White Shark Diving Volunteer Program
If you are reading this, then it probably means that you are ready to embark on an adventure of a lifetime.
An adventure which will nudge you out of your comfort zone a little and maybe even change your perspective on the world around you. It also probably means that you are searching for the ultimate experience in travel; authentic, local experiences and a deep personal connection with local people.
Combine the above with a passion for the ocean, a fascination with Great White Sharks, an urge to give something back and you end up with The White Shark Projects’ Volunteer Programme.
Not only will you have multiple Bucket-List experiences and memories to last you a lifetime, but you will also be able to make a difference and ultimately inspire others to become…
The Apex Predator:
Great White Sharks are enigmatic and powerful, perfect specimens of evolutionary success. The mere image of these animals summons up in us, the most primal and intense emotions. In South Africa, we are blessed to have Great White Sharks close to our shores, which allows us to observe them and to safely introduce them to our clients, and change perspectives, one client at a time. Joining our volunteer programme gives you the once in a lifetime opportunity to work face to face with these amazing Apex predators.
White Shark Projects was established in 1989, purely as a research and conservation entity; out of this the commercial arm was born in 1992. Today the commercial arm is funding various research and conservation projects.
We are also the financial partner of the non-profit South African Shark Conservancy. White Shark Projects complies with strict regulations laid down by Marine Coastal Management and local governing authorities.
White Shark Projects is based in 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 min boat trip offshore
This is the location during the Winter season (usually April till August).
Dyer Island (larger island) is a breeding ground for African Penguins, Cape Cormorants, Gannets and many other species of pelagic seabirds.
Geyser Rock (the smaller island) on the other side of Shark Alley from Dyer Island, is a breeding ground for approximately 60,000 Cape Fur Seals. The bay is a magnet for Great White Sharks due to this seal colony, and is a wonderful area for cage diving, as the reefs, islands and huge kelp beds all provide protection from the open sea swell and wind. Please note that the cage diving location is subject to change depending on the weather conditions and the location of the sharks.
The area where we work is home to the Marine Big 5:
- Great White Sharks
- Southern Right Whales
- African Penguins
- Cape Fur Seals
- Common Dolphins
So while we are out at sea, you are actually on an Ocean Safari. There may be an opportunity to catch a glimpse of a pod of Common Dolphins as they race past the boat in hot pursuit of their prey. Or you may be treated to a close-up visit from a curious Southern Right Whale – they visit our shores from May to November.
Shark diving expeditions are more than just thrill-seeking adventures; they are educational and life-changing experiences.
Please note that your duties may change from day to day and you will always be working with a qualified White Shark Projects crew member. Below is a list of some of the daily duties expected of you:
Preparation of the boat is vital and needs to be done before each trip. Boat preparation includes organisation of wetsuits and booties, loading of ‘chum’, bait, lifejackets, along with towels, blankets, food and refreshment for the clients and ensuring the boat is clean and presentable for the clients.
Once the boat is ready, volunteers help the clients to put on the Lifejackets and walk them down to the harbour.
Once on the boat, volunteers will help with the following boat duties:
- Putting the cage into the water and tying it in the correct position to the boat.
- Removing the cage from the water and securing it on-board after the final trip of the day.
- Helping to drop and pull anchor.
- Aiding clients with the correct size wetsuit and booties
- Helping with the Dive Master role, which involves giving the clients a mask and wetsuit, carefully explaining how to act in the cage, as well as letting them know when a shark is around and when to go ‘down’
- Taking care of seasick clients – there is not much you can do, except offer some water, a lollipop or tissues, BUT, a little bit of empathy goes a long way when you are feeling seasick, and your morale support will make these clients feel better.
- Taking data on the sharks observed around the boat. This data includes: size, sex of the shark, scar patterns observed on the shark and behaviour traits seen whilst around the boat.
- Taking photos to help with data and also for your memories!
- Educating clients on sharks and the local ecosystem – don’t worry, you will learn this all from lectures provided by the marine biologist. Clients are here to learn more about these amazing animals – so tell them about it, share your passion with them – inspire them.
- Restocking and cleaning of the boat in-between trips
- Cleaning of the boat after the final trip of the day.
- Washing of wetsuits and booties
On the days where we are not able to go to sea due to weather or sea conditions, alternative activities or excursions may be arranged.
On no-sea days, volunteers will alternate between staying around the local area, receiving a lecture and watching an appropriate documentary linked to the lecture or data entering. Or going on a local excursion to see some of what the Western Cape has to offer.
Local activities include:
- Rock pool walks where we will take photos and identify the different species found in and around the rock pools.
- Coastal walks to Danger Point lighthouse or Franskraal beach where we can collect shark egg cases. Coastal clean-ups are also part of what we do.
- De Kelders Drip cave which has stalagmites, stalactites, and the only fresh water cave pool in the area. Journey back in time and explore this wonder of time and nature.
- Snorkelling in the Kelp Forest at De Kelders is a peaceful and stunning way to spend your day. Enjoying the beautiful scenery of this unique ecosystem and maybe meeting a harmless shy sharks (species of cat sharks found in and around the kelp) along the way.
- Visits to BARC, which is a local dog shelter. We walk the dogs and spend some quality time with them, giving (and receiving) much needed love and affection.
- Quad biking through the indigenous forest and up the mountain, which offers the most amazing views over Walker Bay.
- Horse Riding can be enjoyed too, either mountain trails or a splendid ride along the pristine white beach, which stretches for miles…
Other optional activities include:
- Cape Agulhas, the most southerly point of Africa, where the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Ocean officially meet. Here there is also the opportunity, if lucky, of feeding stingrays down at Struisbaai harbour.
- Wine tasting in Hermanus: Hermanus has its own wine route of boutique wineries in the aptly named, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, which directly translates to “Heaven-and-Earth” Valley.
- Beer tasting at some of the local breweries. Craft beer breweries offers you a variety of ale our stout to taste.
- A visit to the Mother City of Cape Town, where a Smorgasbord of activities awaits you! Some of which include hiking Table Mountain/ Lions Head, visiting the Aquarium and V&A Waterfront, Go-Karting, diving with seals, and much more.
- One of our sister towns, Bettys Bay, is home to a colony of African Penguins and the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens there.
- If there are multiple no sea days in a row, volunteers can be taken along the Garden Route to the Garden Route Game Lodge where we will spend the night and do a game drive.
- PADI Dive Courses are also available from our onsite PADI dive instructor. You can either learn to scuba dive or further your dive knowledge. Enjoy the underwater world the area has to offer and earn a certification for life…
What do I need to be a White Shark Projects Volunteer?
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.
This program is aimed at creating awareness of the Great White Shark and promoting its conservation and protection. Our programme is open to any dedicated, hard-working individual, who does not mind getting their hands dirty. If you have a passion and love for the Great White Shark and the Ocean, and you have a sense of adventure with a streak of fun, then you are what we are looking for!
Please note that you do NOT have to be a qualified diver to join our volunteer programme, all diving in the cage is done by means of a simple breath-hold method. And no prior sea-experience is required either.
We do our best to involve volunteers in all the different aspects of the project and will teach you everything you need to know about sharks.
Where do we do our Field Work and what do we do?
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. The expeditions encompass getting up very early, working with great white sharks during long days at sea. The programme provides volunteers with hands-on, practical experience in working with Great White Sharks
What do I need to bring?
Volunteer work on Shark Team can get quite smelly, so leave your Gucci’s at home and pack some
old jeans; tops; 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, but if you want to, you may bring your own towel or buy one when you arrive. Comfortable, non-slip shoes is an absolute must. Investing in a pair of Polaroid sunglasses might be an added bonus. Please see the kit list for a more detailed list
Do we have weekends off?
No, but yes... The weather along the Western Cape of South Africa is fickle and the sea does not allow field work every day. Nevertheless, Kleinbaai is comparatively sheltered, allowing us to go out to sea quite often. You will have days off, whenever the weather and sea conditions do not allow for field work. 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 having to balance yourself, baking in the hot sun and being blown by the winds, eventually takes its toll on your body and you will need to rest!
If you wish to have a day off or take some time off if you are with us for a long stay, you just need to co-ordinate with your supervisor at the project.
Bear in mind that Kleinbaai is renowned for its sharks – NOT its night life!
Volunteers will be taught how to collect data in the field on free-roaming white sharks. At sea, you’ll be focused on working with the sharks from above and below the water, observing behaviour and the interactions of sharks around the boat.
You will be educated in an informal environment, learning about the behaviour of the great whites, their biology and the urgent need for research.
As a volunteer, you will be taught basic seaman skills, such as how to crew and assist on the boat when out at sea. Tasks include chumming, wet-suit and cage diving preparation, client well-being, cage and anchor set up.
You will receive frequent lectures, which will be presented by our Marine Biologists and other White Shark Projects crew. Lectures based on basic White Shark biology, White Shark behaviours, shark bite incidents (shark attacks), research and conservation, whales, seals and data capturing, will teach you all you need to know whilst volunteering with us.
You will also visit SASC (South African Shark Conservancy), the SASC shark lab is based in Hermanus, a 40-minute drive from your temporary home in Kleinbaai.
Volunteers stay in a cosy brick house situated a few hundred meters from the harbour, which bustles with action and boats as people head out to sea. The volunteer house is comfortable with dorm-styled rooms, a nice open plan kitchen dining area, a lounge with digital satellite television, a DVD player, board games, and an outside braai area for those hot evenings. There is a basic supermarket nearby where volunteers usually buy provisions and prepare meals together. The house is located in a very safe and beautiful area, where you can go for lovely walks or jogs. You will be taken into the town of Gansbaai on allocated shopping days. Couples, friends or families volunteering together, who wish private accommodation may reserve a double room for an additional cost per month.
- The programme starts on the 1st, and the 15th of every month. Please bear in mind that the sooner you apply, the better your chances are of securing your placement.
- Upon arrival, you will receive a full induction into the programme and meet the rest of the team. Please arrive the day before in Cape Town (30/31st or 14th) as
- we will collect you early on the 1st/15th to begin your programme with us. Trips out to sea on our commercial shark vessel, Shark Team, is completely weather dependent. We aim for a minimum of 15 trips out to sea, if you are on our 4 week programme.
- One of these trips will be a volunteer exclusive trip – just yourselves and the crew out on the boat.
- Upon completion of the programme, volunteers receive a certificate of accomplishment and a set of DVD’s, encapsulating your memories
- Community Projects & Awareness Campaigns:
- Even though sharks are our first love, we are passionate about the environment as a whole. White Shark Projects has a firm belief in Conservation through Education
The White Shark Projects Recycle Swop Shop:
In 2007, White Shark Projects initiated a recycling drive in the Masekhane Township of Gansbaai. Every Tuesday, children come to the RSS with all the recyclable litter they’ve collected. They are allocated a certain amount of points, depending on what kind and the quantity of the recyclables they’ve handed in. These points can then be “spent” in the Recycle Swop Shop. The shop is stocked with school stationery and supplies, second hand clothing, basic needs goods such as soap
toilette paper and blankets, and a little bit of fun stuff too, like bling for their hair and small toys.
Volunteers help out at the Swop Shop on Tuesday afternoons after the sea trips. Volunteers help by handing out soup to the children, helping them make their selections, help with the collection of the recyclables and generally interacting with the children as they await their turn. 9 years later, the Recycle Swop Shop is growing stronger and more popular year on year. Last year, an astonishing 14
940 kg of recyclables were collected by 6054 kids. That is nearly 15 tonnes of plastic which inevitably, would have blown into the ocean, where the damage it causes to marine life is immeasurable. So with this simple, yet effective community project, White Shark Projects proves that waste is everybody’s responsibility and that every single one of us, regardless of our age or socio-economic status, has the ability to make an ecological difference.
THE 21 DAYS FOR THE OCEAN:
The 21 Days for the Ocean was conceptualized from the idea that it takes 21 days to break a bad habit; and so for 21 consecutive days we show the Overstrand community how some of their daily activities negatively impact on the ocean, but we also educate them on easy and effective ways to change these habits of convenience we have formed. Volunteers’ input is sorely needed, especially with creating fresh and fun ideas on how we can educate communities on how to protect the ocean. Volunteers can join the crew on the school visits to deliver the ecological messages or any of the other interactive activities which we have planned during the 21 Days’ Campaign.