So I have made it 2/3rds of my way through the White Shark Volunteer Program; just about long enough for me to have seen what life is actually like in the industry. I can’t even begin to express coherently how I’ve enjoyed this experience. As for summarizing so far, I’m not sure that one blog post is sufficient, but I’m going to give it a go!
I feel like I’m at that stage where I’ve been spat out of the system and now I have to make my own choices, and there are plenty of them to decide between. Continue studying, and study what? Get a job- what kind of job? Go travel- but where? I’m terrible at decision making, so I find this pretty daunting! Having said that, I know what I like and roughly what I’d like to do with my life. Completing my undergrad zoology degree has cemented an ever-present passion for wildlife and so research and conservation is the direction I am being pulled in. I was searching for an opportunity that encompasses this, something a bit different that will equip me with experience and opportunities to make a difference. I was drawn to this program because of its research focus, the amount of hands-on learning and also the variety that it offers and I have to say, I’ve not been disappointed. And also, SHARKS!
The bit I considered the most important part of this experience was the research element and the possibility of making even just a small difference to White Shark conservation. Research-wise as volunteers, we heavily participate in data collection. This involves going out on the cage diving boat and keeping tabs on the individual sharks that visit, along with recording the environmental conditions and basic behaviour. I’m getting pretty good at distinguishing between these beauties. Data entry and basic analysis is also an important part of the program and the bit that is usually ‘mundane’. It does consist of sitting on your butt for relatively long periods of time, however, I actually quite enjoy it. I find it really cool that we can observe the things of this world and turn our observations into numbers which we can then use to find patterns in nature. As well as that, it allows me to stretch the old grey matter a bit, something I don’t do often enough these days! Getting to go to the Southern African Shark Conference was a great way to learn about the findings of the studies that are going on here.
Learning to angle and tag small shark species for me had been a true highlight. Small sharks are caught either using rods, handlines or by hand on snorkelling surveys. I’m incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to see these wild animals up close and marvel at their beauty – their colours, patterns and details. It makes the sea-sickness worth it. For sure.
Alongside the research, comes a whole bunch of other stuff – both for adventurous fun (like zip-lining, or road tripping) and for the sake of the community, ie. doing beach cleans, helping out with the marine bio club at the local high school and going to the local animal shelter. This makes the entire program, not only incredibly well rounded, but also very enriching.
The last, but probably most important thing to mention is how welcome everyone here has made me feel. I have no doubt that I will not only come away from this experience with a whole bunch of great stories, memories and new skills but also with true friends. For that, I am incredibly grateful. Who could ask for more?