South Africa, Shark Whales and Dolphins project

Company : Budget Volunteering
Location : Cape Town, South Africa
Duration: 1 week to 1 year
Approx Costs: 500 to 3000+ £ Pound (UK)

This is an extraordinary project in a beautiful location, white beaches and blue ocean.

Two hours from Cape Town. Work with sharks, whales, penguins, tourism, research and community development. You’ll be taught, guided and lectured by skilled field teams


Weather permitting you'll go out to sea frequently. At sea, you'll get involved as much as possible with all aspects of sea work. Much emphasis will be placed on observing behaviour and the interactions of marine species around the boat. You'll record your observations onto datasheets, including data such as sex, size, markings and behaviour.

There is a great variety of work that you'll be doing and this will largely depend on what work is required at the time you are there. Seasons play a great part in the work as well because the different species come and go according to their seasonally-driven behavioural patterns.

For example, during the summer time (November through to February), MD (the organisation we work with) are very involved in Tourist trips and dives. These trips and tourist-related activities are crucially important because they provide the funds that are used for MD's research and community development projects. During these months, there is a possibility that you'll be called on to provide more help with the tourists and less help with the marine research.

Shark Research

Much emphasis is placed on observing behaviour and the interactions of sharks around the boat.  You will be taught how to get in and out of the cage and how to remain secure and safe in the cage.  You may have to record observations of the White Sharks.  This will include sex, size, markings and behaviour. You might be asked to help fill in data sheets for the sharks they spot day to day.   

Individual recognition of sharks is achieved through photographing dorsal fins, marks, scars and colouration. A shark log is kept for each shark. The objectives of the research are to collate a database of dorsal fin data which are used to identify individual animals, to ascertain why the sharks use this area and how long they stay, to study the behaviour of sharks in their natural environment and in the vicinity of shark-cage diving boats, as well as to obtain a population estimate.

Whale Research

On the whale boat you will help to GPS all the whales, birds and dolphins. You may also get involved in helping to rescue animals in need, such as oiled, sick and injured penguins and birds.

Skills learned from the Project

Depending on your previous experience, you are likely to learn many new skills, from running a boat and keeping it in a good working order, to identifying the sharks and other marine life and learning their behaviour. Sometimes researchers use the boat trips to collect data, so speaking to them will teach you a lot as well.


Wake up at and get ready any time between 6:30 – 8:00. After breakfast, assuming that the boat trip will take place that day (because the trips are subject to weather conditions, the day will start with making your way to the ‘Great White House’ where, once the tourists have had their briefing, you will help to dress them in their jackets and life vests or go and prepare the boat for the trip.

You'll walk the tourists down to the boat. Once the boat leaves the harbour you’ll spend between 3 and 6 hours out at sea. The Shark Boat will go out once or twice a day depending on numbers and time of year and the Whale Boat normally goes out four times a day (for a duration of roughly 2 hours for each trip).

During your time on the shark boat, Shark Fever, you'll participate in data collection. Once a shark is spotted, you will need to record as much information as you can about it, including data such as size, sex, any scars or other identifying marks, the length of time it remains around the boat, behaviour, and if it is a re-sight, etc.  You'll be informed about what information you need to collect.

If it is decided that it is a ‘good’ shark, the cage will be lowered into the sea and you'll help with preparing the tourists for the cage dives. This will include getting them into their wetsuits.

You may not participate in a cage dive on each occasion, but you should have the opportunity on couple of occasions. Not every boat trip ends in a cage dive – it will depend on whether there are any sharks around at that time, whether the sea conditions are conducive to lowering a cage, and other similar factors. Just to give you an example, though, a very recent volunteer on a one-month placement went out to sea on 20 occasions, but the cage was only lowered on 9 of those occasions.

At the end of the 5 hours, you will return to the shore and here your work will continue. Once back in shore you might have to wash the boat down and pack all the kit up.  The equipment needs to be washed and hung to dry for the next day.  If it is busy there might be a second boat trip so all the above is repeated.  If not, they have the rest of the day off.

The work you do will ideally be split between the two boats, Shark Fever and Whale Whisperer,and work on land or in the office. It will largely depend on what is happening at the time of your placement and where the most help is needed. This is only a rough idea of the work that you will be doing.

You'll be given information and the necessary material to help you answer any general questions that the tourists on the boats might ask you and you will be expected to know and provide basic information.


Your accommodation will be in a comfortable house in Kleinbaai. You'll stay in a shared dorm room and you have the use of a bathroom, a kitchen, lounge area, and courtyard braai area. The house is situated within a short 10 mins walking distance from the ‘The Great White House’, which is the project office and meeting point for tourists. There is a shop and cafe as well. Internet is available for you to use at the MD office at the Great White House. There are also two internet cafes in the town.


Food is not provided on this project. However, the local supermarket stocks a variety of food and there are kitchen facilities in the house for cooking.

You'll need to take additional funds with you to cover the cost of meals.  At the time of writing this, a very loose guide of how much you’re likely to need is R1,000 per month (roughly £88, eating sensibly and cheaply) to R1,500 (roughly £132, on which you should be eating fairly well). (These exchange figures correct at time of writing.)

There is an outside courtyard 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’. Also, 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.

Start Dates

All year round - flexible start dates

Costs / Benefits

Costs vary depending on length of placement, but starts at £695 for one week. You may be able to participate for up to one year, subject to visa requirements.
Included is full support from the moment of booking and throughout your placement to your return home. There are support staff 24/7 in all our destinations worldwide and a 24 hour emergency international telephone line direct to the Head Office. All meals are provided, unless otherwise stated. Accommodation is provided (whether a rented house, a hotel/hostel, homestay, apartment or flat).
You’ll be met at the nearest airport on your arrival by our in-country manager who will take you to your accommodation and give you a full induction into the area. He/she will also be on call 24/7 and you’ll see them frequently.
Pre-departure you’ll receive an information pack about your placement and necessary preparations, ranging from what to pack, to what to do on your weekend travel in the country. Your safety, well being and happiness throughout your placement are our primary concerns and we will keep in touch with you throughout. International flights not included.


No qualifications or previous experience are necessary, just a good dose of enthusiasm! Everyone is welcome on a BVOL programme, whether gap year, undergraduate, on a career break - or even retired! From 17 years old upwards, and all nationalities. This placement would suit anyone who wants to make a real difference, wants first-hand experience of a different culture and has initiative.

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