Volunteering in South Africa – Encounters with Great White Sharks

Posted by: Giselle M.

The idea of ever having an opportunity to go and see the Great White Shark in the flesh at the famous Shark Alley has always been a distant dream. However, with GoEco offering the Great White Shark Conservation project  at an affordable price, my bags were packed to spend four weeks in winter time in South Africa.

I arrived at Gansbaai, a two-and-a-half-hour car journey away from Cape Town, where we had an early start to head onto the first trip as clients aboard Slashfin. Within minutes of arriving at our dive location we saw our first White Shark. It was the most incredible feeling, and as soon as I was geared up to get into the cage, all fear I ever once had towards them was outweighed by the sheer amazement when I came face to face.

We stayed in cottages which were very nice and pleasant, but, being in the peak of winter it got a bit cold at night so I was very glad I packed all of those jumpers!

Meeting all of the other ‘vols’ was fantastic with people coming from all different walks of life. I made some extraordinary friends from all around the world in my four weeks there; it was always sad to see people come and go each week.

Socially, we as volunteers were never left bored as there were activities most evenings such as having braai nights on Tuesdays and visiting Taphuis, of course. And not to mention no sea days which involved visiting the whale capital, Hermanus for a spot of shopping, a quick visit to a shark sanctuary and relaxing in the hot springs.

Even though four weeks is recommended, it just wasn’t enough! I was volunteering on the shark boat, Slashfin, the Whale boats, Whale Whisperer and Dream Catcher as well as at the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary who do fantastic work with ill or injured penguins and seabirds. The sanctuary is located on site, close to the lodge, so there’s no excuse not to help the guys over at APSS!

Here are 10 things you didn’t know about the Great White Shark

Typically there are two or three shark trips a day and around three or four whale trips- weather dependent, so there are plenty of opportunities to get onto the boats.

Hard work pays off, and this doesn’t go unnoticed by the amazing crew. I managed to go onto an exclusive boat trip which had less clients on board, giving me more opportunities to capture some great footage of the sharks who displayed incredible activity, breaching around six times in the space of two hours.

On every trip there is a biologist on board, Kelly, Sarah or Alison, who can answer all of your questions about the sharks and area and who also share their current research on the species. A few times I actually got the opportunity to do ‘data’ and was able to identify some of the sharks who visited the boat regularly.

It was an incomparable feeling seeing these misunderstood animals every day, who as the crew emphasize don’t deserve their ‘monster’ reputation. It was very rewarding knowing that our contribution as volunteers makes a difference in the conservation of the Great White Shark by the crew and I cannot wait to come back in the future. What an experience! – Giselle