Shark, Whale and Penguin Conservation in South Africa

GVI Flex: independent travel
Durations :
2 - 24 weeks
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Gansbaai, South Africa
The project

Join us in Gansbaai, South Africa, an area renowned for its diverse marine life. Volunteers actively engage in conservation activities with sharks, whales, penguins and other marine species, contributing to eco-tourism, research and education efforts. It’s a unique opportunity to make a positive impact in this diverse marine ecosystem while enjoying this popular coastal destination.

The program

Get ready to dive deep into marine conservation! Our shark, whale and penguin conservation program is all about building a sense of responsibility and advocacy for our oceans. Typical activities on this program include species identification, monitoring habitats, getting involved in conservation initiatives, exploring underwater wonders, attending educational sessions, contributing to rehabilitation efforts, and participating in research. 

Activity highlights

On this volunteer program you’ll take part in hands-on experiences like shark cage diving and whale-watching. Here’s a peek at what you can expect:

– Knowledge sessions: Engage in expert-led sessions covering shark behaviour, marine biology and conservation.

– Shark cage diving research: Hone your identification skills and contribute to shark research during cage diving sessions.

– Boat crew support: Assist the shark cage diving boat crew, ensuring a smooth experience for participants.

– Whale/dolphin observation: Join boat excursions for whale and dolphin species identification, contributing to data collection.

– Penguin sanctuary engagement: Contribute to African penguin well-being through hands-on tasks at the sanctuary.

– Community involvement: Take part in marine conservation initiatives, including beach clean-ups and community outreach.

Our goal is to inspire volunteers to advocate for positive change by emphasising the sustainable and mutually beneficial aspects of eco-tourism, conservation, community involvement, research and education. 


Tucked away on the stunning Cape Whale Coast, Gansbaai is a quick 2.5-hour drive from Cape Town. This coastal town is teeming with marine life and is famous for its Marine Big 5 (sharks, whales, seals, penguins and dolphins) within the Dyer Island ecosystem. 

Walker Bay, situated next to Gansbaai, hosts an annual whale migration, making it a go-to spot for whale-watching fans. With around 80,000 global visitors each year, Gansbaai attracts nature lovers from far and wide.


The Dyer Island ecosystem hosts great white sharks, humpback whales, southern right whales and year-round Bryde’s whale sightings. Geyser Rock accommodates around 60,000 Cape fur seals and Shark Alley offers glimpses of bronze whaler sharks, broadnose sevengill sharks and short-tailed stingrays. 

Dyer Island is also a hotspot for bird enthusiasts, home to endangered African penguins and various pelagic bird species. The Uilenkraal estuary is a birder’s dream spot with diverse bird species. Sometimes you’ll catch a glimpse of the endangered humpback dolphins, joined by bottlenose and common dolphins at the entrance.

Your impact, your way

A typical day is a mix of routine and excitement, shaped by personal interests and ongoing activities. Begin your day by preparing your own breakfast and packed lunch at the volunteer house. Head to the project site, engage in hands-on rehabilitation efforts at APSS (African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary) and take a lunch break with the team.

In the afternoon, participate in conservation projects such as beach cleanups or support environmental awareness campaigns. Wind down in the evening with free time to relax or join practical or lecture sessions. You can choose how you want to handle dinner (prepare your own, eat out or opt for takeout). Then, chill out with games, movies or presentations – every day is a fresh adventure.

How is shark cage diving managed ethically in South Africa?

Our partner organisation follows strict guidelines set by the Department of Environmental Affairs in South Africa, prioritising safety and minimising impact during shark cage diving activities. With an annual renewable permit, they conduct responsible diving with various shark species, including bronze whaler sharks, sevengill sharks, cow sharks and bull sharks. Our partner organisation also plays an active role in outreach and education, advocating for sustainable coexistence with apex predators in South Africa.

Free time

On days without sea activities, you can venture into the broader Cape Whale Coast. Check out iconic spots like Shark Alley, a haven for marine predators, and the captivating De Kelders caves. And if you’re feeling adventurous, consider planning a day trip to Hermanus, embarking on cave and mountain hikes, or even enjoying a bit of horseback riding along the beach. There’s a world of exploration waiting beyond the waves!

What’s Included

Project work

Work with sharks, whales, penguins and other marine species to support eco-tourism, research and education.


Live in dorm-style accommodation with shared amenities, including kitchen, living room, dining room, activity room, pool, games and workspaces.


Enjoy complimentary breakfast and lunch; dinner is not included. You can prepare your own, eat out or get takeout.

Airport transfer

Arrive on Sunday, spend the night at a hotel just 4 minutes from the airport. The following morning, you'll be picked up and taken to Gansbaai.

Basic pre-departure support

Includes an Essential Info Pack and answering any questions you might have.

Basic in-country support

Receive info packs with local resources, clinic details. In emergencies, consult packs; contact Program Manager if needed.

24/7 mental health support

Receive support services provided by licensed professionals.

Local transport

You’ll be transported to and from your project work by boat.

Project training

Receive training for the project to equip you for your assigned tasks.
What's not included

Flights and airport taxes, medical and travel insurance, visa costs, police or background check, additional drinks and gratuities, extra local excursions, personal items and toiletries, dinners, laundry, snacks, sweets and alcohol, local transport during free time, food and accommodation outside of the research station.

Your accommodation

You’ll stay in dorm-style accommodation comprising four cottages and a new building that can accommodate up to 40 individuals. Sleeping arrangements and bathrooms are shared, with bedding provided and weekly cleaning. Each unit has a kitchenette, but the main cooking takes place in the communal kitchen, along with a nearby dining room and sitting area. Other amenities include a lecture room, workspaces, a pool and an activity hall with weights, table tennis, pool, foosball and various board games. Stay connected with Wi-Fi and satellite TV, and there’s an inverter for power outages. It’s not just comfortable – it’s the perfect space for a fantastic experience!