The White Shark Trust Field Research Assistantship

1st of December 2001 - 31 December 2005

This program is no longer running!

We thank you very much for your interest in the Great White Sharks (Carcharodon carcharias). The project at Dyer Island is lead and conducted by Michael C. Scholl. The research conducted at Dyer Island is field based and concentrates on establishing a catalogue of Photo-Identified White Sharks which will be used to investigate residency and movement patterns mainly. This photo-identification research project started in 1997, and so far over 800 White Sharks have been identified, with resightings spread over 1’800 days and some sharks observed over 40 times at Dyer Island alone.

The Dyer Island project is part of a wider research program lead by Marine and Coastal Management. Several scientists and institutions form the overall project: Herman Oosthuizen and Mike Meyer (Marine and Coastal Management), Charles Griffith (University of Cape Town), Ryan Johnson and Marthan Bester (University of Pretoria), Sheldon Dudley (Natal Sharks Board) and Len Compagno (South African Museum). For more information, please visit the following web site at:

Upon arrival in Gansbaai, you will have to complete and sign a liability and a copyright waiver document.

1. What kind of work will be conducted?

The work will be almost exclusively field related, and will be conducted around Dyer Island mainly. The field research work includes the following:

  • data / information /observation recording on free swimming White Sharks;
  • recording environmental and working condition conditions;
  • taking photographs for individual identification of observed White Sharks;
  • taking stereo-photographs for total length measurements of free swimming White Sharks (this is not garanteed though);
  • tag removal;
  • ultrasonic tracking may also take place in collaboration with Marine and Coastal Management (this is not garanteed though).
2. What will be expected from participants?

Participants will be expected to assist in all aspects of the field research conducted. They will be expected to give their best in all aspects of the day to day activities involved with the field work and research on sharks, as well as general preparation and maintenance procedures.

3. What can a participant learn and gain?

Responsibilities will be alternated and this will mainly represent a team effort. Depending on the personal capacities and preferences, the first week of the stay will mainly be a training week in order to be able to work efficiently. The team will be involved in all the research fields under investigation at the moment:

  • Preparation of the bait and chum;
  • Chumming and handling of the bait;
  • Shark sexing;
  • Shark size estimation;
  • Recording environmental, geographical and shark data / information;
  • Taking photographs for Identification of White Sharks;
  • Taking stereo-photographs for TL measurement of White Sharks;
  • Equipment and boat preparation and maintenance;
  • Handling of the boat and skippering the vessel at sea;
  • Computer assisted data input;
  • House duties;

Working as an assistant, participants will gain extensive field work experience in an environment which can be harsh and difficult with the concerned animals and this region of the world. Participants will be trained in the diverse techniques and methods of working with the sharks, and collecting all the relevant data on the animals and the environment. This kind of extensive training and experience will be valuable for the future of any field biologist.

4. Who may apply?

There is no general restriction, although biology oriented students and academics will be given priority.

We are however very pleased to say that we have welcomed non-biology and non-academic assistants: e.g. Carpenter, Graphic Designer, Shipwright, Lawyer, etc... so there really is no other restriction other than your personal motivation and shark passion. But you will have to try to pass these emotions to me in your application form.

We do not offer any internship, field placement for master or PhD thesis. If you wish to pursue an academic degree, you will have to be enrolled at a South African institution and contact Marine and Coastal Management.

5. How long is the program?

Assistants will have to stay for a minimum of one month. The preferred date of arrival is the 1st of each month (or sometimes the 16th), so that coordination can more easily be arranged.

6. Where will we work?

The center of the work area is Dyer Island as this area represents the base of our work. The island lies four miles off shore, and is located approximately 180 kilometers SE of Cape Town. This area is very interesting as it consists of two islands adjacent to each other and separated by a channel. The main island, Dyer Island, is a bird nature reserve (about 18 resident bird species and another 18 species visiting the area) under the control of Cape Nature Conservation, while the other island, Geyser Rock, is home to a permanent colony of up to 60’000 Cape Fur Seals.

We will investigate inshore / offshore movement patterns between the island and an area located closer to shore, Holbaai. Another area of interest is located at Quoin Point which presents a small seal colony, half way between Dyer Island and Struis Bay. Other areas will also be investigated within this project: e.g. Walker Bay

7. How many people will there be on the team?

There usually will be two to four assistants at a time.

8. When will this program start?

This program has started on the 1st of December 2001. This is an ongoing program and it will run for several years.

9. What will the program cost me?

The only cost associated with this program is for Transport, Room and Board. Contact us for further details.

10. What does this fee cover?

This fee covers your return transport from Cape Town to Gansbaai, and occasional transport around Gansbaai. The accommodation is situated in the middle of Gansbaai which makes it easy for you to walk around to town for example. You will be accommodated in the apartment on the second floor of a two story house on the sea front. That apartment includes two rooms, one bathroom and one toilet room, a lounge with open plan kitchen and a large balcony overlooking the ocean. Included is also your board.

Depending on your habits and lifestyle, we suggest that applicants add to their monthly budget about 1'500 to 3'000 South African Rand for their soft drinks and alcohol, “ luxury ” items and souvenirs, excursions, outings and necessities.

This fee does not include your flight(s) to South Africa.

11. How do I get to Gansbaai?

You will have to fly into Cape Town International Airport. A shuttle will pick you up at the airport or in Cape Town and drive you to Gansbaai (two hour drive). Please let us know your exact and detailed flight plan in order to organise pick up.

12. What do I need to bring?
  • Some OLD jeans, tops and shoes/boots to use on the boat (you can also buy cheap clothes in Gansbaai in case);
  • Warm clothing;
  • Normal clothing for the outings and excursions;
  • A wind breaker jacket and good waterproof clothing;
  • Factor 30+ sun block and a wide brim hat;
  • Polarised sunglasses (allows you to see through the water much better);
  • Diving certification (in case we will be able to dive);
  • Still and/or Video camera (maybe also an UW disposable camera) for your personal use;
13. Do I need any specific vaccination or medication before coming to South Africa?

No, we are far from the Malaria, and there are no strange African disease which you could pick up (that is if you respect the same safety rules as anywhere else in the world). If you decide to visit South Africa further to the east and north, you should contact the health agency of your country who has up to date maps concerning epidemics and infectious disease.

14. Can I dive with Great White sharks?

This is not a white shark diving trip, but a field research and data collection program. Diving, if any, will thus play a minor role. Nevertheless, we will try to organize a cage dive if time and conditions allow it (this might cost something extra).

15. Can I purchase necessary things such as toiletries, film, medicine, etc... while in Gansbaai?

Yes, there are shops and pharmacies in the village closeby. The center of Gansbaai is less than five minutes walk from the house.

Gansbaai is indeed a small village... and city slickers might feel a bit out of place... But you will find everything you need here. There is a large SPAR and a 7/11 for just about all the common necessities. We also have a pharmacy, three doctor practices, hardware stores, an internet cafe and photo processing shop, etc... alternatively, we often go to Hermanus where you will find a wider range of products. For specific products, it is always possible to order things from Cape Town and get it courried to Gansbaai within a day.

16. Do I need an insurance?

Yes - When you are accepted in this program, you will have to sign various liability and copyright documents. You will not be covered for accidents or illnesses, so please do organize your own medical and health insurances.

One advice when you looking for a travel insurance... We do not recommend that you tell the insurance company that you will be working with Great White Sharks. This usually make the insurance companies cringe, and they most probably will not open a policy for you... You are just a visitor / tourist in South Africa and as such you are entitled to have a normal travel insurance policy. Chances that you will be injured by a shark are non-existant if you follow the safety guidelines and do not try anything foolish which we would not approve of anyway. But you will be working on a boat in conditions which can, at times, be less than comfortable. And accidents on a boat may occur, so it is important to be covered in case of an emergency or accident. Be sure to have an insurance cover for your entire stay in South Africa.

17. Do I need a VISA?

No - You will not be employed or paid at the White Shark Trust. As a White Shark Trust Field Research Assistant you are volunteering. Most tourists get a 3-month / 90 day Tourist / Visitor VISA upon entry in South Africa. However, we do recommend that you contact the South African Embassy or Consulate and confirm this fact. But DO NOT mention that you are coming to South Africa to work or volunteer! Some assistants were told that they had to apply for a Work or Study VISA in the past, and these types of VISA are nearly impossible to get in South Africa. Just ask them if you require a VISA for visiting South Africa as a tourist. DO NOT leave this enquiry for too late - We recommend that you contact the South African Embassy or Consulate in your country ASAP. If your application period is for a period longer than three months, or if you plan to travel in South Africa prior or after your assistantship for a period extending 90 days, you will have to apply for a Tourist / Visitor VISA application once you are in South Africa (e.g. in Cape Town) no later than 30 days before the end date of the VISA you get upon entry.

18. Can I cancel or change the dates of the assistantship?

Due to the amount of applications we get for the WST Field Research Assistantship, we unfortunately have to make a choice since we only accept three or four assistants at any time. Therefore, we do not welcome cancellations or date changes after the final confirmation has been sent to you. The schedule is difficult enough to produce taking into considerations all the potential applications. Therefore, make sure that the dates you indicate in your application form really suit your own schedule before applying.

The fee for the return transport from Cape Town to Gansbaai, room and board is set on an annual basis. This fee is considered to be a donation to the White Shark Trust and Field Research Assistantship program. This fee must be paid in full and for the whole assistantship period (unless a written eMail aggreement exists between the applicant and the White Shark Trust) no later than 60 days before the start of the assistantship.

Cancellations prior to this 60-day deadline are accepted without cancellation fee. However, we would appreciate it if you could let us know of any changes or cancellations as soon as you are aware of these, so that we are able to welcome another applicant.

Cancellations between 30 and 59 days before the start of the assistantship will be charged a penalty of 75% (25% refund). Cancellations done less than 30 days before the start of the assistantship will not include any refund. The reason for this drastic cancellation charge is that it will then be too late to contact, organise and welcome another potential applicant on such short notice.

Cancellations due to illness, accident or extraordinary events require a written statement and a letter from the doctor (if applicable), and the assistantship will be postponed to another period suitable to both parties.

To be valid, any cancellation message from the applicant requires a confirmation message from the White Shark Trust.

19. Is there anything to be done when the weather does not allow field work?

Apart from the work to be done on the data, boats and equipment, we will make sure that you will get a feel of this wonderful region and its sceneries. South Africa presents a vast range of wildlife and flora, as well as a very diverse coastline. Jackass Penguins, Cape Fur Seals, Baboons, snakes, birds, etc. can be easily observed in the area... Beautiful walks along the coast or in the mountains are easily accessible. Wine tasting and visits to the neighboring vineyards may also be arranged. During the season (June to December), the Southern Right Whales swim right past the rocky coast and may be observed with their calves (often even from your bedroom).

Click here to discover some places to visit...

Every group of assistant usually goes on a roadtrip once a month (to be organised by yourselves) for 3-5 days... there are nice escapades to be planned along the Garden Route where you can get to see some of the African Wildlife or just enjoy some surfing... We will help you plan the trip if you need any advice or contacts. These trips are usually planned around the weather.

We can also recommend that you stay in South Africa after your stay in Gansbaai if you really want to visit the country... The Kruger National Park is in the opposite part of South Africa and you will need some time. You could also visit Namibia or Mozambique, or why not take one of the Overland tours offered by the local companies which will take you from Cape Town to Victoria Falls or even as far as Kenya.

20. Do we have weekends off?

No, but yes... The weather along the Western Cape of South Africa is not stable, and the sea does not allow field work every day. Remember you are between the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Agulhas (southernmost point of the African continent), which are well known to the navigators... Thus you will have days off whenever the weather and sea condition do not allow field work, and no other work on the data or maintenance work on the equipment and facility is needed. We will organise excursions on some of these days.

Especially during the summer season (October through April), we sometimes have long periods during which the weather is nice. After 4-5 days at sea, we will then take a couple of days break. Why? Well, being at sea is very tiring, constantly balancing yourself, baking in the hot sun and being blown by the winds, so after a few days at sea, your body will need a rest. Secondly, after 4-5 days at sea, we tend to see the same Sharks, and it is beneficial from a scientific point of view to take a couple of days off to allow for new Sharks to come into the area. And lastly, as great and fun as the field work is, Michael Scholl needs time in the office to work on correpondence and research.

We plan to have at between 10 and 20 field trips per month, weather permitting.

21. Is this program a holiday?

Hopefully this response will not apply to you. This assistantship is not a holiday, nor a cage-diving holiday, nor a Shark photography holiday. As a Field Research Assistant at the White Shark Trust, you have been enrolled to assist us. If you are looking at this assistantship as a holiday with White Sharks, we will kick you out of the program ASAP, without refund and without warning! That said, we are always having fun, and this is not going to be a training camp, and you will of course be able to take pictures and film the Sharks, but we do not want people for whom this is the main aim, nor will we tolerate it. Working conditions can be stressful and intense at times, especially on a day with many Sharks, and these conditions request your entire attention at times.

22. Can my relatives and friends contact me during my stay?

Of course, your parents and friends can contact you!

The postal address is: your name, c/o Michael Scholl, P.O. Box 1258, Gansbaai 7220, Western Cape, South Africa.

Your general eMail address during your stay is as follows (allows you to write eMails offline instead of using an online account):

You have access to a phone, computer and internet in the flat you will be staying at. From May 2005, Gansbaai has finally been connected to the internet with broadband access. You will be able to access your web based eMail service at any time.

Our phone number is:

+27 28 384 03 31 (International) or 028 384 03 31 (within South Africa)

Our fax number is:

+27 88 028 384 03 31 (International) or 088 028 384 03 31 (within South Africa)

Please ensure that your friends and family call before 21:00 (9 pm) local time so as not to disturb everyone.

To firmly confirm, you have to pay the full fee for the whole period, two months at the latest before your arrival. This is a non-refundable deposit in case you cancel your stay within the last two months before your planned arrival (in case of a last minute emergency with proof or a medical certificate attesting your condition, the deposit will be partially reimbursed). Any outstanding amount must be paid upon arrival at the latest.