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A unique opportunity to view, observe and be involved in the research of the magnificent great white shark in its natural environment! You will also see other marine wildlife species, including Cape gannets, Bryde Whales, Cape fur seals, dolphins and Jackass penguins. The knowledge which you have gained will be put to use, by assisting in the conservation and research into this awesome animal.
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, which grows up to six meters in length and three 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 species, and its environment. Founded in 1989 purely as a research centre, it has since grown and broadened its services to include an excellent film department, a commercial diving and viewing centre and a separate conservation and educational department.
The project works with students, tourists (day visitors), 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 help stop the needless slaughter of over 100 million sharks annually.
“We are humble and grateful for the privilege and opportunity to work with one of the earth's greatest predators face to face, causing no harm, but furthering and enhancing the chances of survival of this rare species. Everything we do, we aim to do in harmony with nature and the environment we work in.”
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. Great whites are surface feeders, so volunteers will be spellbound when seeing them lift their 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 program and volunteers will enjoy regular trips to sea to view and/or cage dive with the great whites.
The project does its best to involve volunteers in all aspects 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 and other volunteers at night!
Once anchored in the channel, the project makes use of a specially designed, secure, five 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. Volunteers are also responsible for recording observations on the sharks 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.
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.
Volunteers will also be taught basic seaman skills including boat handling and basic maintenance. 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, stills 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 Geographical 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. The Great White Shark Project is a responsible tourism operation that sets a benchmark in its commitment to community development and upliftment. We are deeply involved in the social, economic and environmental needs of our surrounding communities.We run tourism and environmental education programmes in the Gansbaai schools – fostering pride, a sense of personal responsibility towards the environment, and teaching life skills. Our aim is to empower children in caring for their environment and themselves. If we have any out-reaches during your stay, you will be included in this.
Our latest project is the White Shark Recycle Swop-Shop. The school children collect rubbish and litter from the streets and in their homes. They earn points for these recyclable materials which they 'spend' in the shop on much-needed school stationery or clothes. This project promotes recycling, environmental awareness, and self-reliance, and helps to provide for some of the basic needs of the children. The volunteers and staff involved find it an enriching experience that helps bridge the gap between different cultures and communities. On Tuesdays you will be expected to help at the Swop Shop – if you want to bring a contribution, it will be greatly appreciated.
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