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Spend 2-4 weeks on this awesome shark and whale conservation project in stunning South Africa; go on research and cage diving boat trips and get up close to amazing marine wildlife!travel SAGW
*Please note you should make sure your travel insurance policy covers shark cage diving activities.
This project starts on every Sunday.
Set in the gorgeous South African coastal town of Gansbaai, which is famous as the shark-cage-diving capital of the world, this marine conservation and eco-tourism programme offers a unique opportunity to get up close to that most mighty of marine creatures, the Great White Shark. The project has been running for over twenty years and is world-renowned for its research and famous for its amazing shark cage diving experiences.
The Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet here, creating the ideal, yet still fragile, environment for Great White Sharks to thrive, as well as other marine creatures, such as the rare Southern Right Whale, which breeds here every year between July-December, and other marine wildlife such as African penguins, dolphins, seals and seabirds.
As a volunteer, you will experience two areas of marine adventures; helping out with conservation and research projects from the dedicated research boat, and taking visitors to see the Great White Sharks and other marine life on eco-tourism trips, and assisting on daring cage dives from the shark-spotting boat.
One of your roles as a volunteer will be to get involved in valuable marine research trips, monitoring and tracking the feeding, breeding habits and behaviour of the marine wildlife, such as the Great White Shark and the Southern Right Whale.
Depending on the time of year you visit, you will get involved in projects studying the behaviour of a combination of sharks, whales, penguins, dolphins, seals and seabirds. Led by expert, experienced marine biologists, who have links to academic institutions and universities across the world, you will make a valuable contribution to scientific study by taking part in data collection and observation which will help to protect and conserve the incredible marine life in South Africa’s oceans. With access to regular lectures and research facilities you will learn about all the important aspects of marine conservation and make a difference in a rewarding volunteer role.
You will also get the opportunity to take part in educational community programmes, which aim to inform and educate the local people and kids about marine conservation. The project supports school recycling schemes and community beach-cleanups, and is involved in providing marine education to local communities.
Eco-tourism and Cage Diving
Alongside your volunteer research role, your other regular role will be heading out on eco-tourism boat trips, assisting visitors to spot the Great White Sharks and to try an exciting shark cage dive experience! Thousands of international visitors make a trip to Gansbaai every year, in search of a sight of the Great Whites, and you will become part of the crew, helping to provide a fun, safe and exciting eco-tourism experience for the visitors.
Gansbaai is home to some of the world’s best cage-diving, and this project boasts a state-of-the-art cage diving boat. Purpose built for the rough South African seas, the boat can reach a speed of 45 knots. Eco-tourism trips run daily (weather permitting), and boats depart once or twice daily.
Your first trip out on the shark dive boat will be as a guest, so you can enjoy the shark-spotting experience and try an amazing cage dive for yourself. You won't literally be 'diving' with these beasts when you're out in the waters, as cage dives involve standing in a chum-surrounded, partially submerged, shark cage. Your dive leaders will let you know when to duck under the waves by shouting "Look left!" or "Look Right!" at the right time. At up to 5 metres (16ft) long, having a toothy encounter with a shark is an experience you’ll never forget!
From then on, your trips will involve volunteer duties, and you’ll help the marine tourists to submerge themselves underwater in a cage and get up close to the amazing Great White Shark. Where time and number of people allows, you will also receive more opportunities to cage dive and come face-to-face with the Great Whites again. Volunteer duties include:
Great White Sharks
The sea around Gansbaai teems with Great White Sharks, with the peak time for sightings being between May and September. The project has around 9000 interactions and encounters with Great White Sharks every year, and the area is home to one of the largest Great White populations in the world.
Drawn to the area by a healthy population of around 60,000 Cape Fur Seals, the clear waters surrounding Dyer Island are a shark-infested Great White haven, making sightings a daily occurrence during peak shark season. Despite frequent sightings of the sharks, surprisingly little research has been conducted into the important aspects of shark behaviour, migratory patterns and environmental and external influences on sharks; a gap which this project aims to fill.
As a volunteer, you will get involved in research projects, working alongside dedicated expert marine biologists, learning about the biology and the behaviour of the Great Whites and studying their feeding, breeding, migrating and behavioural habits. You will help record sightings, help with tagging and dorsal fin identification and take photographs as a record for an ongoing scientific database. Fields of research include examining the superior immune system and wound healing capabilities of the sharks, identifying and studying parasites found on sharks, as well as recording the sharks’ interaction with other marine species.
Taking regular trips out across the ocean in a dedicated shark research vessel, regular volunteer duties will include:
Southern Right Whales
The bay around Gansbaai is a vitally important breeding area for the endangered Southern Right Whale, who migrate from their feeding grounds in Antarctica to breed and give birth in the seas around South Africa between July and December every year. Adult whales can be spotted in mating groups, and newly born calves are also to be seen in breeding season.
This project is one of the few operators with the right to take boat trips to see the migrating whales, taking visitors on trips to spot whales, as well as conducting important monitoring and research. Every year, the project’s boats have around 1500 encounters or sightings of the rare Southern Right Whale, with over 800 adult whales expected in these waters during each breeding season. In addition to Southern Right Whales you may also see Humpback Whales and Brydes Whales in the bay.
As well as accompanying visitors on whale-watching trips during July-December, volunteers may also help to study feeding, behavioural and migratory patterns, becoming one of the lucky few to get up close to these awesome marine creatures. During the season the boat runs several trips a day in search of the iconic Southern Right Whale. Heading out on the dedicated whale-watching and eco-tourism boat, volunteer’s daily duties will include:
Other Conservation Projects
At different times of the year, volunteers can get involved in a variety of other conservation projects, helping to protect marine wildlife in the area. Dyer Island, which sits in the Bay, is home to one of the few remaining breeding colonies of African Penguin on the Cape. The African Penguin population here has suffered a 90% decline in 30 years, due to overfishing, predators and the removal of the guano on the island in which the penguins used to nest their eggs and chicks, leaving chicks vulnerable to predators and the elements. The project has manufactured and placed more than 1000 superficial nests on the island, in order to encourage the breeding of this endangered bird. The project also works to protect the large local population of dolphins, seals and other seabirds, and volunteers will get an opportunity to take part in some of these vital conservation projects.
Please note: You may want to take seasickness tablets before joining the boat trips for the day. You will spend about 8 hours a day at sea, and conditions can sometimes be a little rough.
After your included airport meeting and transfer, after you first arrive at the project you’ll have a meeting with the project team to discuss your individual itinerary preferences. In this meeting they'll give you advice, welcome you to the project and answer any questions you may have.
Through a combination of scientific observations and research work alongside experienced marine biologists, you’ll be working on dive boats as part of a team, heading out to sea to actively collect information and observe the behaviour of sharks, whales and other marine wildlife. You will also volunteer on eco-tourism boat trips, assisting the tourists as they observe the marine life and participate in shark cage dives. Volunteer duties will vary daily but may include:
Though you can volunteer every day you should bear in mind that this project is weather dependant, and doesn’t run during bad weather. If this happens, you'll get the day off to relax or explore. Itineraries are flexible, so if you want to take a day off at any time, you can.
During your free time, when you’re not getting up close and personal to your study subjects on inclusive boat trips and cage dives, you may also wish to join a range of (non-inclusive) activities. These include paintballing, horse riding, quad biking, kayaking, skydiving and others.
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:
Arriving into Cape Town International Airport, you’ll be met at the airport and taken directly to your designated hostel in Cape Town. Your initial airport transfer in Cape Town is included as a part of this project. If arriving on a Saturday however, you may need to arrange your own transfers/ take a taxi, as transfers with the hostel do not run on these days. Inclusive transfers generally run between the hours of 8am and 3pm. Please contact us for further information.
Staying in Cape Town for your first night, you will then be transferred to the shark project the following day, which is located in Gansbaai, about 2.5 hours from Cape Town. The transfer from the Cape Town hostel to the shark project is included.
A return transfer from the project back to Cape Town is included after the end of your project (but not back to the airport). Accommodation in Cape Town after your project is not included, though we recommend that you spend this night in Cape Town, arranging any onward travel for the following day. We will be happy to book additional accommodation in Cape Town for you should you need it. Extra accommodation would be in addition to trip costs.
Your first night will be spent in a hostel in Cape Town. Located Close to Table Mountain, you’ll be staying just a short walking distance away from a range of clubs, bars, restaurants and shops, and will stay in mixed dorm accommodation (though double, twin, and en-suite rooms are also available).
With a 24 hour reception, travel advice desk, and WiFi enabled Internet Café available, when your not relaxing by the BBQ area or around the pool you can grab a bite to eat in the bar and café, shoot some pool or cook up a snack in the communal kitchen. Hand wash laundry facilities and a laundry service are available, and the compound has its own night security.
The following morning you will be transferred to the shark project accommodation in Gansbaai. During your stay in Gansbaai you’ll be staying a modern, comfortable and welcoming lodge set in scenic surroundings. The lodge consists of four lovely chalets, each housing 4-6 people in multi-share rooms, with each chalet having great communal areas with comfy sofas and dining areas, modern bathrooms, kitchens and everything you’d want for a real home from home in South Africa.
There is also a central communal living area and kitchen, a pool table and entertainment area, a communal outdoor braai (barbeque) so you can enjoy some traditional tasty South African braai, and a gorgeous garden with an amazing outdoor swimming pool so you can relax, swim and soak up the sun on your time off.
The lodge has satellite TV, a DVD player, wireless internet for use on your own laptop or phones, heating, and 3 bicycles which are available for volunteers to use when they wish. Bedding is provided.
The lodge is located only a short 10-15 minute walk from the offices in Gansbaai (about 1.2km away) and there is also a volunteer bus available for daily use. Volunteer co-ordinators and a full-time janitor live on site at the lodge, providing a safe, secure and supportive living environment for all volunteers.
Meals are not included except when you are aboard the dive boat (meals on the boat can include a simple breakfast, and some lunches - usually sandwiches). Supermarkets, restaurants, bars and everything you need can be found nearby in the local town, and there is a fully equipped kitchen at your volunteer accommodation so you can cook your own meals if you wish.
If you would like to arrive early into Cape Town we will be happy to help you arrange additional accommodation, and equally, we are able to help you arrange additional nights of accommodation after your trip is over (extra cost).
The minimum age for this trip is 18, and nationals of the EU, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand don’t require a visa to enter South Africa.
Please note, you should make sure your travel insurance policy covers shark cage diving activities.
South African Immigration does ask that you have two completely blank consecutive pages in your passport, though as long as you hold a valid passport (and a valid return ticket) you will be granted a temporary visitor’s permit on arrival, allowing visitors to stay in South Africa for up to three months. You should also ensure that your passport will remain in date for a minimum of six months after your proposed return date.
The average group size is between 6 and 8 volunteers.
This project starts on every Sunday.
Giant Stingray Vs. Mega Shark
Think shark cage diving is scary? It’s just a simple way to find a snack for this bait-braving stingray!
Ever fancied facing the fangs of a fearsome Great White for your food? Well that’s exactly what this ray-ving mad stingray did recently on our Great White Shark and Whale Conservation programme – and that’s without even being in a cage!
Rising up from the deep like a rippling blanket, the ray (believed to be dasyatis brevicaudata, or the Short Tailed Stingray) appeared out of the blue near Joubert’s Dam on the 6th Jan 2012 about halfway through the day’s trip; brazenly nibbling at the bait while a Great White Shark circled mere meters away!
An amazingly rare sighting, this was a complete first for the dive boat team aboard the Slashfin, making them throw over 7000 dives’ worth of marine rules overboard, and leaving them more stunned than if they’d been stung by the ray itself (and as you’ll hear in the video; frankly making them go a bit mental). Even guests on the trip were aware this was no ordinary day at sea, with one guest stating "I am speechless: that was beyond description and nothing short of phenomenal!”
Doing the worst impression of Jaws seen in recent years, the shark (though to be fair, at about two meters it was more goldfish sized than Great White) seemed to double take the ray before backing down and waiting for its turn, as the ray showed it who’s boss and calmly blocked out the shark’s sunlight like some supreme fishy eclipse. Marine biologists believe that the only reason the 1.5 meter stingray survived unscathed was because of its frankly obscene size (and its badass attitude to bait). You have to feel sorry for the shark though. It must have been pretty surprised to see the stingray there as they’re usually benthic, meaning they live and feed on the ocean floor. Maybe if some of the five other sharks seen that day had been there, things would have gone another way!
An unbelievably rare and special sighting, this is one tall fisherman’s tale you can believe, as even though both the shark and the ray got away, the whole event was caught and filmed; take a look if you don’t believe it! (Ahhh video… where were you when people were spotting mermaids eh? Maybe next time!)
November 5th, 2011
Shark diving in itself is a brilliant experience. After rolling around the boat trying to drag your wetsuit on, you don some weights and goggles before carefully stepping down into the cage. The crew then should say ‘DOWN LEFT’ or ‘DOWN RIGHT’, you take a huge gulp of air and duck below to see a great white shark a foot away from your face. Your instant reaction is to pull your hands back and push yourself to the back of the cage. But after a while you are clinging onto the bar eager to see the sea’s largest predator slide past you. At one point the chum was dragged right in front of me and I was literally staring into the shark’s mouth before it grabbed the food and swerved to the right of me. I tried to scream, choked on water and rapidly rose up for air. I’ve never been so happy to choke on chum-filled sea water because that will be a memory that I’ll carry with me forever.
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This project starts on every Sunday.