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Category: Volunteering, gap year and career break in South Africa

Sharks, Whales, Penguins, Seals, Dolphins... this is an extraordinary voluntary project in a beautiful location, white beaches and blue ocean. Two hours from Cape Town.

Work with sharks, whales, penguins, tourism, research and community development. You’ll be taught, guided and lectured by very skilled field teams.

Go on whale watching trips both magical and rewarding. See penguins dancing on the sand.  Laugh at the antics of hundreds of seals Dyer Island. And there's the Great White Shark, the greatest predator of the oceans.


PRICES Please see the Prices Page - prices for all projects and all lengths are listed and you can also choose which currency you'd like to see them in.
Start Dates All year round. Start dates every Monday, but you need to arrive in Cape Town on the Sunday before.
Duration From 1 week to 12 weeks or longer (Subject to visa requirements)
Requirements No qualifications or experience required, just lots of enthusiasm. Minimum age 17.
What's included
  • Arranging your Programme
  • Full pre-departure support and assistance
  • Payment Protection Insurance
  • Accommodation
  • Daily transport to and from your project
  • Local in-country team support and backup
  • 24-hr emergency support.
What's not included
  • Flights
  • Travel Insurance
  • Cost of Visas (if a visa is required)
  • Airport pickup and return, and first night's accommodation at a hostel in Cape Town prior to being picked up and taken to your project in Gansbaai (but we can arrange this for you)
  • Food
Who can do this Project? All projects are open to all nationalities.

"Look into the mouth of this ocean predator ... it's as big as a delivery van!
Great White Shark cage diving is incredible!"




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The project is designed to give you the opportunity to work with sharks, whales, penguins, tourism, research and community development. There is a huge variety of work that you will be doing and this will largely depend on what work is being done at the time you are there.

You may be fortunate enough to spot the ‘Marine Big 5’:
• Shark – The Great White
• Whale – Southern Right, Humpback and Brydes’
• Penguin – African
• Seal – Cape Fur
• Dolphin – Bottlenose, Common and Humpback

You will be able to go out to sea a minimum of once 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 much more, and we do our best to accommodate you as often as possible.

When at sea it will not be feasible for you to dive in the cage every trip, or you may not even want to – lots of people choose to observe the sharks from the deck instead. If you do wish to dive that day please inform the Marine Biologist or Skipper, and we will do our best to accommodate you.

Your day will start off with prepping the boats and the tourists for their trip. Much time will be spent with the tourists educating them about the sharks, assisting the tourists, as well as observing sharks, possibly taking part in cage dives, if time allows and maybe helping out on the daily research projects on the vessel, by assisting with data recording. After the trip you will help wash down the boat and equipment before attending a presentation or conservation activity (1 -2 times for week ) or having much-welcomed relaxation time.

During the summer time (November, December, January and February), the project is very involved in Tourist trips and dives (these fund research and community development projects) and thus they have very little time for the research and development side of their work during this period.

Activities on "No-Sea" Days:
On your no-sea days (when weather is unsuitable for boat departures) you will be involved with activities arranged under the auspices of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust. Examples of these are:

Beach Clean-ups and Fishing Line Bin Project:
This project supports recycling and is aimed at involving local schools and the community in beach clean-ups, marine education and placing unique 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 in doing beach clean-ups. Data from these exercises is collected for our project on marine pollution. You may also make up our unique fishing line bins or help clean the fishing line for recycling. Being involved in removing fishing line and other litter off our beaches you are quite possibly helping save birds, seals, sharks, dolphins and even terrestrial animals from injury and an agonising death due to entanglement.

Wood Project:
This project supports clearing of alien vegetation and providing firewood for heating and cooking purposes to the local poorer community. We noticed very young children walking along a dark road at night carrying firewood that they had collected themselves, so we hope that that providing wood in this way will help to keep the children at home and off the streets in the evenings. You will help to load wood onto a trailer, travel with us when we go to deliver it and unload it alongside these children. You will see many a happy smile as a result of this activity!

African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary Project:
This project 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 seabirds in distress, with a particular emphasis on conserving the African Penguin, which is endangered 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 back into the wild.

You may be involved in cleaning their pens, assisting with preparing medicated fish and telling visitors about what we do. If you will be staying a minimum of 5 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.

Shark Egg Case Monitoring Project:
This project is part of a larger project that monitors the types (species), quantity and seasonality of shark egss (or mermaids’ purses) that are washed out along our shore. You will help to hunt for these empty eggs amongst the kelp, collect, identify and measure them.

African Penguin Nest Project:
Penguin habitat has been largely destroyed by man removing much of the guano that they produce and subsequently burrow and nest in. We have designed an artificial penguin nest that people can sponsor and if you stay for 4 weeks or more, you automatically sponsor one!

Skills Learned From the Project:
Depending on your previous experience, you are likely to learn many new skills, from running a boat and keeping it in a good working order, to identifying the sharks and other marine life and learning their behaviour. Sometimes researchers use the boat trips to collect data, so speaking to them will teach you a lot as well.

Wake up at and get ready any time between 6:30 – 8:00. After breakfast, assuming that the boat trip will take place that day (because the trips are subject to weather conditions, the day will start with making your way to the ‘Great White House’ where, once the tourists have had their briefing, you will help to dress them in their jackets and life vests or go and prepare the boat for the trip.

You'll walk the tourists down to the boat. Once the boat leaves the harbour you’ll spend between 3 and 6 hours out at sea. The Shark Boat will go out once or twice a day depending on numbers and time of year and the Whale Boat normally goes out four times a day (for a duration of roughly 2 hours for each trip).

You'll participate in data collection. Once a shark is spotted, you will need to record as much information as you can about it, including data such as size, sex, any scars or other identifying marks, the length of time it remains around the boat, behaviour, and if it is a re-sight, etc. Michael will inform you about what information you need to collect.

If it is decided that it is a ‘good’ shark, the cage will be lowered into the sea and you will help with preparing the tourists for the cage dives. This will include getting them into their wetsuits. You may not participate in a cage dive on each occasion, but you should have the opportunity on couple of occasions.

Please keep in mind that not every boat trip ends in a cage dive – it will depend on whether there are any sharks around at that time, whether the sea conditions are conducive to lowering a cage, and other similar factors. Just to give you an example, though, a very recent volunteer on a one-month placement went out to sea on 20 occasions, but the cage was only lowered on 9 of those occasions.

At the end of the 5 hours, you will return to the shore and here your work will continue. Once back in shore you might have to wash the boat down and pack all the kit up. The equipment needs to be washed and hung to dry for the next day. If it is busy there might be a second boat trip so all the above is repeated. If not, they have the rest of the day off.

The working week is 6/7 days, it is possible to take weekends off, if you ask.

The work you do will ideally be split between the boats, work on land or in the office. It will largely depend on what is happening at the time of you placement and where the most help is needed.

You'll be given information and the necessary material to help you answer any general questions that the tourists on the boats might ask you and you will be expected to know and provide basic information.

Lectures and Activities:
There will be 1-2 presentations every week. They will be conducted when time permits, with regards to sea conditions, and the number of trips each day. You will probably rotate between the shark boat, the whale boat and work on land, which will vary between maintenance, dressing clients, checking jackets, cleaning the parking lot, placing and manufacturing penguin nests, etc.

During your placement you might have the opportunity to attend some lectures on various aspects of shark and marine conservation. The number of lectures will vary at different times of the year.

Wherever possible, a weekly lecture and activity will try to be organised for you. However, due to the workload at the time of the year and other external factors, this may not always take place.

For the Sharks:
Best sightings are May to September.

The chances of seeing sharks are 90% or more. During winter stormy weather is a fact of life, and this can prevent us from going out to sea.

December to March is considered the “low” season for sharks. Sightings can vary daily from very good to below average. With wildlife there are no guarantees – you just never know.

For the Whales:
They run from July – December. This is quite possibly the only place in the world where one can see a mighty whale and a great white shark on the same boat trip.

You will be involved with boat-based whale watching. Southern right whales are almost guaranteed July to December. All trips are weather dependent.

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Research Centre
The Research Centre




Your accommodation will be in a comfortable house in Kleinbaai. You'll stay in a shared dorm room and you have the use of a bathroom, a kitchen, lounge area, and courtyard braai area.

The house is situated within a short 10 mins walking distance from the ‘The Great White House’, which is the project office and meeting point for tourists. There is a shop and cafe as well.

Internet is available for you to use at the MD office at the Great White House. There are also two internet cafes in the town.

Food is not provided on this project. However, the local supermarket stocks a variety of food and there are kitchen facilities in the house for cooking.

You'll need to take additional funds with you to cover the cost of meals.  At the time of writing this, a very loose guide of how much you’re likely to need is R1,000 per month (roughly £88, eating sensibly and cheaply) to R1,500 (roughly £132, on which you should be eating fairly well). (These exchange figures correct at time of writing.)

There is an outside courtyard where you can have a typical South African barbeque known there as a ‘braai’. Make sure you try the local spicy sausage known as ‘boerewors’. Also, the Karoo lamb chops are to die for on a ‘braai’, but if fish is more to your taste then a fish ‘braai’ with South African ‘snoek’ is a must.

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The best advice you'll get from us is to try to see some of the country while you're in South Africa. It's big (huge!) and each different region is exciting and very, very beautiful.Cape Town is probably the most beautiful city in the world (I can say that, I grew up there :-)  KwaZulu-Natal comes a very close second, albeit very different. Knysna is where South Africans go on holiday, which gives you some idea of how lovely the region is. When you lie on the beach and watch dolphins jumping the waves, you'll think you're in Paradise.

The program runs out of Gaansbaai, South Africa. Fieldwork will take place around Dyer Island and possibly other shark locations. Dyer Island (known as Shark Alley!) is possibly the best place in the world to see Great Whites. Gaansbaai is a seaside village, which depends on fishing and tourism for its survival. It is situated approximately two hours south east of Cape Town.

On one of the main research sites, Dyer Island, many other wildlife species can be viewed from the boat. It is the breeding ground for Jackass Penguins, Cape Cormorants and Gannets, whilst Geyser Rock opposite, is a breeding mecca for Cape Fur Seals and currently home to approximately 20 000 seals. In season Whales and an occasional Dolphin can be spotted. This is a perfect habitat for the Great White.

The sharks have been awesome. The largest one I've seen so far was a 3.5m shark nicknamed "Slashfin" because her dorsal fin is cut. She looks a lot bigger up close, I can tell you! Got to see a "predation" as well - a shark take out a seal. Was all over in a matter of minutes, just a pool of blood on the surface to tell the tale. Also saw a Southern Right whale out on the water which was pretty cool. Andrew Burge

One of the exciting aspects of this project is that you may be fortunate enough to spot all the ‘Marine Big 5’ :

  • Shark – The Great White
  • Whale – Southern Right, Humpback and Brydes’
  • Penguin – African
  • Seal – Cape Fur
  • Dolphin – Bottlenose, Common and Humpback

Adrenaline Activities -
Enjoy exciting and “real” adventures with an adrenaline twist!

  • Abseiling
  • Sandboarding
  • Deep-sea Angling
  • ‘Kloofing’ (insanely jumping off very high cliffs into pools of water!)
  • Paragliding
  • Helicopter flips
  • Bungee jumping (just up the coast)
  •  …..and a LOT, LOT more!!!!

      Township Tours - A visit to one of the many townships surrounding the city is an experience that will open your eyes to the way in which the biggest portion of Cape Town's population are living. Take a township tour of Langa, the oldest township in South Africa or Khayelitsha, the second largest township in South Africa. Township tours will usually be co-led by a resident in the area, showcase local industry and community projects and include a visit to a township bar or 'shebeen'.

       Two Oceans Aquarium - Located in the V&A Waterfront, the Two Oceans Aquarium has lots of display tanks, interactive experiences, a touch pool and the highly popular predators tank.

      Cape Winelands - Wine lover or not, a visit to the Cape Winelands is an absolute must as the region is one of breathtaking beauty and majestic mountain backdrops. Rolling vineyards and quaint Cape Dutch homesteads ... as well as some of the country's best wines.

     Relaxing drives: Drives are a very popular leisure activity in South Africa, because the roads are generally wide, in good condition, relatively empty and a pleasure to drive on. People often go for drives on a Sunday afternoon to a favourite hotel or restaurant for afternoon tea and scones, or to the top of a pass just to look at the view, or to a national park to watch the baboons - there's always a good reason to go for a drive!

Cape Town has lots of cafes and restaurants with outdoors seating areas overlooking the street or on the pavements, with colourful sun umbrellas - a perfect place to sit with the sun on your face, watching passers-by ambling along, sipping a steamy cappucino or staving off the heat with a cold drink.

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