Volunteering in South Africa – The Great White

Posted by: Susan

This was my first time volunteering in South Africa at the Great White Shark Conservation project and I enjoyed it immensely. You do get up close and personal with the sharks! I got picked up from Cape Town at 8:30am and after stopping off at some other hostels we were on our way to Gansbaai! We had volunteers from the US, Canada, Israel, Holland, Italy, Austria and Scotland.

We were immediately given our gear (two shirts, one ball cap and a wind jacket), but make sure to ask for boots as you will need them! We were taken to our cabins in their new facility. It is not very close to town, but it is right next to sanctuary!

The rooms where clean; bathroom had plenty of hot water (which we needed as it was cold in August!) and a nice kitchen in each cabin. The coordinators drove us to the local grocery market to buy food and drinks; they did this every other day so buying food was no issue.

My first trip to sea was actually aboard the Whale Whisperer. It was a cold and rainy day but I did not care, I went onto the top deck and enjoyed it! We spotted a few whales up close and saw one breaching a bit of a distance off from us, it was beautiful! Our third day in we made our first trip to sea was as a client, and the sharks were great! I had no idea I even took any decent pictures until we looked at the pictures that night. As you can see, I was inches from the teeth!

I spent most of my time on the Slashfin. I enjoy the water and never get seasick so this was great! As a volunteer, you are expected to help with boat prep and get all the guests into their gear both at the Great White House and on the Slashfin. The ride out to the diving site was always fantastic! You will get a lot of time to watch the sharks and film them, this is a major plus! The marine biologists, Kelly and Sara were funny and very knowledgeable. The local crews on the boat really know their stuff and it is like a ballet in motion watching them work.

What was unexpected for me was I came for the sharks and fell in love with the penguins! I worked every day of my two weeks at the sanctuary. You have to prove yourself there. If you have ever seen the show Dirty Jobs one of them is cleaning penguin poop and yes you are going to do it! You scrub pens, floors, everywhere, but it is so worth it. I quickly became attached to the little guys and had no fear of their beaks (which by the way can get you if you are not careful!) I was able to work with the penguins directly; administering nutrients via tubing, hand feeding fish and giving medications.

Since I worked with my vet in Texas this was a whole new experience compared to the livestock I was used to! The best part is I got to be involved in the penguin release! They had 10 penguins that we released on August 23, 2015 and I was so blessed to have been able to open a cage and let the little guys go back to Dyer Island!

I would highly recommend going in October when it is warmer. I love cold weather, but it was cold! Make sure you take time to see the lighthouse, Danger Point, the tidal pools, Cape Agulhas,  Stoney Point for the penguins and the whales at the cliffs in Hermanus.

On our last two days we had a no sea day. During that time we went into Hermanus for shopping, wine sampling and Stoney Point to see the penguins in the wild.

The day we left, we left early and went to the Two Oceans Aquarium were I got to dive in the Predators tank (make sure to bring your dive card!) This was great! I would recommend at least three weeks here in order to do everything.