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

Work with the only licensed and permitted close encounter whale-watching organisation in Knysna. As part of the Whale Watching Permit, the company is obligated to collect research material, including daily sightings of the various species of whales and dolphins, recurring visits and the migratory habits of the various whales and dolphins in the area.

This Marine Research programme will expose you to all aspects of this exciting industry, from conservation and research to all other aspects of the day-to-day running, including marketing, liaising with clients, crewing and guiding on the boats, doing land to sea whale spotting, assisting with community projects and educating the local children about the sea and lagoon.


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 - you choose your start and finish dates! Not available between 10th December and 10th January.
As availability on this project is very limited, we strongly advise that you book early.

Duration From 1 week to 12 weeks or longer, subject to visa requirements
Requirements You'll need to be hard working, have a love of marine life, boating, being outdoors and at sea. You don't need prior knowledge or experience, although this would be advantageous, as would experience at sea or on eco boat safaris and research.
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 (but we can arrange this for you)
  • Food



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The estuary holiday resort town of Knysna has large groups of Common Dolphin and the occasional Bryde’s Whales found in the deeper waters
of the lagoon. Closer to the shoreline, Humpback and Bottlenose dolphins are often spotted. There are also Humpback and Southern Right Whales (migrating from the months of June all the way to January), Cape Fur seals, sharks seabirds, the occasional Orca and other species.

The organisation provides trips out to sea in their own boats to tourists who want the experience of seeing whales and dolphins close-up in their natural environment. The tours are very weather-dependant. In addition to the eco boat ocean safaris, they also do sunset lagoon cruises.

Much of your role will be involved in monitoring and data collection, but you'll also have the opportunity to assist in and learn about the tourism side of the exciting activities involved in watching dolphins and whales in their natural habitat.

Your Responsibilities will include some or all of the following:

  • On arrival, you'll be trained firstly in the area of boat safety, maintaining equipment and basic skippering.

  • You'll initially job shadow one of the skippers and work in the office to gain a basic understanding of the business and of the marine life that is encountered out to sea.

  • Your duties will includer being a spotter, hich would entail sitting on one of the Knysna Headlands and using binoculars and then directing the skippers.

  • The boats need to be cleaned, covered, fuelled and life jackets got ready and you'll also assist guests with boarding and checking onto the boat and safety procedures.

  • You'll occasionally go on one of the 3 daily trips with the skipper and sometimes-another crewmember.

  • Daily observations need to be made of the marine life encountered and the records are sent to DAFF. For this, you'll need to photograph dorsal fins for identification, observe behavior and photograph and plot GPS coordinates. Occasionally research trips are also done with post grad students from local universities who will capture the data and study it themselves.

  • Other marine animals and life found along the trips also need to be monitored. All this data will then need to be captured onto spreadsheets and photographic software.

  • You'll also help with daily updates of records, blogs and social media. These are done from the main office, which is found where the whale watching boats are docked.

You'll start the day at 9.00 am and finish at 16.00 with an hour break for lunch. Work takes place 5 days a week spread over the 6 days of Monday to Saturday, with no work on Sundays.


The company has embraced the opportunity to do marine research and make a positive difference to the marine ecology of this area. To this end the following initiatives have been taken:

  • Accurate logs are kept of all trips and sightings

  • The exact GPS position of each sighting is recorded electronically and manually, and where possible to photograph and plot these on relevant software.

  • Assisting or despatching assistance to any animal in distress.

  • All collected data is shared with relevant conservation and government bodies as stipulated by the Marine Living Resources Act of 1998

  • Educational material is compiled by the company and shared with the community via talks, visual material and newspaper articles.

  • To grow a unique tourism attraction which is socially and environmentally responsible, has a low impact on the lagoon and marine environment;

  • Creates awareness in the community of the need to conserve and protect the estuary, wetland areas and the marine eco system surrounding Knysna.

  • The owners of the company are also committed to providing employment and training to previously disadvantaged community members.

The whale-monitoring placement is approximately 1 kilometre away from the Knysna main town and it is a beautiful walk along the side of the lagoon.





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The volunteer house in Knysna is within walking distance of the town, yet set against a natural green belt. The bird life is prolific and often the local Vervet monkey troop comes to visit to entertain the volunteers with their antics. The sunset views from the top balcony of the volunteer house of the Knysna lagoon are beautiful and great way to relax after a day working at your placement or to catch up on your tan in the summer. See photo on right-hand side.

The house is large and spacious and also has a self-contained flat  downstairs for couples and families. The bedding in the two same sex dorms and the towels in their ensuite bathrooms are changed regularly every Friday by our much loved cleaner, Pretty, and there is plenty of cupboard space to store your clothing.

Facilities include a kitchen kitted out for cooking, dining area, a few bathrooms, TV, DVD player, free Wi-Fi, garden and several wooden verandahs.

There is an outside courtyard and garden in the secure grounds 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’ and 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.

Food is not included in this project, so you will need to budget for that. The kitchen has all the cooking amenities that you might need to take advantage of preparing meals with some of the great seafood, meat, fresh fruit and vegetables South Africa has to offer.

There are supermarkets and local shops where you'll do your food shopping.

There are plenty of excellent restaurants within walking distance that offer the most incredible local and international cuisine which our volunteers rave about. Knysna is also famous for its oysters and even has an annual Oyster Festival where everyone eats and drinks far too much!

The waterfront and marina is beautiful and full of restaurants and cafes with cuisine that ranges from breakfast, coffees, cakes and snacks, through to sumptuous meals and various different nationality menus.

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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.

 is approximately 500km from the beautiful capital city of Cape Town  and voted South Africa’s favourite town 4 years in a row! Its mountainous backdrop, impressively sized estuary and indigenous forests really give the town a natural feel to it. Although it still has that ‘small-town’ feel, Knysna is growing rapidly, and has all the amenities you could ask for such as banks, hotels, internet café’s, cinemas and shopping malls.

About 20-30 minutes' drive away from Knysna you'll find Plettenberg Bay (better known simply as Plett), which is a bit smaller than Knysna, but equally stunning.  Its' pure white beaches stretch as far as the eye can see and there is a lot to do, from whale and dolphin watching, to hiking trails and awesome nightlife.

The Garden Route is famous for all sorts of activities from adrenalin sports such as bungee jumping, skydiving and shark cage diving to more relaxed pursuits such as hiking, quad biking in the forest or visiting one of the many animal sanctuaries in the area. Your local Travellers liaison will be happy to assist you in finding interesting things to do and places to see so make the most of it!

Knysna nestles on the banks of a beautiful lagoon in the heart of the ‘Garden Route’ of South Africa. It is surrounded by a natural paradise of lush indigenous forests, tranquil lakes and golden beaches, making it a real natural wonderland.

Knysna is a vibrant town, buzzing with creativity and energy,and the pulse of good music. It's a place where the you can enjoy the mellow atmosphere of street cafes, watching the world go by. The main street is very leafy with trees along the pavements and it has a wonderful holiday atmosphere with sun umbrellas everywhere.

Most cafes have 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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