Shark Research Experience

The Shark & Marine Institute (SMRI) offers volunteers an opportunity to get first-hand experience of ground-breaking research studying shark behaviour, biology and conservation. Volunteers conduct snorkelling surveys, capture crucial data and contribute to many scientific studies.  

SMRI Volunteer Program

Our Shark & Marine Research Institute is dedicated to protecting and conserving sharks and other elasmobranchs, and safeguarding the health and vitality of our oceans. We are based in Gansbaai, South Africa, roughly two hours from Cape Town up the east coast. The bay we work in is an  incredibly rich ecosystem that provides a vital habitat for an array of marine life, including great white sharks.

Our programme offers a unique opportunity to be involved with ground-breaking research studying great whites, as well as the smaller shark and other elasmobranch species along our coast, many of which are data deficient. Our research is focused on gaining much-needed information about these amazing and enigmatic creatures who are so crucial to our oceans yet have reached such a critical mass. Through our work we hope to support their preservation in the long-term.

During your stay you will play a vital role in our field research, learning practical and theoretical skills including but not limited to great white shark observational data collection, great white shark dorsal fin analysis, ethical handling and angling of sharks, shark tagging and genetic sampling. You will also gain sea experience on our white shark cage diving tourist boat and will have opportunities to enter                          the cage yourself. You will see and learn about a wide array of other South African marine wildlife, as well as be involved in exciting community and environmental outreach initiatives.

With all sharks – including our magnificent great white sharks – declining in number, our mission is to explore, discover and monitor our elasmobranch species through various scientific research projects, and in turn we hope to help protect the long-term future of these species by translating this  knowledge into evidence-based conservation initiatives. Come join us and make a positive difference to the world’s oceans!

White Shark Population Monitoring

Project aims: To obtain a population estimate
and monitor white shark populations in the
area to determine, for example: How long do
the sharks remain in the area for? Does it
differ between each individual? Are there any
correlations with any environmental parameters?
Are there individuals that are returning to the
Bay? How long between each visit? Do they have
a chum preference?

Project motivation & methods: This project
involves daily monitoring of white sharks.
The number of sharks seen, markings on each
shark, approximate size, and sex (if possible) is
recorded, along with behavioural observations
and environmental data. We are also building a
database of all the sharks we see – our white
shark photo fin ID database – so we can easily
identify and closely monitor the individuals we are
seeing. We can also use this database to obtain a
population estimate within the next 2-3 years.

Training & tasks: Guests will be required to fill
out the data sheet when on board the cage-diving
boat. You will be trained to record observational,
behavioural and environmental data, taught
about dorsal fin ID, and given the opportunity to
capture some fin ID shots. You will be required
to enter this data into our database in the
appropriate way and taught how to analyse the
dorsal fin ID photographs.

At the end of each month guests will prepare a
small presentation and write a short report
together, analysing the white sharks they have
seen in that month.

Baited Remote Underwater Video system

Project aims: To establish the diversity, abundance, species composition and habitat use of species around Gansbaai.

Project motivation & methods: A number of commercially important fish and nvertebrate species have declined in the area due to overfishing, poaching and lack of fisheries  management. This project explores the abundance and diversity of populations around Gansbaai and will assess how these populations might change over time.

Training & tasks: Guests will be taught how to analyse the videos, including training in species identification and training in obtaining abundance indices. Your task will again involve inputting the data onto our database. 

FYI: Our BRUV system comprises of a steel frame that has two steel rods extending towards the surface. One rod houses a GoPro camera, which is aimed  horizontally at a bait canister positioned 1m away and 30cm off the seabed. Each rig is attached to a rope that has a surface marker buoy for easy retrieval. For each deployment, 1 kg of chopped sardine (Sardinops sagax) is used as bait.

The system operates on the basic premise that fish are attracted to an area within the field of view of a remotely-controlled underwater camera using bait.

Protocol for BRUVs is as follows: BRUVs is lowered to the sea floor, retrieved after fishing for 60 minutes, video file downloaded to a computer for later viewing and analysis, and proceed to new location.

BRUVs are a relatively new method. The videos allow us to learn about the diversity and abundance of species that are not frequently caught during  angling surveys, and also allow us to observe species within their habitat. BRUVs are a very useful tool to attract and record organisms. In past studies BRUVs have shown increased ability in detecting elasmobranch and fish species when compared to angling.

The non-extractive and non-destructive qualities of this technique mean that it can be used to monitor exploited species and in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), without compromising the management objectives.

The archiving of BRUVs videos provides an efficient and ongoing method of ecosystem assessment that can be used to inform fisheries management. The videos also serve as a powerful conservation tool in education and awareness programs. During your stay with us we may ask you to compile fun videos of the best BRUVs footage you have seen, for our website, for Facebook, and for educational purposes.

Marine Debris Project

We are all aware that marine pollution, in particular plastic debris, has become a huge problem. Every year tens of thousands of marine animals die due to ingestion or entanglement in floating debris.

Many people discard rubbish into the ocean without understanding the impact that is has on the  ecosystem.

The aim of this project is to help with the clean up of our local beaches and ocean. We will go to a few different beach sites and conduct beach clean ups. We will then take the debris back to our project house, where it will be identified and processed.

This project is in collaboration with 7SEASROPE – a
local NPO dedicated to re-using and recycling debris found on our beaches and in the ocean. They are currently making products out of rope, fishing line,
nets and other debris for people to purchase around
the world, and the money generated is donated towards different conservation and research initiatives that are dedicated to safeguarding the health and vitality of our oceans.

We try to do a beach clean up on a weekly basis if time allows. We also try to organise clean ups with the local community, other organisations and local schools.

Guests will be involved in all clean ups whether it be just a programme activity or a community event.


Education is important to us and we are passionate about sharing our knowledge and research with the public. On board the cage diving boat our crew are trained to deliver educational and interesting information on white sharks.

Once trained and comfortable you will be expected to contribute to this when on board the boat, and try to answer questions that the clients may have about the sharks or the data you will be recording.

Our marine biologist carries out weekly classes at the local school with the Marine Biology club. Guests will be requested to help out when required in the classroom and on field trips.

Working with the young local community should be expected. We try to get the young fishermen involved in our controlled angling surveys, we allow them to watch us tag the sharks, we give presentations about sharks using collected shark egg-cases, pictures, videos and sometimes dissection, we take them snorkelling, teach them how to swim, organise trips for them and more. You will be asked to help out at school visits, on field trips, at events and contribute when required.

As well as working with the young local community, we also help out one afternoon a week at the local animal rescue centre. With so many stray dogs and cats in the area and such little funding, the shelter needs assistance with walking and playing with the dogs and puppies there. Given you like animals we ask our guests to come with us to help in the shelter once or twice a week when time allows. Tasks at the centre
include, playing with the puppies, playing with the kittens, taking the dogs on walks, helping clear up, taking photographs and helping with any fundraising events they may have. 


Shark Research Experience

* Based on 2 week stay. Length of stay determines price.

USD 1,690 pp* 14 DAYS

Private safari, All accommodations, Meals as specified (B-Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner), Activities as specified. All transfers.
Flights, Visas, Optional activities, Items of a personal nature, Gratuities, Personal travel insurance.

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