GAP YEAR | VOLUNTEER ABROAD | WORK EXPERIENCE OVERSEAS
MARINE RESEARCH INTERNSHIPS WITH WHALES & DOLPHINS, NEAR CAPE TOWN IN SOUTH AFRICA
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.
THE MARINE RESEARCH INTERNSHIP program
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...
CURRENT RESEARCH PROJECTS
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.
There are also a number of ongoing studies from which data has already been published including:
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.
YOUR TIME AT SEA:
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.
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.
REQUIREMENTS FOR ENTERING INTO THE program:
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.)
WHAT YOU'LL GAIN FROM DOING THIS PROJECT:
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’ :
Got any questions? Please email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Got any questions? Please email us:
ALISON TOWNER - MARINE BIOLOGIST
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
Got any questions? Please email us:
Got any questions? Please email us:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Got any questions? Please email us:
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.
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.
Support & Backup:
To read about the excellent Support
& Backup we provide before you leave and during
please click here.
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