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Sharks, Whales, Penguins, Seals, Dolphins... This is a program for interns working in the unique marine environment at the tip of Africa - home to one of the densest populations of Great White Sharks in the world. It is the breeding area of the endangered Southern Right Whale and home of one of the threatened colonies of the African Penguin, as well as resident populations of Dolphins, Seals and thousands of Seabirds.

You'll work with all the marine animals and mammals, not just the Great Whites, but the majority of your work will be with Great Whites. You'll assist with tagging and tracking. With tracking you might be required to be on the boat for 24 hours to 48 hours at times (however long it takes to track the shark). You'll also participate in all lectures. After trips, you'll be doing data and photo identification.

Location: Gaansbaai, near Cape Town
Start dates: Available all year round, each placement beginning on the 1st day of the month.
From 4 weeks to 1 year, subject to visa requirements
Requirements: Previous research experience or academic study is usual for individuals entering the program, but it is also open to non-graduates who wish to develop their interest in the marine environment and its conservation. . Minimum age 17.
Compensation: Unpaid
Price: Full Price List

Accommodation included  Excluding food  No qualifications required

What's included:
Arranging the internship,
Full pre-departure support and assistance,
Payment Protection insurance
Meeting you at the nearest airport/station
First night in a hotel in Cape Town (usually)
All accommodation
Transfer to the placement site
Transfer to your accommodation
In-country team support and backup
24-hr emergency support
Certificate of Completion.

What's not included: Flights, travel insurance, cost of visa, food, return transfer to the airport.

Book this Internship

Unique year-round opportunities to work with Great White Sharks, Southern Right Whales and the other marine species in the seas at the southern tip of Africa. These programmes include significant time spent on our three boats (see photos on right). Every boat is accompanied by a resident marine biologist.

The ocean around Dyer Island offers significant opportunities for research as it is home to the most dense population of Great White Sharks. Also from July-December each year the bay is a vitally important breeding habitat for large numbers of the endangered Southern Right Whale.

Additionally, there are resident populations of thousands of seals and sea-birds as well as resident dolphins.

We offer two different programmes working with the Conservation Trust and MD, it's eco-tourism partner, and being involved in Marine Research and Conservation, one for Interns and one for Volunteers who are seeking short-term experience. (See here to read about our volunteer program.)

Research interns have significant boat-based opportunities for data collection and are offered a curriculum specifically adapted to their individual needs. All Research Interns are mentored by marine biologists from the team who work with a number of universities.

Places are limited to ensure that every participant gains the most from their time, so early booking is strongly advised.

Who can do this Project?
Suitable for gap years or those taking a year out, grown-up gappers, career breakers, anyone interested in marine conservation, caring for marine animals and ocean habitats, and working with marine wildlife overseas.
This is a good placement if you want to learn about marine conservation strategies and habitats plus shark, whale and other marine species' behaviour while doing voluntary work, projects abroad or study abroad.
Also available as a summer placement in South Africa or a short(ish) break activity.

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The Conservation Trust, a registered charity working to protect and conduct research in this unique marine environment, and its eco-tourism partner, MD Tours, has developed a unique photographic record of thousands of dorsal fins of Great White Sharks allowing the identification of individual animals. This will now be incorporated in the worldwide database being developed by Bristol University, UK.

Further on-going research projects include the tagging of African Penguins to study their feeding habits and ranges as well as studies looking at their breeding habits. These results are being used to inform decisions about the development of marine protection areas. We assist with other studies on the large colony of Cape Fur Seals; the Southern Right whale and the dolphin population. We also provide a rescue service for birds, seals and marine animals in the area.

An individualised program is developed for each participant. Our program offers different learning streams to interns primarily here to gain field research experience. The Internship program is a minimum of 1 month that will start on the 1st of each month. You'll work the same hours as the Marine Biologists and will also be working mainly on the research boat with a shorter time on the shark cage diving vessel. You'll work with all the marine animals and mammals, not just the Great Whites, but the majority of your work will be with Great Whites). You'll assist with tagging and tracking. With tracking you might be required to be on the boat for 24 hours to 48 hours at times (however long it takes to track the shark). You'll also participate in all lectures. After trips, you'll be doing data and photo identification. In brief...

  • Majority of sea time spent aboard Lwazi (the dedicated research boat) conducting white shark research with some time also spent aboard Shark Fever (cage diving vessel) collecting data and dorsal fin ID’s on sharks sighted.
  • Tracking of white sharks which may involve sleeping at sea (tracking is a 24hr+ process) will be involved as a part of the internship.
  • The research vessel will launch when conditions allow and you will be scheduled for at least one of those trips.
  • If there is space on the cage diving vessel then you may be scheduled on it for the time you are not on the research boat.
  • You'll be expected to help in collecting and entering data on sharks sighted/tracked on both boats to ensure the research database is kept up to date.
  • The internship is tailored to your research objectives and data collection, and your mentor from the research team will help you ensure your research objectives are achieved.

Currently, the research program into Great White Sharks includes studies of:

  • Population dynamics within the area and the effect of changes in the marine environment throughout the year
  • Feeding habits
  • Comparisons between the habits of the Great White Sharks in the Atlantic area of Klein Bay and those in the Indian Ocean near Mossel Bay
  • Interactions between Great White Sharks and the breeding population of diverse cetaceans.

This research is being conducted together with university departments and institutes in South Africa including the Universities of Cape Town, Pretoria and the North West. We work closely with scientists from Oceans and Coasts, the government’s national co-ordinating coastal management agency.

New programmes will be added now that the dedicated research boat Lwazi has recently been launched and as funds become available.

  • Previously unstudied environmental parameters affecting Great White Shark movement patterns and utilisation of their environment in South Africa.
  • Comparative studies of the sharks’ behaviour in our area versus other shark populations in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.

There are also a number of ongoing studies from which data has already been published including:

  • Identification of individual sharks by their dorsal fins
  • Wound healing
  • Environmental factors affecting shark sightings during cage dives
  • Movement patterns of dolphins

Previous interns have gained much knowledge from their internships on this program which has assisted them with their studies. As a result of this research and the comparatively easy and predictable access to the Great White Sharks, a number of TV crews work with the researchers and the boats regularly host camera crews from the US, Europe and Asia with resulting documentaries being broadcast on the BBC, National Geographic and other well-respected documentary channels.


  • Experience at sea, on research and eco-tourism boats
  • Photographing dorsal ID’s and observing behaviour
  • Identification of individual animals through newly discovered dorsal fin recording, measurement and markings
  • Where possible, tagging of sharks from a research vessel. (Note: Tagging will be done by a professional but interns will be fully involved in the methods used to attract the sharks.
  • Manual tracking of sharks over several days
  • Boat safety and seamanship – learning how to maintain standards and equipment needed for the operation as well as basic skippering experience.
  • Monitoring of other marine animals in the area, and learning about hierarchy in the ecosystems
  • Participating in animal rescue when required

Research Interns have mentored learning about:

  • Shark behaviour and biology in lectures and demonstrations such as dissections
  • Assessing and recording animal behaviour
  • Learning about climatic conditions and seamanship
  • Recoding environmental conditions
  • The history of shark behaviour
  • Photographing and documenting marine wildlife
  • Ocean conservation

Every effort will be made to maximise your time at sea collecting data and conducting research from Lwazi and the two other vessels of our eco-tourism partners including:

Tracking White Sharks: 24-hour tracking shifts follow sharks for as many days as conditions allow and data collection requires. Tracking needs you to spend a night at sea as shifts are rotated between crews. As part of a tracking team you will handle the VR100 and directional hydrophone (the equipment that picks up and processes the signal from the tagged sharks) as well as controlling the boat (while overseen by the skipper). Tracking of sharks is a unique experience allowing you to follow the shark as it patrols, rests and, most excitingly, as it hunts.

Note: Participation in tagging and tracking cannot be guaranteed as this is dependent on various factors.

Cage Diving: Cage diving is a vital aspect of white shark conservation when professionally conducted under guidance from marine biologists. Responsible cage diving minimizes the impact on the shark’s behaviour and promotes their conservation. From this experience you will help our international guests learn about white sharks in their natural environment. As a crew member you will be expected to assist clients into wetsuits, explaining the methods of cage diving as well as chumming and decoy handling. You will also log each shark and record behaviour as well as photographing dorsal fins and other identifying characteristics such as scarring.

‘Chum Trips’: Chum trips assess populations of sharks by bringing them close to the boat. The methods involved are the same as those employed by cage diving vessels. By attracting sharks we collect dorsal fin IDs, and tag sharks with acoustic transmitters. During chum trips aboard a research vessel your tasks will include chumming (being in charge of the fish oils used to attract white sharks), photo identification, data collection, bait handling and decoy handling.

Other Work at Sea: Opportunities will arise to work with the other marine life including whales, dolphins, African Penguins, Cape Fur Seals and numerous sea birds.

At the end of a day’s field research you will electronically capture data. Interns also play a part in the day-to-day upkeep of records and write blogs. The research team is always available to discuss collaborations on projects and publications.

Our Research Intern program is not a vacation. It is designed to provide you with the opportunity to gain as much experience and knowledge as possible from your time with us. The nature of the sea requires maximum flexibility in scheduling.

On “no-sea days” the diverse local environment offers opportunities for field trips to nature reserves, research centres and interaction with local research organisations. Additionally, there is a vibrant social life and opportunities for tourism to local seaside vacation centres. Cape Town is about 2½ hours away by road.

Previous research experience or academic study is usual for individuals entering the program. Preference will be given to those who possess a science background and have related experience, but it is not a requirement for application.

Most Interns are currently enrolled or have graduated from undergraduate or graduate research programmes in biological or environmental sciences. However, we welcome applications from non-graduates who wish to develop their interest in the marine environment and its conservation. (Please note: This program is for enthusiasts committed to the Trust's ideals and, while a really wonderful experience, is not for individuals seeking a vacation.)


  • An exciting, never-to-be-forgotten adventure into Africa and the many diverse cultures in South Africa

  • The enormous satisfaction of knowing that your work is contributing to marine conservation.

  • New skills, more confidence, a greater understanding of a different culture, invaluable personal and professional development.

  • An entry on your CV or résumé that will put you head and shoulders above most others in the job market

  • And best of all ... an unforgettable experience!

The program runs out of Gaansbaai, South Africa. Fieldwork will take place around Dyer Island and possibly other shark locations. Dyer Island (known as Shark Alley!) is possibly the best place in the world to see Great Whites. Gaansbaai is a seaside village, which depends on fishing and tourism for its survival. It is situated approximately two hours south east of Cape Town.

On one of the main research sites, Dyer Island, many other wildlife species can be viewed from the boat. It is the breeding ground for Jackass Penguins, Cape Cormorants and Gannets, whilst Geyser Rock opposite, is a breeding mecca for Cape Fur Seals and currently home to approximately 20 000 seals. In season Whales and an occasional Dolphin can be spotted. This is a perfect habitat for the Great White.

The sharks have been awesome. The largest one I've seen so far was a 3.5m shark nicknamed "Slashfin" because her dorsal fin is cut. She looks a lot bigger up close, I can tell you! Got to see a "predation" as well - a shark take out a seal. Was all over in a matter of minutes, just a pool of blood on the surface to tell the tale. Also saw a Southern Right whale out on the water which was pretty cool. Andrew Burge

One of the exciting aspects of this project is that you may be fortunate enough to spot all the ‘Marine Big 5’ :

  • Shark – The Great White
  • Whale – Southern Right, Humpback and Brydes’
  • Penguin – African
  • Seal – Cape Fur
  • Dolphin – Bottlenose, Common and Humpback

Got any questions? Please email us: info@travelersworldwide.org


Marine Research Internships in Cape Town, South Africa

List of ALL PROJECTS in South Africa

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Marine Research Internships in Cape Town, South Africa

The shark reserch vessel on the Multi-marine Voluntary Project in South Africa
Shark Fever (a cage diving vessel)
Designed and built by Gecat in St Francis Bay, Port Elizabeth. It is 10.7 metres in length, has a cabin, toilet, open deck and a diving platform, plus environmentally friendly 300 hp Suzuki 4 stroke outboard engines which exceed the EU 2006 standards for low emissions.

Whale Whisperer (a whale boat)

Wildlife Safaris & Adventure Tour Combos
4-Day Surf Safari and Wildlife Adventure
1-Day Adventure Activities in Cape Town
1-Week Wildlife Rehabilitation

1-Week Whales Sharks Dolphins
Cage Dive with Sharks

Photo Galleries

Knysna Diary
Wildlife Rehabilitation Diary
Wildlife Expedition News!

Lwazi (seeking knowledge), the Trusts' new research boat.
A whale approaches the boat
Up close and personal with a whale

Tube-feeding an injured Giant Petrel
Tube-feeding an injured Giant Petrel

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Alison Towner - Marine Biologist

Hennie Otto - Manager of MD

M.Sc. Candidate – University of Cape Town, SA
B.Sc Marine Biology - Bangor University, UK

Alison is believed to have been a great white shark in a previous life. Alison’s love of the ocean first took her to the Mediterranean and then to the Red Sea where she became a dive instructor and helped map and promote conservation of coral reefs.

It was always only a matter of time before she began her life as a great white shark researcher, protector, and educator. Along with the Conservation Trust and MD, she has also paired up with the South African Shark Conservancy to help track the movements of Zambezi sharks, and is a qualified SAMSA skipper.

Alison and Oliver's latest work on wound-healing rates of great white sharks was featured at the 2010 International White Shark symposium in Honolulu, Hawaii. Her current M.Sc thesis is on the movements of white sharks in relation to environmental parameters in Gansbaai and she is advised by Dr. Malcolm Smale of Bayworld and Les Underhill of the University of Cape Town.

HENNIE OTTO - Skipper/Gen. Manager of MD
B.Sc. Candidate – University of South Africa

Research interests: In 1990, Hennie first came into the world of great white sharks when he fished commercially around Dyer Island and Cape Agulhas. He then became a qualified skipper in 1992 and joined MD/Conservation Trust in 2008. His in-depth knowledge of where reefs lie and where the sharks have been seen when hunting yellowtail provides a key to some wonderful shark trips. He also gained valuable experience as research coordinator for Irvin & Johnson’s abalone culture facility at Danger Point and was subsequently introduced to the field of parasitology. He has attended many International Marine Science and Parasitology Symposia over the years and presented at Texas A&M University as part of a marine development, aquarium and educational program. He is currently looking into parasites associated with Elasmobranchs.

B.Sc.(with honors) Zoology – Michigan State University, USA

Research interests: Michelle has traveled the globe in the past three years conducting various education, research, and conservation projects. She began her career as a marine biologist in Antarctica, studying the specialized predatory techniques of leopard seals. Then, she spent three field seasons studying and protecting sea turtles in the United States and Costa Rica. In 2009, Michelle had the chance to follow her passion for education as a marine biology instructor for Nature's Classroom in the United States with daily exposure to one of the world's most fearsome creatures – elementary students.

Michelle has also previously served Oceans Research as a great white shark intern in Mossel Bay, South Africa, and has now found her home in Gansbaai with MD/Conservation Trust. Her current project is studying the interaction between great white sharks and resident cetacean populations of Gansbaai.

Michelle Wcisel - Marine Biologist

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  • 5-DAY OR 7-DAY SAFARI from Cape Town up the renowned Garden Route: taking in Dolphin and Whale Spotting, visits to many tourist attractions, such as a visit to a brewery(!), the Bloukrantz Bungy Jump (reportedly the highest in the world), and a guided tour of the Cango Caves.

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Sharks are intelligent and vulnerable, deserving of sympathy and respect. Education helps people to lose the Jaws phenomenon and gain the realisation that sharks are a complex and precious species, living in the water – just doing their best to survive.

100,000,000 sharks are killed each year by humans, usually through fishing. They are, as a result, on a collision course with extinction. Great White Sharks are the last wild predator on earth that we cannot tame; from that point of view alone it deserves our respect and attention.

How could our oceans be the same without the glorious Great White beneath its surface.

Great White Sharks are very stable animals, displaying stable and predictable behaviour. They do not like to fight with or bite one another. They are highly intelligent animals, able to learn quickly and to remember. This is all new and contradictory evidence in the field and it is apparent that the Shark Team are just scratching the surface now.

Finding the Great White, or letting them find you, is a skill, involving years of practice, the water temperature, depth, visibility, swell height, current and wind direction are all major factors. Once the site is found, the bait is prepared and the team awaits the shark, respecting it as a free animal. A recent tagging project was very successful allowing a number of Great Whites to be tracked.

Possible Extinction:
Considering the incredible number of between 150 - 200 million sharks destroyed each year, there is a potential threat of extinction to these species. Most sharks are slow growing, have late maturation and low fecundity and this is the shark's downfall. They cannot replace their stocks to keep up with human exploitation, such as say, sardines can.

Lets look at the Great White Shark. The Great White Shark female takes approximately 15 years to become sexually mature, and the male about 8 years. At these ages the female will be around five meters long and the male around four meters long. The Great White Sharks' fecundity is low, so the female may possibly only give birth to several litters of pups in a lifetime and these litters are relatively small, ranging from about seven to eleven pups in a litter.

So due to the shark's inability to reproduce quickly, stock replacement is not occurring and subsequently the populations of the world are fast diminishing. In fact, they are being wiped out far quicker than most people realise, with many species critically endangered and some species literally on the brink of extinction.

The Great White Shark is now protected in South Africa, California, South Australia and Tasmania, and although this is only one of almost 400 species of shark, its protection is a step in the right direction.

The Great White is a key stone species on this planet and its protection, subsequent media attention and high public profile allows us to use it as a battering ram to push for the protection of other shark species.

About Dyer Island: The name of the island originated from an African American, Samson Dyer, who went to live on the island in the 19th century. He collected "guano" (bird droppings), and made a living from supplying it to farmers on the mainland as fertilizer. The boats that transported the guano from the island are today in the Maritime Museum at the Waterfront in Cape Town.

Dyer Island (larger island) is the breeding ground of Jackass Penguins, Cape Cormorants and Gannets, while Geyser Rock (smaller island) is a breeding Mecca for Cape Fur Seals and currently home to approx. 50 000 seals. In season, whales and dolphins may also be spotted.

Shark taking the bait as seen from underwater
Shark taking bait - Photos courtesy of Independent Productions


The "Great White House"

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Your accommodation will be in a large, comfortable and well-appointed house in Kleinbaai.

You will 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 £100, eating sensibly and cheaply) to R1,500 (roughly £150, on which you should be eating fairly well). (These exchange figures correct at time of writing.)

On arrival you will be fully briefed and have the opportunity to meet the MD team, including a personal supervisor who will be available to you throughout your stay. Prior to your arrival you will receive your specially tailored itinerary and your supervisor will be available to answer questions or provide advice by email.

To read about Travel arrangements and what happens when you arrive in your new country, please click here.

Support & Backup: To read about the excellent Support & Backup we provide before you leave and during your program, please click here.

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List of ALL PROJECTS in South Africa