White Shark Projects – Volunteer Information
South Africa has long been known for its abundance of Great White Sharks, making it a prime area to observe these magnificent creatures. The Great White Shark, which can grow up to seven meters (23 feet) in length and 4 tons in weight, is now a protected species in South Africa. Owing to massive negative media publicity over the years, sharks have become one of the most maligned, misunderstood, even hated species on our fragile planet. They have been pursued, hunted and indiscriminately slaughtered, to the point where many species are endangered. Unsustainable fishing practices, dorsal fin poaching and environmental degradation compounded by a relatively slow Great White breeding cycle are all factors contributing to the potential demise of this amazing creature.
The Great White Shark Project is dedicated to the exploration and conservation of the world‟s greatest predator, the Great White Shark, and its environment. The project works with students, eco-tourists, conservation organizations and marine resource users (subsistence fishermen, sport divers and dive operators) to gather data on Great White Sharks, correct negative misconceptions about sharks, and stop the needless slaughter of over 100 million sharks annually. Current programs involve eco-tourism, public education, environmental advocacy as well as various social up- liftment programmes. White Shark Projects is a world leading organisation focusing on the Great White Shark. Founded in 1989 purely as a research centre, since 1989 it has grown and broadened its services to include a commercial diving and viewing centre and a separate educational department. White Shark Projects has taken the lead to establish shark tourism as an educational experience. "Everything we do we aim to do in harmony with nature and the environment we are working in.”
The Great White Shark Project runs out of Kleinbaai, which is just outside of Gansbaai, South Africa – a seaside village located approximately two hours southeast of Cape Town on the Atlantic Ocean coast. The shark trips primarily take place off Dyer and Geyser Islands, about 6 nautical miles (11 km) or a 20 minute boat trip offshore. The boats anchor in the 6 meter deep channel (“Shark Alley”) between Dyer and Geyser Islands. Dyer Island (larger island) is a breeding ground of Jackass Penguins, Cape Cormorants and Gannets, while Geyser Rock (smaller island) is a breeding ground for approximately 60,000 Cape Fur Seals. Shark Alley is a magnet for Great White Sharks due to this breeding colony of seals, their favorite prey, and is a wonderful area for cage diving as there are reefs, islands and huge kelp beds which all provide protection from the open sea swell and wind. In the summer months they work off-shore closer to Joubert‟s Dam. Please note that the cage diving location is subject to change depending on the weather conditions and location of the sharks.
Finding the Great White Shark is a skill, involving years of practice - the water temperature, depth, visibility, swell height, current and wind direction are all major factors. Great White Sharks are surface feeders, so volunteers will be spellbound when seeing the Great White lifts its head right out of the water to take the bait, and sometimes breach completely. Divers will get to experience Great Whites from the safety of cages, while non-divers have a great opportunity to view the sharks from the safety of the boat, where exhilarating photographs and video footage may be captured at close range. In Shark Alley, you will likely also see seals, penguins and the occasional dolphins frolicking near the islands, as well as magnificent southern right whales coming up from Antarctica to breed from May to November. These expeditions are more than just thrill-seeking adventures, they are educational experiences.
The volunteer programme is primarily focused on the project's cage diving eco-tourism and volunteers will enjoy regular trips to sea to view / cage dive with the Great Whites.
The Great White Shark Project does its best to involve volunteers in all aspects of the project, including tasks such as preparing baits, packing the boat, washing the equipment, working with the eco-tourists, recording data on the sharks and even getting their hands dirty on chum! The expeditions encompass getting up early, working with great white sharks during long days at sea, and then relaxing with the crew or other volunteers at night! One of your main duties will be educating our clients about great white sharks and the need for their conservation.
The programme provides volunteers with hands-on, practical experience in working with Great White Sharks:
Cage Diving with Great White Sharks: Once anchored in the channel, the project makes use of a specially designed, secure, five man steel cage, which floats on the surface, with divers no more than 1m below the surface. Volunteers will be taught how to get in and out of the cage and how to remain secure and safe in the cage. Cage divers are responsible for recording observations on the Great Whites, including sex, size, markings and behavior. Diving takes place on a rotational basis on good diving days. The duration of each dive depends on the diver, the number of eco-tourists and the activity of the sharks, but could be up to 20 minutes per dive.
White Shark Field Research Data Collection: Volunteers will be taught how to collect data in the field on free-swimming white sharks. At sea, you'll be focused on working with the sharks from above and below the water, observing behavior and the interactions of sharks around the boat. You will be educated in an informal environment, learning about the behavior of the great whites, their history and the urgent need for research. You will also receive lectures on their biology, shark attack, current and past research techniques and conservation of great white sharks.
Basic Seamanship: Volunteers will also be taught basic seaman skills including boat handling on board Shark Team in a practical environment. This includes general boat maintenance, packing and cleaning, anchor positioning (deployment and retrieval), cage deployment (attachment and retrieval), knots, general safety and good safe crewing practices. On non-sea days you will be taken on various excursions, such as wine tasting, a visit to the penguins or to the most Southern point of Africa. Upon completion of the program, the project provides volunteers with a certificate of accomplishment. The program is designed to train and educate volunteers to a level of competence of a field assistant.
Viewing the Great White Shark is a serious activity which should only be done with the right people, equipment and approach. The Great White Shark Project is one of the top shark organizations in the world and has the most experienced shark team in Africa. They have worked on and featured in over 30 white shark documentaries, including BBC, Discovery Channel and National Geographic; written articles for African Indigo, Outdoor Adventure, Dive Style, Peak Performances, Surf Magazine and Immersed; and lectured at institutions such as Cambridge University, the Royal Geographic Society, London University and the University of Stockholm. This background and knowledge, combined with an enthusiastic staff and excellent infrastructure, has resulted in an organization that produces high quality and successful Great White Shark expeditions. White Shark Projects is a responsible tourism operation that sets a benchmark in its commitment to community development and upliftment. We are deeply involved in the social, economic and environmental needs of our surrounding communities. We run tourism and environmental education programmes in the Gansbaai schools – fostering pride, a sense of personal responsibility towards the environment, and teaching life skills. Our aim is to empower children in caring for their environment and themselves. If we have any out-reaches during your stay, you will be included in this.
Our latest project is the White Shark Recycle Swop-Shop. The school children collect rubbish and litter from the streets and in their homes. They earn points for these recyclable materials which they 'spend' in the shop on much-needed school stationery or clothes. This project promotes recycling, environmental awareness, and self-reliance, and helps to provide for some of the basic needs of the children. The volunteers and staff involved find it an enriching experience that helps bridge the gap between different cultures and communities. On Tuesdays you will be expected to help at the Swop Shop – if you want to bring a contribution, it will be greatly appreciated.
Volunteers stay in a delightful face brick house situated two minutes from the harbour, which bustles with action and boats as people head out to sea. Overlooking the Indian Ocean, the house is very comfortable with dorm rooms, a nice kitchen, a dining area, a lounge with television and video/board games, and an outside entertainment area for those hot evenings. There is a small supermarket nearby (volunteers usually buy provisions and prepare meals together) and the house is located is a very safe and beautiful area, where you can freely walk around anytime of day or night. Please be aware that Kleinbaai is renowned for its shark – and not its night life! Nights can be a little quiet but having an enthusiastic group of volunteers that work well as a team both on and off sea provides entertainment in itself.
Couples, friends or families volunteering together who wish private accommodation may reserve a double room at an additional cost.
The programme starts every month on the 1st, and the 15th.
Please bear in mind that the sooner you apply, the better your chances of securing your placement!
Volunteers are required to sign an indemnity form acknowledging and accepting the consequences of working in close contact with wildlife. Applicants must be over 18 years old.
Training / Qualifications
Training will be given in different aspects of marine conservation and shark research. Students may be able to obtain university credit for their experience.
F.A.Q. (Frequently Asked Questions)
This program is aimed at assisting in the development of students, training them in the area of biological sciences, creating an awareness on Great Whites to Conservationist, eligibility is thus limited to exceptional naturalists who can show a „real world‟ dedication to research, management or conservation of animals or ecosystems.
For how long?
Our Programme runs traditionally for 21 days, but there is a minimum stay of two weeks and a maximum of four weeks (in exceptional cases this may be negotiable). The preferred date of arrival is the 1st of each month, so that coordination can more easily be arranged.
Where do we do our Field Work?
There are only eight licensed Shark Diving Companies in Gansbaai, and we are fortunate enough to work from Shark Team, a licensed cage diving vessel. It is a tourist boat, so most days we will be out with tourists, but there will be days when you have the vessel to yourselves.
Do I need a VISA?
No. You will not be employed by us, nor paid. Most tourists get a 3-month / 90 day Tourist / Visitor VISA upon entry in South Africa. However, we do recommend that you contact the South African Embassy or Consulate and confirm this fact. Do not leave this enquiry for too late. We recommend that you contact the South African Embassy or Consulate in your country ASAP. If your application period is for a period longer than three months, or if you plan to travel in South Africa prior or after your internship for a period extending 90 days, you will have to apply for a Tourist / Visitor VISA application.
Do I need insurance?
Yes. When you are accepted in this program, you will have to sign liability, copyright documents, as well an agreement that you are knowingly partaking in dangerous activity. You will not be covered for accidents or illnesses, so please do organize your own medical and health insurances. You may apply for a normal travel
insurance policy. Chances that you will be injured by a marine predator are non-existent if you follow the safety guidelines and do not try anything foolish which we would not approve anyway. But you will be working on a boat in conditions which can, at times, be less than comfortable. And accidents on a boat may occur, so it is important to be covered in case of an emergency or accident. Be sure to have an insurance cover for your entire stay in South Africa.
Do I need any specific vaccination or medication before coming to South Africa?
No, we are far from the Malaria, and there are no strange African diseases which you could pick up (that is if you respect the same safety rules as anywhere else in the world).
What do I need to bring?
Some old jeans; tops and shoes/boots to use on the boat, warm clothing; a wind breaker jacket; good waterproof clothing; factor 30+ sun block and a wide brim hat. You don‟t have to bring any bed sheets. Comfortable, non-slipping shoes is an absolute must – you can buy a pair of Wellington‟s locally, or get some Crocs. Investing in some Polaroid sunglasses is also essential.
Do we have weekends off?
No, but yes... The weather along the Western Cape of South Africa is not stable, and the sea does not allow field work every day. Nevertheless Kleinbaai is comparatively sheltered, allowing us to go out at sea very often. You will have days off whenever the weather and sea condition do not allow field work, and no other work on the data or maintenance is needed. Sometimes, we have long periods during which the weather is nice and after 4-5 days at sea, we will then take a couple of days break. Why? Well, being at sea is very tiring, constantly balancing yourself, baking in the hot sun and being blown by the winds, so after a few days at sea, your body will need a rest.
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