Shark Conservation Project

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Shark Conservation Project 1
Stefan Olof
Vol ina
vol ina
Lars vol
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Shark Conservation Project 16

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.

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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, whales, penguins 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 eco-tourism (cage diving), whale-watching and other conservation work throughout their stay
  • Volunteers can choose from day-to-day between working on our shark-cage diving vessel, eco-tour/whale watching vessel or at our bird rehabilitation centre. 
  • Our newly commissioned research boat is called 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.  
  • 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.

Research Expectations

Blonde hair, brown skin, sun-kissed cheeks…your typical marine biologist? Not always! 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 hours…but remember, your team mates will 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 details

Project starts: Friday
Location: Gansbaai
Minimum duration: 2 weeks (17 days)
Project dates:  All year

Volunteer requirements

  • CV/Resumé
  • Basic level of competency in English
  • Copy of return flight itinerary
  • Acceptance subject to availability of position

Average working day

Programs run for 5-7 days a week, normally from Monday to Sunday as the project is partnered with an ecotourism business.

Off days are granted upon request with a days notice or if there is bad weather.

Example Itinerary

Day 1

  • Arrive on a Friday with a free transfer from Cape Town City centre or Cape Town Airport.
  • You will be collected from the airport and taken to the 5-star SaltyCrax Backpackers in Table view, Cape Town.
  • You will be shown around and given a map of the area. You have the day at your own leisure to explore the beach, shops, bars and restaurants.
  • In the evening we have a traditional South African BBQ, called a braai, at the hostel.
  • Accommodation is provided in a dorm room.

Day 2
Start the day with breakfast at SaltyCrax Backpackers. A staff member will show you how the the bus system works before heading out to Cape Town city centre. There are two options for you to choose from:
1. Walking tour
2. Hop on hop off bus pass

Walking Tour
Do a walking tour (not available on Sundays), visiting historical sites like the Castle of Good Hope and the Grand Parade. Learn about life under apartheid South Africa at the Parliament Buildings and the District Six Museum. Shop for African arts and crafts in Green Market Square and St George’s Mall. 
Afterwards, take a bus or walk to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. Sit back and sip a cocktail, enjoy some fresh seafood and watch the ships in the busy working harbour.


The hop on hop off bus pass
Board this topless 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! You can choose to hop off the bus and explore at any of the bus stops.

Afterwards, head back on the local bus to Table View where you can start planning your next day.
 We will gladly help you book and arrange everything you need. 
Later, you can join the staff, your guide, 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
You will have at your leisure to do a day trip in cape town, such as the cape point tour, wine lands or even skydiving.

Day 4

  • You will be picked up by our driver at your accommodation in Cape Town and brought to the Great White House
  • At arrival IMV representative(s) will meet you and you will be introduced to our Marine Dynamics representative, IMV representative(s), Volunteer(s) who will be on your boat trip and Marine biologist
  • Breakfast/lunch for you and customers will be served
  • Safety briefing will be done and you will go on the boat as a customer and do shark cage diving
  • On your return, your IMD representative will be waiting and 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
  • You will receive t-shirts, a cap, a jacket and a key (Jacket and key to be return after programme)
  • You will be taken into Gansbaai to go shopping and obtain food to prepare your evening meals
  • Basic seamanship and an orientation of the boat and the cage will be given by the coordinator
  • We will have a welcoming barbeque on the first evening (normally Mondays)

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

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.

How will you be involved?
Duties will vary depending on each person’s skills set and 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.

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.

How will you be involved?
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.

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.

How will you be involved?
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.

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.

How will you be involved?
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.

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.

How will you be involved?
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.

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.

How will you be involved?
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.

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.

How will you be involved?
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.

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

How will you be involved?
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.

First boat trip

You will be a customer on your first trip, sitting in on the safety briefing given by the skipper. You will be able to focus on your ‘sea legs’, and see how the boat operates. You may take pictures and view the sharks from the boat, and in the cage. Cage procedures will be explained to you.

Trips to sea

You will be able to go out to sea every other day. For example, a 30 day 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 could be more, and we do our best to accommodate you as often as possible. 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.


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

Topics of the lectures are:
1. The Great White Shark
2. Sharks of the Cape
3. Tagging of the Great White Shark
4. Dyer Island Conservation Trust Overview – Marine Big 5 – Sharks, Whales, Penguins, Seals, Dolphins
5. Basic Seamanship
6. Boat safety and knots

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

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

Please keep in mind we are not mind readers and 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.


During the evenings you will be able to do any of the following:

  • Relax at home, making food together, and watching television. We have satellite television and this has most of the channels you get back home
  • Rent DVD’S
  • Going to the Great White House for dinner
  • Going out to the local restaurants and pubs – there is a taxi available
  • You are welcome to prepare a traditional meal of your home country

Please inform your Coordinator if you have any problems or questions, immediately.

How will you be involved?

Duties will vary depending on each person´s skills set and those involved in the active study of marine biology will 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 on the research boat, you would learn how to use the VR100 for tracking sharks. On land you may learn how to capture data and how to match fins for population counts.

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.

Bec Haughey – Australia

I volunteered in January 2014 and it was the most amazing thing I have ever done! The staff are absolutely amazing and will go out of their way to make sure you are comfortable while in their care. The other people I volunteered with were out of this world! Each and every one of them is a friend for life! And then there are the sharks! Whether they are just cruising by, curiously checking out the bait, decoy and cage or performing – seeing them in their natural habitat and just existing is an experience like no other. Took my breath away every single time! Being down in the cage, having them swim right by you (sometimes even at you with their mouth open) is insane and an incredible experience you will never forget! It gets addictive! As a Marine Science student from Perth, Western Australia it was an amazing and very valuable learning experience to be able to work so closely with them! Thanks to everyone for the best month of my life! It wasn’t long enough and I’ll definitely be back. If you are considering volunteering or even just taking the plunge in the cage – DO IT! You won’t regret it!

Agustin Paladini – Argentina – January 2014

I am so happy about my experience in South Africa , I love this country. My volunteer experience was really awesome!! , I met a lot of friendly people. The shark project is so nice , I worked with different people around the world ,variety of jobs and Kleinbaai is amazing!.

The boat ,the lodge, all the different activities , the crew , the vols and everybody who is part of this project , is really unbelievable.

The project was important for me , my partners spoke perfect english !

Simon Aebi – Switzerland – February 2014

Thanks you for everything!! I really want come back again , I hope so. Its an amazing experience and gives you a good introduction in marine biology. After this programme you will love sharks and you will have met a great crew and staff. They offers you with that programme not just a working experience abroad, you are getting part of a big family in Kleinbaai. I had the chance to learn so much about sharks and about marine conservation. This programme is just awesome! Thank you for everything, you guys made this four weeks so special….Thanks and i will come back!!

Julieanne Totman – UK – February 2014

Although my stay with you was short it was a truly wonderful experience and you all made me feel very welcome and I have very happy memories of the place, programme and of course all the lovely people.

Sandra Gasche – Switzerland – March 2014

The crew – lovely people, Coordinators-Awesome, Thanks for a great time

Carrie Mason – April 2014

The crew could not have been more fun or more friendly! Everyone was so nice!

Friederike Rapp – Germany – April 2014

The crew was very nice, good integration in the team and crew.

Coordinators are very helpful, always there for you and within rich. They offer and organise activities for you. It is never boring.

Heather Benko  – US – June 2014

I am really so lucky to work with such a wonderful group of people – and I missed everyone the minute I got in the van to head back to Cape Town.

What’s Included

  • Airport pick up
  • 3 nights in Cape Town
  • Accommodation on project
  • Cape Town Orientation tour
  • Transfer Gansbaai back to Cape Town, providing you travel back on a Monday
  • Breakfast and lunch on working days
  • 24 hour support and supervision on project from two full-time volunteer coordinators and administrator and an on-site Manager
  • Donation to the NPO to assist with projects, for all bookings of 4 weeks or more
  • Certificate of appreciation

There are 4 cottages that accommodate up to 6 people per cottage. Each cottage has a bathroom, kitchenette and living area as well as daily living essentials. The main building has a beautiful kitchen, equipped with induction plates, a microwave and oven for cooking and a fully functional recycling system in place.  There is also a very spacious living area with satellite TV, DVD player, board games, pool table and foosball.  There is an activity hall with some weights and a table tennis table. The facility has a large, safe swimming pool and garden.


Walking or cycling to the Great White House is easy, quick and safe and will only take between 10 and 15min (1.4km). We also have 2 dedicated minibuses that are equipped with all the necessary safety permits and licences and are used daily for the volunteers’ transport needs.


Key things about the centre:

  • Expect to share
  • Fully furnished
  • Satellite TV – a whole lot of channels
  • DVD player
  • Free WiFi (remember to bring your laptop or smartphone)
  • Emergency numbers are in the house
  • Bedding is provided and washed on a weekly basis
  • Bicycles for personal use
  • Keep your personal belongings safe (each cottage has a safe)
  • The water is safe to drink


  • Breakfast: eggs, bacon (or veggie sausage), bread, cereal, coffee and tea
  • Lunch: Only on working days, a sandwich, crisps, fruit juice and fruit.
  • Evening meals and other entertainment are at your own expense. Our accommodation has a fully equipped kitchen and braai/barbeque area.
  • Shops are nearby and a self catering kitchen is available. We will transfer you for food shopping on your first day of arrival and some days during the week.


Extras NOT included:

Lunch on off days and all dinners

Laundry R15 per KG or there is hand washing area

Area information

Gansbaai is situated 2 hours from Cape Town. 

This former fishing village turned bustling town and tourism Mecca is the business hub that anchors a diverse and colourful community. The main road and side streets are dotted with an array of old and new shops and pubs, diners and deli’s reflecting an exquisite blend of cultures and traditions.

The fishing industry is still the economical heartthrob of the town. The two harbours, fishmeal factory and canning division, as well as the two abalone farms, are abuzz with activity and the main employment generator.

A thriving industrial area, banks, three petrol stations and two trendy shopping centres ensure that the needs of both locals and visitors are met.

For more info on Gansbaai you can visit –

We do get you out and about, especially if we have a no sea day when we organise some other educational and fun stuff to do. Activities could include:


Horse riding- R250 for an hour

Quad biking- R250 for an hour

Kayaking- R300

A trip to Cape Agulhas – the Southernmost point of Africa.

A visit to the local heritage site Klipgat Cave

A visit to Stony Point penguin colony in Betty’s Bay

Kelp diving at Stanford Cove

Shopping excursions and wine tasting in Hermanus or Cape Town

Visit Danger Point Lighthouse

Hikes in the local area

Visit to Strandveld Museum

River boat cruises along Stanford River

Visit to the Two Oceans Aquarium and the Waterfront in Cape Town. Two Oceans Aquarium shark tank dives can be arranged at a discount for our volunteers

Note that personal excursions up the Garden Route or to other tourist attractions are at your own cost but don’t hesitate to ask if we can assist with your planning.

How many times will I be going on the boat?
How often will I be shark cage diving?
When is the best time of the year for sharks?
What will I be doing on the boat?
How many hours will I be working?
Will I be receiving presentations?
Will I have time off?
What time will I be picked up in Cape Town?
How will I get back to Cape Town after my programme?
What happens if I can’t book the programme from Monday-Monday?
Do I need any vaccinations?
Do I need to bring any medication?
How do the meals work?
How are the living conditions?
Will I be having internet access?
Do I need a visa?
Do I need to bring dive gear?
What is most important to bring with me?
I want to make the most of my programme so what length of time is the best?
What about laundry?
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