INTERNSHIP & RESEARCH PROGRAMME

One of South Africa’s leading marine research charities, are offering a limited number (maximum of 8) of final year students the opportunity to participate in a multi-marine species research expedition.

The research will be conducted with our permanent team of marine biologists' of marine biologists between October-November 2012 – during a peak period of activity for marine species at Dyer Island (near Gansbaai about 2 hours from Cape Town).

The waters off Dyer Island are some of the worlds richest in biodiversity. The world’s densest population of great white sharks can be found here as well as a large colony of Cape fur seals, dolphins and one of the most important breeding colonies of the endangered African penguin. From July-December the bay is also an important breeding area for the southern right whale.

Our research team


Alison Towner has conducted her Masters research at University of Cape Town and is now preparing her PhD looking into the movement patterns and habitat usage of white sharks in the area. She has worked with the white sharks in Gansbaai for the past six years and is among the most experienced researchers on the species. Oliver Jewell has been tracking sharks since 2008 and has completed his Masters research through University of Pretoria. He is an experienced skipper and leads night tracking expeditions around Dyer Island. Michelle Wcisel is a Masters candidate with University of Cape Town; she is an animal behaviour specialist and has worked with leopard seals, white sharks, and sea turtles among other species. Her study focuses on Cape fur seal behaviour. For a full profile of our research team and up-to-date record of publications, please visit the researcher and publication pages of our website (publiscations page soon to come!)

Tagging and Tracking


The first white shark tagged by the Dyer Island Conservation Trust was in 2009, where ‘Sarika’ a 4.2m female was spotted in the shallows. For the next two months we manually tracked her on our dedicated research vessel, Lwazi, to within meters of the beach and up to the edge of Dyer Island. Sharks are externally tagged while free swimming and manually tracked using ultrasonic pings from the tag which are picked up by a receiver on the boat. We shadow the sharks’ movements up and down the bay. We are investigating the effect of environmental parameters on the localised movements and predatory foraging on prey species. As members of the research team, interns assist us in both tagging and tracking expeditions as well as processing the data.

Dorsal fin identification


Each sharks fin is unique, and with bait and chum, images can be captured of the sharks fin and matched to our database. Such information is crucial to calculate population estimates for great white sharks on a local, national and global scale. Our catalogue dates back to 2007 and is likely the most extensive on the species with a dedicated effort for everyday we work with these animals. Interns will assist with this project by learning photo editing as well as cataloguing.



Predation Studies


Geyser Rock is home to a Cape fur seal colony of some 55-60,000 individuals and each year this huge abundance draw white sharks to feed. The predation pressure on the seals is immense, and simply by being in the area the sharks shape the movements of the seals before they even begin to attack. The ecology of fear looks examines what extent this presence plays in the day to day lives of the seals. By dedicatedly observing and quantifying the seals’ movement patterns, we are further understanding the influence of dynamic predators in ecosystems. You will have the opportunity to join Michelle on surveys around Dyer Island and deep into Shark Alley where seals play the game of predator vs. prey; a game in which you either win or you die.

Whale watching and shark cage diving


The Dyer Island Conservation Trust is assisted by two commercial companies; Marine Dynamics and Dyer Island Cruises, who offer shark cage diving, whale watching and eco-trips year-round. We use these trips as unique opportunities to gather data and further our understanding of the wildlife in the bay. Already we have observed wound healing in white sharks, predatory interactions between sharks and dolphin and the long term effect of satellite tagging on the sharks dorsal fins. You will have the opportunity to help gather data from these commercial trips and even help the guides and crew on the water. You will also have the opportunity to jump in yourself and experience these apex predators up close and personal!

Environmental Surveys


Because we are located between two oceans, we see dramatic changes in the environmental parameters on both a seasonal and day to day bases. As warm water from the east (in the Agulhas current) meets cold water from the west (in the cold and upwelling Benguela current) mixing occurs and we have an abundance of nutrients and biodiversity. Changes can dramatically impact the wildlife in the bay from the fish species we observe to the amount of sharks, whales and dolphin we encounter. Alison’s PhD hinges on decoding these complex relationships and interns will be fully trained in the deployment and interpretation of YSI probes measuring oxygen, salinity and temperature of the water column.

Community Projects


We have a range of community projects that we support and that you can be a part of, from teaching kids from the local schools about the Marine Big 5 (dolphins, whales, seals, sharks and penguins) to cleaning up beaches and assisting the making and deployment of penguin houses and fishing line bins. For more information on our community projects please check out our initiatives page.

Our Fleet


Slashfin: Slashfin is the pride of Gansbaai, the premier cage diving vessel on the continent (and most likely the world). Designed by Trust founder, Wilfred Chivell, this vessel has been purpose built for the rough seas we encounter and is a fantastic ride on the water. It has an Aluminium hull and four 300 hp engines which propel it to a top speed of up to 45 kts.

Lwazi: Lwazi is our dedicated shark research vessel. It has featured in numerous documentaries and ironically was the vessel used to tag the legendary shark Slashfin (from which our cage diving vessel Slashfin gets its name) in February 2012.

Calypso: Calypso is yet another state of the art vessel designed by Trust director Wilfred. The hull is extremely hardy and propelled by two 300 hp engines, make this vessel workable in any seas thrown at it. It’s also extremely fuel efficient and stable making it the perfect platform for pelagic trips and predation surveys.

Whale Whisperer: Whale Whisperer is our whale watching and eco-trip vessel and was also custom designed by Wilfred. During the season the boat runs several trips a day in search of the iconic Southern Right Whale

Your training


You will receive training on all of the above aspects on your 2 month stay in Kleinbaai, by the end of your internship you will have gained skills in the following:
  • Small boat handling,
  • Manual tracking of sharks using Vemco VR100 receiver and hydrophone setup,
  • Photographic dorsal fin identification of sharks,
  • Photo editing,
  • Behavioural observations and analysis,
  • Seabird identification,
  • Deployment and analysis of YSI and CTD probes,
  • Working with large pelagic species in a small research team,
  • Safety at sea,
  • Over 100 hrs spent on the ocean

Our Expectations


We’re looking for young and driven scientists, keen to expand both their knowledge and field skills. This expedition is aimed at graduates from Marine or Biological based courses although undergraduates currently enrolled at the time of the expedition will still be considered if they can commit to the timeframe available. Due to a large amount of the course being based on teamwork a firm grasp of English is required and you should come expecting to work hard during your time with us. Our schedule is based around the seas conditions, which means we can have one week of intense tracking followed by another which may include several no sea days. During this time we recharge our batteries, catch up on data and get ready for the next opportunity to get back out to sea.

The Area


We live in a very sheltered area of South Africa, there is no malaria threat and there are no barbed wire fences around our homes. Whilst it is a safe community it is still recommended to air on the side of caution, after dark stay with your friends and lock windows and doors when you leave the house. We will provide a house for all interns to live and by the end you will have made many friends, we will provide food on vessels but you will be expected to provide for evening meals yourself. Work ethic is high but there will be plenty of down time too allowing visits to nearby Hermanus or to the local pubs and restaurants of Gansbaai.

Who should apply?


Applicants should have:
  • Graduated with a marine- or biology-based degree, or
  • Be enrolled in a marine or biology based course

Successful applicants will be selected on the basis of their passion for marine research; their proven research ability; and strong references. Interviewers will be conducted via Skype.

We also run research expeditions for October-November and March-April. Contact Oliver Jewell oli@sharkwatchsa.com for more information.
Applications should be sent to oli@sharkwatchsa.com