South Africa has long been known for its abundance of Great White Sharks, making it a prime area to observe these magnificent creatures. The Great White Shark, which grows up to seven meters (23 feet) in length and 4 tons in weight, is now a protected species in South Africa. Owing to massive negative media publicity over the years, sharks have become one of the most maligned, misunderstood, even hated species on our fragile planet. They have been pursued, hunted and indiscriminately slaughtered, to the point where many species are endangered. Unsustainable fishing practices, dorsal fin poaching and environmental degradation compounded by a relatively slow Great White breeding cycle are all factors contributing to the potential demise of this amazing creature.
The Great White Shark Project is dedicated to the exploration and conservation of the world’s greatest predator, the Great White Shark, and its environment. The project works with students, eco-tourists, scientists, conservation organizations and marine resource users (subsistence fishermen, sport divers and dive operators) to gather data on Great White Sharks, correct negative misconceptions about sharks, and stop the needless slaughter of over 100 million sharks annually. Current programs involve eco-tourism, public education, environmental advocacy, visual tracking, and behavioral studies of sharks.
The Great White Shark Project runs out of Klein Bay, which is just outside of Gansbaai, South Africa – a seaside village located approximately two hours southeast of Cape Town on the Indian Ocean coast. The shark trips primarily take place off Dyer and Geyser Islands, about 6 nautical miles (11 km) or a 20 minute boat trip offshore. The boats anchor in the 6 meter deep channel (“Shark Alley”) between Dyer and Geyser Islands. Dyer Island (larger island) is a breeding ground of Jackass Penguins, Cape Cormorants and Gannets, while Geyser Rock (smaller island) is a breeding ground for approximately 60,000 Cape Fur Seals. Shark Alley is a magnet for Great White Sharks due to this breeding colony of seals, their favorite prey, and is a wonderful area for cage diving as there are reefs, islands and huge kelp beds which 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 location of the sharks.
Finding the Great White Shark is a skill, involving years of practice - the water temperature, depth, visibility, swell height, current and wind direction are all major factors. Over the years, the project has successfully “tagged” over 400 sharks, allowing them to track and record shark activity. Great White Sharks are surface feeders, so volunteers will be spellbound when seeing the Great White lift its head right out of the water to take the bait, and sometimes breach completely. Divers will get to experience Great Whites from the safety of cages, while non-divers have a great opportunity to view the sharks from the safety of the boat, where exhilarating photographs and video footage may be captured at close range. In Shark Alley, you will likely also see seals, penguins and the occasional dolphins frolicking near the islands, as well as magnificent southern right whales coming up from Antarctica to breed from May to November. These expeditions are more than just thrill-seeking adventures, they are educational experiences.
The volunteer programme is primarily focused on the project's cage diving eco-tourism and volunteers will enjoy regular trips to sea to view / cage dive with the Great Whites.
The Great White Shark Project does its best to involve volunteers in all aspects of the project, including tasks such as preparing baits, packing the boat, washing the equipment, working with the eco-tourists, recording data on the sharks and even helping with the dishes. The expeditions encompass getting up early, working with great white sharks during long days at sea, and then relaxing with the crew or other volunteers at night!
The programme provides volunteers with hands-on, practical experience in working with Great White Sharks:
Cage Diving with Great White Sharks: Once anchored in the channel, the project makes use of a specially designed, secure, two man steel cage, which floats on the surface, with divers no more than 1m below the surface. Volunteers will be taught how to get in and out of the cage and how to remain secure and safe in the cage. Cage divers are responsible for recording observations on the Great Whites, including sex, size, markings and behaviour. Diving takes place on a rotational basis on good diving days. The duration of each dive depends on the diver, the number of eco-tourists and the activity of the sharks, but could be up to half an hour per dive.
White Shark Field Research Data Collection: Volunteers will be taught how to collect data in the field on free-swimming 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 history and the urgent need for research.
Basic Seamanship: Volunteers will also be taught basic seaman skills including boat handling, welding, trailer reversing, equipment maintenance and repairs.
In addition, talks and videos may be given in the evenings or off-sea days on Great White Shark biology, research, behaviour, conservation, changing attitudes, attacks, basic seamanship, underwater filming, still photography and tourism.
Upon completion of the program, the project provides volunteers with a certificate of accomplishment. The program is designed to train and educate volunteers to a level of competence of a field assistant.
Viewing the Great White Shark is a serious activity which should only be done with the right people, equipment and approach. The Great White Shark Project is one of the top shark organizations in the world and has the most experienced shark team in Africa. They have worked on and featured in over 30 white shark documentaries, including BBC, Discovery Channel and National Geographic; written articles for African Indigo, Outdoor Adventure, Dive Style, Peak Performances, Surf Magazine and Immersed; and lectured at institutions such as Cambridge University, the Royal Geographic Society, London University and the University of Stockholm. This background and knowledge, combined with an enthusiastic staff and excellent infrastructure, has resulted in an organization that produces high quality and successful Great White Shark expeditions.
Volunteers stay in a delightful red brick house situated five minutes from the harbour, which bustles with action and boats as people head out to sea. Overlooking the Indian Ocean, the house is very comfortable with dorm rooms, five bathrooms, a nice kitchen, a dining area, a lounge with television and video/board games, and an outside patio for those hot evenings. There is a small supermarket nearby (volunteers usually buy provisions and prepare meals together) and the house is located is a very safe and beautiful area, where you can freely walk around anytime of day or night.
Training / Qualifications
Training will be given in different aspects of marine conservation and shark research. Students may be able to obtain university credit for their experience.
The Shark team accept volunteers of 16+ years of age. Volunteers under 16 years old are only considered when accompanied by a parent/guardian. There isn't a maximum age limit, though a reasonable fitness level is necessary.
1 week: GB£595 / US$795
2 weeks: GB£745 / US$995
3 weeks: GB£895 / US$1195
4 weeks: GB£1045 / US$1395
Extra weeks: GB£145 / US$195 per week
Volunteers get discounted rates when joining 2 or more Enkosini programs!
Enkosini uses USD rates as standard due to currency fluctuations. GBP rates are indications of approx recent values. Currency convertor atwww.xe.com.
The volunteer contribution covers accommodation, transport to/from Kleinbaai from Cape Town, training, light breakfasts, boat lunches, daily coffee and tea, and donation to the project. Flights and travel/medical insurance are NOT included.
Please bear in mind that the sooner you apply, the better your chances of securing your placement!
The project prefers that volunteers start together on the 1st and 15th of every month. Volunteers just need to inform Enkosini Eco Experience of the date they are planning to arrive. 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.
The closest town to the Great White Shark Project is GANSBAAI - approximately 160kms from Cape Town. Arrangements will be made to collect incoming volunteers from Cape Town. We recommend that volunteers stay at The Backpack in Cape Town (www.backpackers.co.za) for inexpensive accommodation and "meet and greet" airport pickups.
“WSP is amazing – the staff and crew are friendly and supportive, the volunteer house is cozy, the landscape is gorgeous, the no-sea days prove fun for exploring, and the sharks are everywhere! I stayed with the program for two weeks (in September) but I wish it could’ve been longer. Getting eye-to-eye with Great Whites has been at the top of my list for years and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. My fellow volunteers were from all over the world and we had a great time bonding over volunteer work and yummy food. Along with the dive trips my group traveled to the southernmost tip of Africa, went on safari, visited an ostrich farm, participated in the Hermanus art walk (spread awareness about ocean conservation), and went to the South African Shark Conservatory. I will definitely be returning in the future.” - Alex Kurth, Seattle, WA, USA
“I stayed for a month and absolutely loved every minute of this volunteer programme! From the sharks, to the community, everyone was so friendly and welcoming, it felt like home very quickly. Making life-long friendships with some other volunteers and the staff too, it really was the trip of a life time. So much so that I will 100% be returning to white shark projects! Absolutely incredible!” - Milly Stewart, Northunbria University
“My experience was awesome! Since the age of 5 (I saw the movie Jaws), I have been fascinated by sharks and especially the great white. This volunteer program included classroom time, as well as experiencing individual duties luring the great whites to the boat, and studying the great white. Going in the ocean with these amazing creatures was a dream come true to me. Yes, the are huge and they consistently appear to be smiling at you with rows and rows of great white, sharp teeth that every dentist would be proud of, but to be up close and personal with these amazing creatures was beyond my wildest imagination! There was also a few days of exploration in neighboring towns/site seeing. I loved taking in the surrounding culture. The accommodations were spacious and it was really fun getting to know my volunteer housemates. We had many laughs and the jokes we played on each other were a hoot. The boat crew and experts were very supportive and a pleasure to work with/learn from. It was a super educational and amazing experience! I would love to go back and spend more time but my current full time work schedule, full time post graduate school schedule, and an additional part time school schedule doesn't afford me much time. I would highly recommend this program to everyone interested in sharks or wanting to have an amazing experience. My heart belongs to Africa” - Valerie Spalding, University of Phoenix
“I can not rate this project more highly! At the end of the day you get out of a project what you put in! I have revisited this project for several years running. The staff of White Shark Projects are very friendly and helpful, from the skippers to the boat crew to the ladies who make the sandwiches for the trip.
The skippers are very experienced and run a tight ship (no pun intended) They take pride in getting it right and selecting the best place to moor up to get the best shark action that means getting out early. There ethics and shark etiquette is second to none. An experienced bate handler will entice the sharks towards the boat giving everyone great sightings from above and below the water. DON'T FORGET YOUR CAMERA! If you have a good stomach then chumming is probably the best job for you! It's where you can get to see the sharks close up and see there sheer size and beauty. Remember though although Gansbaai is a known spot for white sharks they are wild animals with minds of their own and if they don't want to play ball then they wont, a handful of trips a year have no shows. You get to talk to the clients and share your knowledge about the sharks. Don't worry if you are not up on your shark fact the crew are great to tell you everything you will need to know to chat to others.
The volunteers house is comfortable with 3 shared bedrooms, two bathrooms, a communal kitchen, a sitting room with satellite TV, WiFi, and a class room. It's a great way to meet people from all over the world with the same passion as you for Great White sharks. I have made some amazing friends and are still in contact years later.
There is a lovely restaurant just over the road yards from the volunteers house that is good value for money and good food. In Gansbaai the next village on there is a number of different restaurants and pubs.
Occasionally mother nature prevents you from going out to sea due to large waves and strong winds but trips to Cape Agulhus which is where the Indian and Atlantic Ocean meets and where you can feed the big sting rays in the harbor by hand (they love the smell of chum that will be your new perfume whilst you are on the volunteering experience) Other trips to see the African penguins, a trip to the nearest town Hermanus where sometimes the whales can be seen hugging the harbor depending on the time of year, quad biking and so much more.
You are taken to Gansbaai town on weekly basis to do you weekly shop for food etc. There is a convenience store just up the road that has basics and a well stocked liqueur store!” - Angie Goody, Baldrine
“My time spent with White Shark Projects was amazing. Every day we went out on the boat, sometimes several times a day, and saw great white sharks in their own environment. As volunteers we were allowed to cage dive with the sharks, we were taught about the biology, physiology, and behaviors of great white sharks, and we were given training and experience working on the boat. We also saw whales, dolphins, South African fur seals, South African penguins, and many other birds and wildlife along the way. We were taken on game drives, wine tastings, and South African adventures when we were not at sea. It was a truly life-changing experience. We worked and played everyday and every single minute was fun and exciting. Enkosini Eco made the trip easy. They arranged for transportation to and from Cape Town, and helped with every aspect of planning, packing, and traveling for the trip. I would not hesitate to use this service again, and I hope I get to very soon.” - Patti Corcoran, New Mexico State University
“The most rewarding, exhilarating and amazing experience I ever did. For a solo traveller this program was the best fit. It provided me with support that I needed while on trip. The education I learned about the great whites is simply refreshing. To see and learn first hand from the people who are out with the sharks everyday is great. The best mornings of my life was the boat rides from the marina to shark alley. The people I met were so helpful, friendly and eager to help. This p[program was single handily the best travel experience one can ever do ! I am so glad I did white sharks though this volunteer program, it gives you a entire different perspective. Thanks to all the team and staff for such a wonderful experience.” - Mo Noubani, Orlando, FL
Do I need to be scuba (PADI) certified to join the project?
Absolutely not! The sharks come quickly by the cages so the cage diving often takes place with snorkels or by just holding your breath under water.
Do I need to bring my own diving equipment?
If available, volunteers should bring a mask, snorkel and fins/booties. The project will provide wetsuits on the boats.
What type of clothes should I bring?
The sea air can be cool so some warm clothing is recommended. There is plenty of space on the boat to store clothing.
Is seasickness a problem?
Seasickness is generally not a problem on the boats as the project tries to find the calmest water in which to work. However, if you suffer from motion sickness at all, you MUST take sea-sickness tablets/patches ahead of time!
How warm is the water?
The water temperature ranges from 14 to 18° C.
How is the water visibility?
Water visibility is quite volatile in this area with visibility ranging from two meters to forty meters. Over the months November to March, the visibility averages around 5 to 12 meters, and over the months April to October the average visibility is 10 to 20 meters.
What are the boats like?
Your days will be spent on Shark Team, an 11-meter, 4-ton catamaran with all the latest electronic and safety equipment. The boat was custom-built for shark diving, so there is plenty of space for everyone to view the sharks in comfort. The vessels are equipped with radios, radar equipment, navigation equipment, depth finder, echo sounder, medical first aid kit (including oxygen and fluid replacement), current safety equipment life jackets, and waterproof jackets for all passengers. Our vessel and cages are inspected on an annual basis, ensuring maximum safety for all our passengers. A step-by-step emergency flow chart is available inside the cabin of our vessel. The boats also have a dive master and medical officer on board, as well as a captain who knows the area like the back of his hand. You are assured that you are in very capable, safe and considerate hands when you join the team.