ORCA Foundation

ORCA Foundation

The O.R.C.A. Marine Foundation gives volunteers the chance to become part of one of the worlds most successful ocean research teams. Gap year travel does not get much more exciting than this!

Over the past 2 years the O.R.C.A. team have strived to turn Plettenberg Bay into a protected Ocean Marine Park. During your 4 week stay at the foundation you will become part of the O.R.C.A. family and help and assist in their long term projects and goals.

Southern Right whale breaching the waters surface only meters from the research boat you stand on? Or kayak across the calm waters of the Indian Ocean with hundreds of common dolphins swimming and playing along side your every paddle. Either way, it will be an experience you will never forget!

The O.R.C.A. Foundation in conjunction with Ocean Blue Adventures is based in Plettenberg Bay and is located on the world famous Garden Route. It is home to some of the worlds most fascinating marine species, including Southern Right whales, Humpback whales, Bryde's whales, Bottlenose dolphins, Common dolphins, O.R.C.A.'s or Killer Whales, Great White Sharks to name but a few.

Placements here give you a unique once in life time chance to work with these magnificent marine species in exciting and groundbreaking marine conservation volunteer work.

The experienced O.R.C.A. team will help settle you in over your stay and give you the opportunity to take on your own individual projects where your best interests lie. O.R.C.A. offers ocean research volunteers personal diversity in the programme, from assisting the dive research teams to helping with the community outreach programme, you will find your own way to contribute.

Volunteers will be working under the supervision of two Masters student's from Rhodes University and also have the chance to integrate with the rest of the team at O.R.C.A. and OCEAN BLUE ADVENTURES.

In your stay in Plettenberg Bay, (one of the most breathtaking and serene outdoor classrooms in Southern Africa), you should be lucky enough to witness the power and grace of whales, the exuberance of dolphins and killer whales, see playful seals and the majestic of mountains and forests scenery. Above all, being an ocean research volunteer will allow you to actively and meaningfully participate in ensuring that things stay this way for future generations.

Through the O.R.C.A. marine conservation project, you can join the drive to manage this marine and coastal zone in a sustainable manner and in the process experience the community, culture and environment in a way more intimate than most visitors. Volunteers participate inhelping to create, in partnership with the community, a conservation model in Plettenberg Bay to sustain marine and coastal resources through improved management, research and education.

Volunteers can leave with certification as competant marine guides or competant crew, an understanding of what it takes to preserve our fragile coastline, and the opportunity to improve the lives of children and the environment in which they live. The Volunteer Program, officially created in 2001, is designed to help create a conservation model for the Plettenberg Bay area. People of all ages and with different backgrounds come from all over the world to help us further our work in sustaining marine and coastal resources. 

Besides our research work, we are also involved with various other conservation activities. Such activities include maintenance of the Ocean Blue aquarium, which holds a collection of fish and represents the ecosystem of the surrounding bay. We collect food for the fish, clean the aquarium, facilitate water changes, and collect specimens for the aquarium, while at the same time learning about the rivers, estuaries, the sea, and the delicate balance between all of them. Your time with us can be as short as two weeks or can last as long as twelve weeks.

If your stay exceeds more then four weeks, we offer a marine guiding course which consists of a self-study manual, 2 hours of lectures, 10 hours of practical training, a 3 hour written exam, and a 2 hour practical evaluation consisting of a full boat trip. Passing mark is 70% with a 100% pass rate to date!

Duration / Dates

1-2 weeks and 2-4 weeks

All Year

Costs / Pay


Contact / Enquiry

ORCA Foundation Reviews

Great organisation and amazing experience

During my 3 months at the programme I was involved in a wide variety of activities including; marine mammal necropsies, bird ringing, boat-based recording of opportunistic sighting, cliff top seal observations, seal scat analyses, river activity surveys and health assessments as well as helping out at the local creche and animal sanctuary.
By being involved in these activities and working closely with the researchers and other staff I have learnt a lot of new skills which will help me pursue a career in marine science. While here you work Monday to Friday about 8:30am-5pm so there is a lot of free time to explore the surrounding area, with a wide variety of day trip and weekend trip opportunities which the staff can help you organise. Also, I made lots of new friends with other volunteers and staff and hope to come back again.

By: Amy
Nationality: British
Age: 22

Fantastic Organization

I booked a last minute trip to spend 4 weeks volunteering at the ORCA Foundation in January 2016 and had a fantastic experience! The whole volunteer experience was very laid back, we usually worked from around 8:30am to 4:30pm and got lots of time to relax and see more of the beautiful Plettenberg Bay on weekends.

Tasks included beach patrols, litter collections, finding shark eggs, using data to monitor and track sharks in the area and helping education by volunteering in a local school. I felt it was a very positive volunteering experience with friendly staff who made my time there very relaxed.

I managed to make friends with nice people from all over the world and I also got to see wild dolphins which was incredible. I hope to re-visit Plettenberg Bay and the ORCA Foundation again in the future.

By: Rachel
Nationality: American
Age: 25


In almost two years volunteering in south africa nothing disappointed me more than ORCA foundation. When I booked, the website was extremely out of date and once I arrived, I found out that many of the activities weren't offered anymore. Fortunately, for future volunteers, the website got updated.
For the extremelly high cost, you might think you're going out on a boat very often, but that's not the case. ORCA doesn't own a boat. Volunteers can join a tourist company whale watching boat, depending on availability, as they priorize their customers. Activities on board would be mainly caring for the well being of customers, including assistance for the sea sick ones. There's pratically zero marine research activities on boat. And I must say, the company Ocean Blue Adventures can be quite unethical during their boat trips, and their actions can upset more sensitive volunteers.
As a volunteer you will be performing, most of your time, land based activities. The most common ones are:
Cleaning a fish tank at Ocean Blue: literally going inside the tank and scrubbing. We also have to get prawns in the estuary (a kind of snack for the fish, not even their main source of food) and sea water in buckets for the back wash of the tank.
long beach walks looking for shark eggs: the most common activity, consisting in walk looking for egg casings on the sand.
river quality research: orca has a few locations they keep rotating to do a water quality analysis. This is done by identifying macroinvertebrates found and through an standard scoring system.
assisting at bird ringing: one of the house managers is a bird ringer. This means she is qualified to capture birds and pug a ring on their legs. If you're long enough with orca, maybe you can get the chance to learn and perform a little bit of the process. But most volunteers just stick around to hold some birds and release them once they're ringed.
trash collection and classification: literally measuring fragments of plastic found at the beach.
Assisting on township school: giving a class about any subject that will be translated by the teacher, reading a story, playing with them, serving lunch and washing the dishes. That's the routine at the school.
Other activities: orca will try to fit some other varied activities on their schedule once in a while. That could be helping on rehab centres or a private reserve. The activity though doesn't involve animals, only cleaning or building of enclosures or cutting alien trees.
ORCA can be a good program if you're looking for one week or two around the bay with different activities to keep you busy. The house managers are really nice and caring people and you can learn a lot from them. But the activities offered are definitely not worth the fee.
I strongly recommend for those interested in joining the program to take a look at the ORCA Activities manual available at the volunteer section in their website.

By: Freo J.
Nationality: Brazilian
Age: 26

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