tour visiting historical sites like the Castle of Good Hope and the Grand Parade. Learn about life under apartheid in South Africa at the Parliament buildings and the District Six Museum. Shop for African arts and crafts in Greenmarket Square and St George’s Mall.

    2) Hop-on Hop-off Bus Pass
    Board this open rooftop bus that takes you to all the sites you need to see such as Camps Bay, the V&A Waterfront and Table Mountain... all from the comfort of your seat!

    After one of the above activities you can take a bus or walk to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. Sit back and sip a cocktail, enjoy some fresh fish and watch the ships in the busy working harbour or walk around taking in the shops, markets and musicians on the sidewalks. Alternatively, you can take the cable car up Table Mountain and enjoy breathtaking views of the city, or visit the famous Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was held in prison during the apartheid era (own expense).

    In the evening head back on the local bus to Table View where you can start planning your next day. We will help you book and arrange all that you need. Later, you can join the staff, guests and the locals at one of the restaurants or bars along the beach front in Table View - all within rolling distance from the hostel where you will be staying the night.

    Day 3: Sunday
    You will have at your own leisure to relax and get ready before your project starts.

  • First Project Day (Day 4)

    You will be picked up by our driver at your accommodation in Cape Town and brought to the Great White House. On arrival, IMV representative will meet you and you will be introduced to our Marine Dynamics representative, IMV representative, volunteer(s) who will be on your boat trip and marine biologist. After the safety briefing, you will board the boat as a customer. The coordinator will also give you basic seamanship and an orientation of the boat and the cage so that you are ready to experience shark cage diving. Breakfast/lunch for you and customers are included. On your return, your IMD representative will be waiting to answer any questions.

    You will then be taken to the accommodation where your luggage will be waiting and you can unpack and relax with fellow volunteers. You will receive a lodge introduction by the coordinator and receive t-shirts, a cap, a jacket and a key (jacket and key to be returned after the program). Afterwords we will take you into Gansbaai to go shopping and buy food to prepare your evening meals. Enjoy the welcome barbeque on the first evening (normally Mondays).

  • Project Description

    This project covers several aspects of marine conservation. Below are some of the things that the volunteers will get involved in.

    1) Great White Sharks
    We research the feeding, migrating and behavioural habits as well as various other aspects of the Great Whites by recording sightings, tagging, dorsal fin identification and taking photos for an ongoing database in conjunction with various national and international academic research institutions. Their superior immune system and wound healing capabilities, parasites found on sharks, as well as their interaction with other marine species, are part of the comprehensive and ongoing research.

    Your duties will vary depending on your skills set, for example those involved in the active study of marine biology are likely to be more involved on the research aspects. Volunteers assist with observational data capture and photographic data and may be involved with water sampling, temperature testing etc. If you stay for a minimum of a month and are fortunate enough to go out on the research boat, you may observe tagging of a shark or learn how to track an acoustically tagged shark. On land you can capture data and may learn how to match fins for population counts.

    2) African Penguins
    Our multi-award winning project to research and curb the worrisome decline in the African Penguin population on Dyer Island (90% decline in 30 years) is aimed at protecting this endangered species indigenous to South Africa from environmental factors and natural predators since the removal of the guano on the island left them vulnerable to the elements and predators. We have manufactured and placed more than 1000 artificial nests on the island and at other breeding colonies to provide them with sheltered homes to protect the eggs and chicks from heat stress and predatory birds such as the Kelp Gull. In addition to this, the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary (APSS) has been built 2 min walk away from the International Marine Volunteer Centre and is a true feather in the cap for the Dyer Island Conservation Trust. APSS is a state-of-the-art centre for the rehabilitation of sea birds in distress, with a particular emphasis on conserving the African Penguin, which is endemic to southern Africa and has been undergoing a shocking decline in population numbers. Injured, oiled and sick birds are collected or brought to us for care and recuperation and when they are fit and healthy again we release them back into the wild.

    You may be involved in cleaning the birds’ pens, crates and living areas, assisting with preparing medicated fish, recording medical records and data and telling visitors about what we do. If you will be staying a minimum of 4 weeks and you want to volunteer at APSS regularly during your time here then you may be able to learn how to handle the birds yourself, if the rehabilitator feels that you show an aptitude for this. There is also the opportunity to read blood slides on the microscope and enter data onto the computer.

    3) Marine Pollution
    This project supports recycling and is aimed at involving local schools and the community in beach clean-ups, marine education and placing specially made fishing line bin disposal units along the coast. It was recognised by WESSA and the Blue Flag beach programme nationwide.

    You may have the opportunity to work with children´s groups when we do beach clean-ups. We separate and weigh all the garbage and enter the data into a database. You may also be involved in making up our unique fishing line bins or help by cleaning the fishing line for recycling. By removing fishing line and other litter off our beaches you are quite possibly helping save another bird or animal from injury, as well as helping to prevent plastic from entering the food chain, causing animals to starve or become poisoned.

    We have a Samil 20 (4-wheel drive vehicle) that allows us access to remote sections of the coast where our help is really needed to remove litter from the beaches, attend strandings of dead animals and search for animals in distress such as injured or oiled penguins.

    4) Marine Animal Strandings
    Sometimes we receive calls from the public about stranded animals in distress, or already dead animals. They may be sick, entangled, oiled or injured. When we are doing beach clean-ups we always keep our eyes open for animals and check that they are okay, and sometimes we do special patrols to look for oiled penguins. Occasionally the animals are dead, in which case we will check for leg rings, flipper bands or flipper tags, and depending on the species we will record data and collect samples.

    You may assist to search for and retrieve animals, record data, assist in dissections, record GPS positions, help with body measurements and if it is a shark or dolphin then you will assist in dissecting it and taking samples for passing on to scientific institutions.

    5) BRUV Studies
    The BRUV is a baited remote underwater video collection technique. Using this technique we collect data on the habitat, species diversity, abundance and behaviour of marine species in the Greater Dyer Island Region.

    You may go out to sea to assist in deploying and retrieving equipment. Once back in the office, you could go through the video footage, recording the marine species that swim past the bait station.

    6) Endemic Shark Species Project
    As the opportunity arises we collect shark egg cases that have washed ashore as part of a larger project in the area looking at the species occurrence, abundance and distribution of smaller shark species. Potential nursery grounds can also be identified in this way.

    You will search along the shoreline for egg cases that have washed ashore, collect, measure and identify them and input the information into our database.

    7) Environmental Sampling
    We use a YSI unit (Yellow Springs International) to sample water temperature (°C), barometric pressure (mbars), dissolved oxygen (%saturation) and oxygen (mg per litre) every day on the shark cage diving vessel, in order to capture environmental data in white shark aggregation sites. We have a second unit which we use to sample adjacent areas in the bay where the cage diving boat is not present, as well as in the estuarine area of the inshore region. These data will be collated with the data from tags deployed on white sharks that sample real time water temperature and depth, providing us with an overall picture of the Greater Dyer Island Region.

    You will use the YSI to sample locally at the estuary and possibly a few times a week from the whale watching vessel or research vessel. You will help to record data and carefully maintain the highly sensitive equipment.

    8) Other
    We have other projects such as providing wood for heating and cooking to a nearby community, occasionally helping out at old age and children’s homes and the local animal rescue center.

    You will load and offload wood, assist with weighing and sorting recycling, help children in the shop, spend time with older people and children from the homes and help to clean and improve the rescue center and spend time with the animals there.

  • Volunteer Tasks

    1) Trips to sea
    You will be able to go out to sea every other day. For example, a month's stay enables you to go to sea at least 15 times. Please note that this will be the minimum (depending on no-sea days and weather), but it could be more. When on sea it may not be feasible for you to dive in the cage every trip, or you may not even want to. If you do wish to dive that day please inform the marine biologist or skipper and we will do our best to accommodate you.

    2) Lectures
    As part of your program you will be given lectures (depending on the length of your stay). They will be conducted when time permits, with regard to sea conditions and the number of trips.

    Lecture topics include:
    - The Great White Shark
    - Sharks of the Cape
    - Tagging of the Great White Shark
    - Dyer Island Conservation Trust Overview: Marine Big 5 including sharks, whales, penguins, seals and dolphins
    - Basic seamanship
    - Boat safety and knots

    3) Duties on the Boat
    Whilst on the boat you will be able to do the following:
    - Assist inlaying and retrieving the anchor
    - Assist putting in the cage and attaching it to the boat
    - Help prepare bait
    - Help with the chumming
    - Assist the customers on the boat - answering any questions they have, informing them about the white sharks, helping them with their wet suits, offering help to any people suffering from seasickness
    - Assist divers in getting ready for the cage, and helping them in and out of the cage - providing them with masks, weight belts and towels
    - Collecting data on the sharks
    - Helping prepare the cage if we have a second trip
    - Viewing the sharks and taking pictures

    4) No Sea Days
    If the weather does not allow the boat to go out to sea, we will start the day with breakfast and then you will be taken on one of the following excursions:

    Hermanus, Stanford - shopping, wine tours
    Betty’s Bay - penguin colony
    Cape Agulhas - meeting of the two oceans

    If there is something else you would like to do on these days, you are welcome to talk to your coordinator to arrange something else. Please note that South Africa does not have a geat public transport system and getting around can be a bit tricky sometimes so we would need to go with the majority.

    5) Evenings
    The evenings are free and you can relax at home, make food together, watch television or go out to the local restaurants and pubs.

    Se hele rejseprogrammet


Accommodation is at The Birkenhead Lodge. This lodge is equipped with 4 chalets that house between 4 and 6 persons per chalet, with own bathroom, kitchen and living areas as well as daily living essentials. The main house will be occupied with volunteer coordinators and a part time janitor so all the needs of the grounds are met. There is also a very spacious living area in the main hall with a pool table, table tennis and foosball as some entertainment, communal indoor braai and kitchen area that can be used.

The facility has a big and safe swimming pool and garden. Walking to the office is easy, quick and safe and will only take between 10 and 15min (1.2km). We also have a volunteer bus that is equipped with all the safety permits and regulations and is used daily for the volunteers needs.

Key things about the lodge:

Expect to share
Fully furnished
Satellite TV - a whole lot of channels
DVD player
Wireless internet (remember to bring laptop or phones)
Emergency numbers are in the house
Sheets are provided and washed regularly
3 Bicycles for personal use
Keep your personal belongings safe (we have a safe at the office should you need)
The water is safe to drink

Participants are expected to keep their rooms and personal belongings tidy at all times and participate in any chores as required for the cleanliness and operation of the shared facilities.


Airport pick-up from Cape Town International Airport and a return transfer from Cape Town to Gansbaai are included. The return transfer will take you to your accommodation in Cape Town or the airport, but please plan your flight schedule to depart earliest at 19:00.


Welcome BBQ is included on the first night of your welcome & orientation package. Breakfast and lunch are only included on working days when you are out at sea, all other meals at your own cost. Shops are within walking distance and a self-catering kitchen is available.

Please advise us on your dietary needs when filling out your application form.

Ekstra information

Visas & Insurances:
Visas and insurances are the responsibility of the volunteer.

Winter in South Africa:
Please note that May through to September are our winter months and it can get quite chilly with an average temperature ranging from 5 degrees Celsius at night to 15 degrees Celsius during the day. So please make sure to pack enough warm clothes if you plan your trip in that period.