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Sharklife Research Assistant Program

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The Sharklife Research Assistant program provides a unique platform for students and volunteers to gain field experience working on shark research projects in South Africa's largest coastal Marine Protected Area (MPA). With direct involvement in all the research components, you will build your skill base through knowledge development, practical training, and many hours on the ocean. 

There is a maximum of 10 research assistants at any time allowing for more valuable experiences in the field and increased personal development. 

Sharklife has been driving shark conservation initiatives since 2005 and has a wealth of experience to offer enthusiastic research assistants. So whether you are an early career marine biologist, student, or passionate volunteer we need you to help drive our shark research projects!

Please note: All our data collection methods are non-invasive, nor harmful to the animals we study, there is no catching, handling, or feeding of sharks on this program. In addition, we dive in small groups to limit the disturbance of marine wildlife. 



Program Dates: 2024-2025

Calendar RA 20062024

* 4 months or more will require a Volunteer Visa, which we can help you with. 9 -12 month placements are also available. If you can't make these exact dates let us know and we can discuss the options.


Some FAQ's

  • What do I get from the program?
    1. Through the program you will gain bona-fide field experience with sharks and their environments.
    2. You will receive freediver training and gain water confidence
    3. Examining real shark and ray specimens is a rare opportunity and will greatly enhance your understanding of elasmobranch anatomy.
    4. By being involved in our research projects you will be exposed to varied research processes and methodologies. 
    5. Sodwana Bay is a remote rural town alongside South Africa's first world Heritage site and has some of the best diving in the world.
    6. Optional Big 5 Game Park tours. 
    7. Your participation in our program directly supports the shark conservation efforts of the organization. 

  • Who is the program for?

    Over 18’s, in good health, good swimming ability and an affinity for the ocean. If you are considering a career that involves being in the ocean or are just passionate about marine conservation, then this program will benefit you.


  • Do I need a Scuba qualification?

    No, but it would be beneficial. Many of the research trips are all snorkel based but some projects do include scuba surveys.  

    If you would like to complete one of the following courses whilst you are here, please specify it in the application form.

    PADI Open Water Course - $350
    PADI Advanced Diver Course - $350
    Freediver Level 1 - $230
    Freediver Level 2 - $300

    You will receive basic freediver coaching from an accredited freediving instructor. This will enable you to improve your freediving ability, if you would like formal training then select the level 1 freediver course.  

  • Arrival & Departure Day - Flight Details?

    If your  program starts on the 1st of January you need to arrive at the airport on the 1st of January, not before. If your program's last day is the 2nd of December you need to book your flight for departure on the 2nd of December.

    You need to fly into King Shaka Durban via Johannesburg O.R Tambo Airport. Please try to arrive no later than 2pm as it's a 4hr drive back to Sodwana Bay.

    If you need assistance with travel arrangements please let us know in the booking form.

    A Sharklife staff member will pick you up from the airport on your arrival day.

    If you are unsure please do not hesitate to ask for help.

    Sharklife World Flights

  • What is available in Sodwana Bay?

    There are most products and services available within walking distance of the accommodation.

  • Do I need a Visa?

    Nationals of the following 48 countries/territories who hold valid national passports are not required to obtain South African visas for visits of up to 90 days: If you are coming for longer than 90 days we will work with you to get the appropriate Visa. 

    But please double check this as changes can occur at anytime. visit http://www.dha.gov.za/index.php/immigration-services/exempt-countries

    African Union Laissez Passer
    Angola (ordinary passports 90 days per annum  visits not to exceed 30 days)
    Chile (only ordinary passport holders)
    Czech Republic
    Germany (except in diplomatic staff due to assume duty at the Embassy and Consulates of Germany in SA)
    Namibia (only ordinary passport holders 90 days per annum)
    Russian Federation     
    San Marino
    St Vincent & the Grenadines
    Tanzania (90 days per annum)
    Trinidad & Tobago (only ordinary passport holders)
    United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (only ordinary passport holders) 
    British Islands Bailiwick of Guernsey and Jersey, Isle of Man. British Oversees Territories namely: Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, St Helena and Dependencies (Ascension Island, Gough Island and Tristan da Cunha), Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands, the Sovereign Base Areas of Cyprus South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands and the Turks and Caicos Island.
    United States of America (except in respect of diplomatic staff due to assume duty at the Embassy and Consulates of the USA in SA, as well as service passport holders)
    Zambia (90 days per annum)

  • Deposit and Cancellation?
    • A non-refundable 50% deposit needs to be paid within one week of being accepted into the program to secure your spot.
    • The remaining fee must be paid in full 3 weeks prior to the arrival date.
    • All cancellations within 3 weeks of arrival are non-refundable.

  • When is the best time?

    Although seasonal changes in Sodwana Bay are mild there are changes in the sea conditions and mega fauna during the year.

    Generally the best weather months are between Dec-July, but its not imperative.

    Some noteworthy species seasonality:

    • Ragged-tooth Sharks, Sep - July (peak Dec - May)
    • Humpback Whales, June - Nov (peak July - August)
    • Turtle Nesting, Nov- Feb
    • Turtle Hatching, Jan - April
    • Big Five game viewing, Year Round

    Feel free to reach out to us if you need more info on seasonality :)

  • A typical day?

    Typical Day: 07:00 - 15:00 

    After preparing the boat and equipment for sea we head to the beach. Interns and volunteers are an integral part of the team and assist directly with all beach and boating logistics.  We launch through the surf and make our way along the coastline to the designated study area where we conduct in water surveys, record sightings data and change out equipment. Interns get the opportunity to develop seamanship and diving skills whilst encountering a wide variety of marine life. 

    On returning we rinse, de-kit the boat and diving equipment and break for lunch. 

    After lunch we meet in the research office where interns and volunteers are tasked with the daily data management functions or or maintenance tasks. 

    We end off with a debrief and planning session for the next day's research activities. 

    If we are unable to go to sea due to inclement weather we conduct theory sessions in our auditorium using graphics, videos and models to enhance your theoretical understanding of sharks. Interns and volunteers use this opportunity to ask questions and discuss prevalent conservation topics. 

    We also use this time conduct various examinations of the shark and ray specimens we have preserved, either frozen, dried or in solution. These specimens enable participants to get a feel of the various anatomical features of each animal. 

    The rest of the day may be allocated to extra activities happening in the center at the time such as; assisting with school groups, museum display development, boat maintenance etc.

  • Typical day off?
    • The most popular free-time activity is a day trip to the Hluhluwe Umfolozi Big 5 Game Reserve. The park is home to Africa's big five game: elephant, rhinoceros (black/hook-lipped and white/square-lipped), Cape buffalo, lion and leopard. 

    lion umfolozi

    • You can just relax on the pristine beaches of Sodwana Bay.
    • For the more adventurous, you can embark on a microlight flight over the coastline.
    • There are also quad bike tours of the local lake systems and forests.
    • You can scuba dive on the world renowned reefs of Sodwana Bay.

    sodwana beach

  • Do I need vaccinations?

    Depending on where you are coming from there are a few vaccinations that you may need. Check the link below for more information.



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Have a question or would like to make a booking, let us know! Give us 24hrs to respond 

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    Sharklife Ocean Center

    Sodwana Bay, KwaZulu Natal
    South Africa 3974

    Email: info@sharklife.co.za
    Ph/WhatsApp: +27 (0) 82 935 9427