The activities you take part in on this project are largely dependent on the weather conditions, so be prepared for an ever-changing itinerary, combining days out at sea and activities in the local area.
Arguably the most exciting part of your time spent volunteering is the opportunity to go cage diving! Using a specially designed cage, you will be submerged no deeper than one metre into the water, taking observations of the great whites and recording information about their size, sex, markings and behaviour. There is a reason cage diving with great white sharks is on so many people’s bucket lists, so get ready to find out why!
During different science lectures and discussions with the resident marine biologist, you will be taught how to collect data on free-swimming great white sharks, focusing on work both above and below the water. Then, when you are out on the boat, you will record data on shark behaviour, recognition and their interactions around the boat. This will then be added to a global database to better understand changing shark numbers and migration patterns.
Part of this project will involve working alongside the shark team to get the boat ready for your trips out to sea with tourists. You will learn about and assist with cage deployment, anchor deployment, packing and cleaning, as well as boat safety and maintenance. You will also be responsible for ensuring all of the equipment is returned, cleaned and stored correctly at the end of the day. Once you’ve learnt all you need to know, you’ll receive a certificate of accomplishment!
Since January 2019, the team have been assisting the Oceanographic Research Institute’s Cooperative Fish Tagging Project (ORI-CFTP), with the aim of ensuring the sustainable use of South Africa’s fish resources. You will assist with this by identifying specific small shark species (pyjama, shy and leopard cat) when snorkelling off the shore, tagging the animals, noting down their measurements and then releasing them. If caught again, the measurements are re-taken and this can help give an idea on growth rate and movement, if they are seasonal for example.
Monitoring of other Species
As well as great white sharks, there are many other marine animals you are likely to encounter when out at sea or just off shore. Two of these are the bronze whaler shark and the short-tail stingray. Currently, the project is conducting research on these two species with the aim of monitoring the populations to see if environmental factors are having an impact on their activity. Therefore, you will be involved in collecting data about these animals whenever you see them including sex, size, markings and behaviour.
Assisting At The Swop-Shop
Once a week, you will assist at the local ‘Swop Shop’, a project which promotes recycling and environmental awareness of the local children. Teach them how to collect and recycle rubbish, exchanging their rubbish for ‘points’ which they can then spend in the local shop on school supplies and clothing. Not only does this instil a sense of responsibility in their young minds, but they’ll also gain a sense of pride in their own achievements.
Once a month volunteers visit the Butterfly Centre, an early learning centre designed to help children who struggle with conditions such as autism. This unique outreach program gives volunteers a chance to engage with the children as they give educational talks on the importance of the ocean, marine wildlife and wildlife conservation. After, there is also the chance to have some fun playing games with the children in the playground.
On the days you are not able to go out to sea due to weather conditions, a number of alternative activities will be arranged. You could enjoy wine tasting in Hermanus, visit the penguins at Betty’s Bay, or take a trip to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of Africa. Please request a copy of the project guide for a full list. While many of these activities will be free of charge or included, certain activities, such as horse riding, do carry an additional cost.
Your time spent on this project and the activities you will take part in are largely dependent on weather conditions, as if it is too rough at sea, you will not be able to go out. Due to this, we recommend joining this project for a minimum of 3 weeks to ensure you can get the most out of your time here.
Day 1 - The Adventure Begins:
Upon arrival into Cape Town Airport, you will be transferred to the Atlantic Point Hostel where you will spend your first night. You will have time to get to know your fellow volunteers, but be sure to rest up as the real adventure starts tomorrow with an early transfer at 4am!
Day 2 - Transfer to Project Site:
A member of the team will meet you in the morning before transferring you to the project site at Kleinbaai, 3km from Gansbaai town. After arriving you will go straight out on the boat to hopefully see your first great white shark! You will then head back to the volunteer house to meet the rest of the volunteers, have dinner and take some time to relax.
Day 3-21 - Project Days:
This project is focussed on shark awareness and eco-tourism, so you will spend your days educating visitors about the need for shark conservation, enjoying cage diving activities and taking part in shark research. On days when you are unable to go out on the boat due to the weather, a whole host of alternative activities will be arranged for you! You will also enjoy an authentic Africa Braii (BBQ) with your group and the project staff once a fortnight.
Day 22 - Final Day:
Today is unfortunately your last day on the project. After breakfast, you will bid farewell to your new friends and the shark team and transfer back to Cape Town for your return flight home, or to commence your independent travel plans. Transfers typically arrive early in the afternoon, so you may find yourself with some time to explore Cape Town.
Dates, Availability & Price
To secure a place on this project a deposit of $245 is required at the time of booking, with the remaining balance due any time up to 60 days prior to your start date.
Select a duration below to see the available start dates. All dates shown are currently available for you to join this project!
Updates & Outcomes
The Great White Shark Project is a world-leading organisation focusing on the great white shark. Founded in 1989 purely as a research centre, it is now a large commercial operation establishing shark ecotourism as an educational experience helping to promote Great White shark conservation. The projects motto is 'misconception, education and preservation'. The projects' aim is to educate as many people as possible in the misconception of this apex predator and in turn help to preserve and conserve the species - as well as countless other species of sharks which are unfairly feared and maligned.
Finding the Great White shark is a skill involving years of practice. Water temperature, depth, visibility, swell height, current, and wind directions are all major factors. Great White sharks are surface feeders, so shark diving volunteers and will be spellbound when seeing the sharks lift their heads right out of the water to investigate an object (known as spy hopping), and if they're really lucky they may even sometimes see a full breach! Volunteering here is a fantastic experience and one which you certainly will not forget in a hurry!
Every year, the staff and volunteers on The Great White Shark Project take part in the '21 Days For The Ocean' event which helps to raise awareness of environmental issues in the local community. On each of the 21 days, a different event takes place to help raise awareness, and these activities may include beach clean ups, tree planting, and giving out water to the runners and cyclists in the local race.
The future goal of the project is to expand the community work into different townships to continue educating the next generation about the importance of marine conservation, and it will do this through talks at schools and involving the youth in activities such as beach clean ups where they can see the first hand impact marine debris has on the environment.
- posted on 11/03/2020
- by Leanne Sturrock
After a period of uncertainty, it's seems that Gansbaai's great white shark populations are returning to the coast of South Africa! Read on to see how many sharks were spotted in 2019 by the team on The Great White Shark Project!
Have you ever wondered what it is like for volunteers on the incredible Great White Shark Project in South Africa? Well, wonder no more as we talk you through a day in the life of a Great White Shark Volunteer! If you've been thinking of volunteering with us on this project, take a read and see if this is the trip for you!
Take a look at our volunteer experience video showcasing what you could be getting up to if you paid a visit to the Great White Shark Project in South Africa!
Is this trip for you?
During your time on this project, you will stay in either one of two volunteer houses located just a few minutes from the harbour. The houses are equipped with a kitchen, a dining area, and a lounge with a television. There is a small supermarket nearby (volunteers usually buy provisions and prepare meals together) and the house is located in a very safe and beautiful area where you can freely walk around during the day.
Each house can accommodate guests on either a 2-per-room or 4-per-room basis. The rooms are shared on a same-sex basis and are dormitory-style. If you are travelling as a couple or as friends, a private double room is available at an additional cost. Please speak to a member of our travel team for more information and to check availability.
Breakfast is included in the price of the project and cereals, bread, yoghurt, milk, tea, coffee and juices are all provided at the volunteer house. When you are out on the boat, you will be provided with a packed lunch consisting of sandwiches, crisps, fruit and a drink. If you have any dietary requirements, do please let us know in advance.
Your other meals (dinner in the evening and any lunches taken off the boat) will be at your own cost, whether it is buying food in the local shops to cook in the volunteer house or visiting local restaurants, so please do budget for this. We recommend budgeting £50 - £100 per week depending on whether you plan on dining out at restaurants or buying food to cook at the volunteer house.
We recommend that you come with a moderate level of fitness, as volunteers are involved with all aspects of work during their time on the project, including bait preparation and cage deployment. No specific skills are required and all we ask is that you come with a strong work ethic and have a love and passion for sharks and the ocean. You will be taught the rest!
The vaccinations required will depend on your medical history. We recommend that you consult with your GP/Doctor regarding your own immunisation needs.
When Is The Best Time To Volunteer?
Since Gansbaai is a hotspot for great white sharks, it is possible to see the animals year-round, no matter what the season. That said, each season does vary in terms of visibility and ‘no-sea’ days; you can read more about this below.
Peak season: April-October
Visibility is at its best during the peak season, averaging between 2-5 metres, as opposed to 1.5-2.5 metres at other times of the year. The feeding pattern of Gansbaai’s sharks is also most active during this season, which can make for fantastic viewing! That said, this is also the winter season, which means that stormy weather may result in fewer days out at sea.
High season: November-December
The high season sees decent visibility, and the weather can be somewhat variable. Volunteers during this season may be lucky enough to go out to sea more often than those who choose to volunteer during the peak season, however, there may be fewer sharks per viewing – though this unpredictability is part of the adventure, and that first glimpse of a shark is made all the more exciting!
Intermediate season: January-March
The weather is at its best during this season, and time spent out at sea can be glorious: clear skies, steady seas, and a low chance of rain make for an enjoyable time on the water. Shark sightings during this time are somewhat variable, but as with all wild encounters, nothing is ever guaranteed.
Finally, it is important to point out that there are numerous other factors that affect shark visibility. For example, the presence of other marine species can impact the number of sharks seen around Gansbaai’s waters, and instances such as an influx of orcas can keep fearful sharks at bay. While this project does focus primarily on sharks, there are some volunteers who are interested in seeing other species during their time in South Africa. In this case, May-November is a brilliant time to volunteer as southern right whales congregate in the area to mate and to calve, making for an unforgettable experience should you be lucky enough to witness them!
You will need to arrive into Cape Town Airport on the start date of your project where you will be met and taken to a backpacker's hostel for the first night. The next morning, you will be transferred to the project location in Kleinbaai, which is approximately a two-hour drive from Cape Town. Transfers to and from Cape Town are included in the project cost, however, if you are not travelling back to Cape Town after the project you will need to arrange and pay for your own transfer.
The return transfer is a group transfer and volunteers are returned to Cape Town on the client bus, which usually leaves at 9am. On occasion, this transfer can be later in the day, so we recommend booking a flight that departs after 5pm on your final day. If you book a flight late on in the evening, it is possible to leave your luggage at the hostel whilst exploring Cape Town for the afternoon.
If you would like help booking your flights, please visit our flights page and fill out the form. A member of our team will get back in touch as soon as possible with a suitable quote.
Citizens of most countries, including the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and most of those within the EU, do not need to obtain a visa to enter South Africa and are granted entry for up to 90 days upon arrival. You will, however, need at least 2 blank pages in your passport for the immigration officials to use and your passport must be valid for a period of at least 6 months from your date of entry.
If you are unsure of your individual visa requirements, we recommend speaking to your local South African embassy at least 2 months prior to travel.
What's included in the price of the project?
- Accommodation (including the first night in Cape Town)
- Project activities
- Airport transfers
- Project uniform (3 t-shirts, a cap and a bag)
- Supplies for breakfast (eg cereals) and packed lunches on boat days
What's not included?
- Travel insurance
- Dinners and lunches when not on the boat