The Great White Shark Project

Come face to face with one of the world’s most misunderstood predators whilst aiding great white shark conservation.

At first glance, Gansbaai may seem like the ideal coastal retreat for casual tourists in South Africa, however, a closer look reveals that it's far from a sleepy fishing town; it's actually a paradise for thrill-seekers, thanks to its diverse shark populations, including the great white shark!

Just a two-hour drive from Cape Town, Gansbaai attracts hundreds of tourists annually, and it's the sharks that draw the crowds. Now, a more popular tourist destination than any other attraction in South Africa aside from Kruger National Park, our initiative offers a unique kind of tourism, one that holds immense significance for one of the world's most misunderstood species.

Founded in 1989, The Great White Shark Project's mission is to dispel misconceptions about sharks, educate visitors about their critical role in the ecosystem, and foster a sense of responsibility within the local community. As a volunteer on this shark project, you'll work alongside a dedicated team to raise awareness of the plight of not only great white sharks but also bronze whaler sharks, seven-gill cow sharks, and various smaller shark species. Your responsibilities will include educating tourists and local school children about the local environment and the importance of safeguarding South Africa's marine life. You'll also engage in a range of activities, from gathering data to participating in cage diving experiences—because what better way to truly comprehend these oceanic giants than to witness them up close?

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Lauren Mackinnon

Activities

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.

Great White Shark View from a Cage
Cage Diving 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!
Collecting Data on The Great White Shark Project
Data Collection During different science lectures and discussions with the resident marine biologist, you will be taught how to collect data on free-swimming 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.
Basic Seamanship
Basic Seamanship 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!
Shark Tagging on The Great White Shark Project
Shark Tagging 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 Manta Rays on The Great White Shark Project
Monitoring of other Species As well as great white sharks, there are many other marine animals you may 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.
Swop Shop
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.
Volunteering with Children at the Butterfly Centre
Butterfly Centre 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.
Penguins at Betty’s Bay
Excursions 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. Download a copy of the project guide or watch the video on this page 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.

Itinerary

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 a guesthouse 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 focused 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 African Braai (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.

Start Dates & Prices

To secure a place on this project, a deposit of $245 is required at the time of booking. The remaining balance is due 60 days before your start date.

Flexible Payment Options: If you select a start date more than 3 months in advance, we offer convenient payment plans, allowing you to pay off your balance in instalments.

Select a duration below to see the available start dates and book your place today!

Duration Price
Please choose a trip using the select menus to the left.

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Payment breakdown


Accommodation

Volunteer Accommodation

On your first night, you will be accommodated at a guesthouse in Cape Town and from your second night, you will be staying at the volunteer house in Kleinbaai. Located just a short walk from the harbour, the house is modern and has a kitchen, a lounge area with a television, and a fabulous outside dining area with incredible sea views. The house is located in a very safe and beautiful area where you can freely walk around during the day, and there is a small supermarket nearby where volunteers often buy provisions to prepare meals together, as well as a variety of restaurants should you fancy going out for dinner.

Rooms are allocated on a 2-per-room or 4-per-room same-sex basis. If you are travelling as a couple, a private double room with an ensuite bathroom is available (subject to availability). If you would simply prefer your own space, there is an apartment next door to the volunteer house that can be rented for an additional fee. Please enquire for further details.

Meals & Beverages

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.


Project Details

When Is The Best Time To Volunteer?

Since Gansbaai is a hotspot for shark activity, it is possible to see the animals year-round, no matter 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!

Getting There

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.

Visa Requirements

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.

Fitness & Skills

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!

Vaccinations

The vaccinations required will depend on the individual medical history of each volunteer. We recommend that you consult with your doctor/GP regarding your own vaccination needs as this will ensure you are protected and prepared to travel. In conjunction with this, we also recommend that you take a look at the Fit for Travel website for more helpful information on how best to prepare for your experience.


Videos

The Great White Shark Project - Project Video
Discover The Great White Shark Project

Come face to face with one of the world’s most misunderstood predators whilst aiding great white shark conservation. As a volunteer, not only will you get the incredible opportunity to dive with sharks, but you will also assist the team in raising awareness of the great white as you work alongside tourists and local school children to provide them with knowledge of the local environment and the importance of living in harmony with South Africa’s marine life.



Reviews

Denise Van Keulen, 2023
         

For two weeks I have been a volunteer at this project, and I would love to come back in the future. It is a very professional organization and you immediately feel part of the family. I have learned a lot during my time here and loved to collect data on the sharks to help assist in correcting negative misconceptions about sharks, and stop the needless slaughter of over 100 million sharks annually. The Great White Shark Project respects the environment with their plastic free way of working and they also do more community work as well.


Oliver Cohen-Velida, 2023
         

I was part of the July volunteer group in 2023 and, despite not seeing too many sharks, the time spent as a volunteer was brilliant. In the two weeks we spent there, we had done and explored so much, not just along the bay but inland as well. The trips were always fun even if you did not see any sharks and the group of people from the projects were wonderful, they were great people and even better guides. Those two weeks were worth every dollar and I would gladly do it again for even longer!


Dan Alleyne, 2023
         

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the great white shark project.



Download Project Guide Image Download Project Guide

What's Included

  • Accommodation (including the first night in Cape Town)
  • Airport transfers
  • Supplies for breakfast (eg cereals) and a light snack on boat days
  • Project uniform (2 t-shirts, a cap and a bag)

What's Not Included

  • Flights
  • Travel Insurance
  • Lunches and dinners