Interview with Marine Dynamics, Cage Diving & Conservation in South Africa - The 124 Society

Interview with Marine Dynamics, Cage Diving & Conservation in South Africa

Who founded Marine Dynamics and why?

Wilfred Chivell stepped in as new owner and CEO in 2005 and founded the Dyer Island Conservation Trust in 2006. The goal is providing education and conservation efforts regarding the Dyer Island Ecosystem via boat-based wildlife activities around the world-famous Dyer Island ecosystem.

What services do you offer?

Marine Dynamics Shark and Whale Tours offer commercial cage diving to observe sharks in their natural habitat, also boat-based whale-watching and Marine Big 5 tours. They focus on education, conservation and responsible tourism.

What makes Marine Dynamics stand out in the cage diving industry?

Multi-award-winning Marine Dynamics offers premium shark cage diving and whale watching/Marine Big 5 tours in the unique Dyer Island ecosystem of Gansbaai, South Africa. We are the preferred partners to majority 5-star establishments in Cape Town and the Overstrand. We are the only boat-based activity company who is Fair Trade Tourism and Blue Flag certified and believe that, “Your Choice Makes a Difference.” Annually, approximately 30000 visitors are educated on marine wildlife and conservation by the guiding marine biologist, when joining our commercial boat-based activities. In turn they leave as marine ambassadors.

Through our environmental project, the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, we are making a real difference for conservation and the community. Our key projects are:

  • African penguin conservation which includes a nest project providing critical protection during the penguin fledgling stage; and in 2015 we opened a rehabilitation facility, the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary.
African Penguins
  • Invaluable research on great white sharks by marine biologists includes tagging and tracking, behavioural surveys, wound healing, environmental parameter monitoring and population studies. Effective science that can be translated into evidence-based conservation initiatives and legislation.
Marine biologist logging shark data
  • Whale and dolphin research through observational data and support of studies.
Whales South Africa
  • We handle all marine animal rescue, strandings and sampling on our coastline.
  • Our Environmental Education Programme known as DEEP educates a dedicated group of young learners, for three years measuring the impact and growth of individuals.
  • Marine pollution efforts include the unique fishing line bin project and monthly beach clean ups.

Marine Dynamics offers the essential marine experience to anyone who has an interest in marine wildlife, all ages are welcome. Our youngest diver was 18 months old and our eldest diver over 100 years!

Please explain the boat and cage system used for commercial cage diving services.

The Marine Dynamics fleet make use of custom-built boats with secure cage systems that allow close encounters with sharks while ensuring the safety of our guests and that of the animals we encounter. Slashfin, the 46 feet (14m) long catamaran vessel, is purposely designed and built for best performance in the Cape of Storms. The boat’s lightweight aluminium frame and litheness allows it to gently climb and descend mountainous swells and to effortlessly glide over foam-crested waves. However, it is the attention to fine detail that distinguishes the Slashfin even further from its competitors:

  • Designated toilets for males and females.
  • A canvass dressing cubicle on demand for clients who prefer more privacy.
  • An attractive, central food drawer where light lunch packs, snacks, water and remedies for seasickness are permanently on display.
  • Double staircase on opposite sides of the boat provides easy access and a smooth flow of traffic to the spacious upper deck.
  • The storage space of the life raft has been designed to be unobtrusive and out of sight to ensure all-round, unobstructed views from the top deck.
  • Slashfin is also the only boat in the business boasting a special platform for the bait and decoy handlers.

Taking the plunge to actually get into the cage can be a bit scary if it is your first introduction to the iconic top-predators of the ocean, but rest assured. It is extremely unlikely that a shark will be able to break into a cage, or that it will be more interested in you than the bait or decoy that our expert bait handler places into the water to lure them closer. We are the only company with two specifically designed platforms on either side of the cage for our handlers, always keeping the action in the middle for all to see. The bait is not fed to the sharks, it is merely used to entice them to come closer to the cage and is pulled back before they can get to it.

  • Our sturdy stainless-steel cage is professionally engineered and made out of a 25mm squared tubing covered with 6mm security mesh approximately 160mm apart. Formally inspected on an annual basis.
  • Our GoPro friendly cage is comfortably equipped with steel hand and foot bars inside offering ample grip and stability even when filming.
  • Our cage has no sharp edges on which a shark can injure itself. Our cage is firmly secured to the side of the boat and divers can easily get out whenever they want to.
  • Our cage never sinks or floats away.
  • The cage can easily accommodate 10 divers at a time.
  • Your head will never be more than a metre under the surface and you can decide when and how long you want to stay underwater.
  • The top of our cage is covered with two individual lids!

Do your customers need to be certified? Is there formal training prior to a dive?

Guests do not need to be certified divers for cage diving with sharks. The cage is never completely submerged below the water. This incredible adventure is available to anyone, age is no restriction. We are also disability friendly. A dedicated safety briefing is provided before the tour.

Where do you generally dive?

Marine Dynamics operates within the Dyer Island ecosystem, off Gansbaai, South Africa, which is known for its rich marine life.

Dyer Island

What types of sharks and other sea life do you generally see on dives?

Sightings may include great white, bronze whaler and broadnose sevengill sharks. You can even spot a short-tail stingray or a brave cape fur seal. On the Marine Big 5 tour you have a chance to see sharks, seals, whales, dolphins and endangered African penguins.

Cage diving with sharks in South Africa

What is the best time of year to see the most sharks? Is there a particular time of year that favors a great white encounter?

Marine Dynamics enjoys sightings of great whites, copper sharks (bronze whalers) and even the occasional stingray at our vessel. Great White Shark behaviour is less predictable post orca predation in 2017. Daily blog of sightings is available.

When did the Orcas start preying one the Great Whites of South Africa, and what has the impact been on Marine Dynamics and the marine ecosystem.

In May 2017, Marine Dynamics and the Dyer Island Conservation Trust faced a challenging period when they were called to retrieve four deceased great white sharks along the South African coastline. The sharks, identified through the organizations' extensive database, all displayed consistent bite wounds (rake marks on their pectoral fins) and were missing their livers. The research team, led by shark biologists Alison Towner and Kelly Baker, conducted on-site dissections with the assistance of experts, revealing that orcas, specifically two individuals named Port and Starboard, were responsible for the predation. This marked the first global instance of white sharks being dissected after orca attacks, highlighting a significant threat to the already vulnerable great white shark population in South Africa.

The orcas' modus operandi involves attacking and stunning the sharks, inducing tonic immobility, and then extracting the buoyant liver, which is rich in squalene. The orcas' presence, possibly driven by pressure on their food source due to human activities like longlining and other fisheries, led to a temporary shift in shark behaviour, impacting sightings in the area. The findings underscore the need for conservation efforts to protect the dwindling great white shark population, especially in the face of potential threats from both natural predators and human activities. Marine Dynamics plays a crucial role in providing financial and logistical support for shark carcass retrievals, as well as raising awareness about the impact of human-related activities on marine ecosystems.

Bronze whaler sharks, also known as copper sharks due to their distinctive coloration, have become a prominent attraction at shark cage diving boats in Gansbaai, South Africa. Recognized for their copper/gold colour and active presence around the boats, these sharks can grow up to 3.3m in length during their 25 to 30-year lifespan.

Initially appearing at shark boats in 2013, bronze whalers have adapted to the area, especially in the absence of white sharks. Their presence provides a unique opportunity for non-divers to observe them regularly, as the only other way to see them typically involves scuba diving during the limited sardine run in June and July. Despite the return of white sharks to the area, bronze whaler sharks have continued to frequent the cage diving boats. Ongoing research is being conducted to understand the behaviour of these sharks, with the collection of daily boat-based data on their appearance, numbers, and interactions.

Has this been an overarching shift in orcas in the area, or is this behavior limited to a few? Does your team actively study this behavior and why it may be happening?

We have seen Port and Starboard together on most occasions, but we have also seen them with other Orca individuals and pods. This can be sign of learnt behaviour among the hunting strategies of Orcas frequenting South African coastlines.

How is cage diving in South Africa helping to save the sharks in the area?

Cage diving, when conducted responsibly, can contribute to shark conservation by promoting awareness, education, and understanding of these animals. It can also generate funds for research and conservation initiatives.

Despite being listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and protected in South Africa since 1991, the great white shark faces various threats in Southern Africa. White shark cage diving is permitted in three specific areas – Gansbaai, False Bay (seasonal), and Mossel Bay – centered around Cape fur seal colonies, a preferred prey of white sharks.

While not considered a threat to humans, bronze whalers face fishing pressures and are classified as near-threatened by the IUCN. Marine Dynamics, along with other operators, actively worked towards implementing a no-catch policy in the Kleinbaai area to support their conservation. This was realised in 2022, when our area of operation was declared a no shark fishing zone by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment.

The practice of shark cage diving is considered a vital conservation tool, as it allows for the daily monitoring and policing of sharks in South Africa. The operations provide crucial data on the transient shark population, helping researchers understand their behaviour, migrations, and potential threats. Without these cage diving operations, there is a real risk of illegal fishing, posing a significant threat to the species. Shark Cage diving proves its positive impact, not only in terms of conservation but also by creating employment opportunities for the local community.

What are your conservation efforts?

Marine Dynamics and the Dyer Island Conservation Trust initiated various conservation projects, including shark research, penguin conservation, marine pollution clean-up, and animal rescues. The studies conducted by the team have contributed valuable knowledge on white sharks, covering topics such as population estimates, wound healing capabilities, habitat preferences, and predator-prey relationships. Ongoing research and conservation efforts supported by shark cage diving is critical in ensuring the survival of sharks and maintaining a delicate marine ecosystem.

I understand Marine Dynamics employs marine biologists. What roles do they play in your conservation effort?

Marine biologists employed by Marine Dynamics play a crucial role in research, data collection, and other conservation initiatives. They contribute to scientific studies aimed at understanding and protecting marine life. Our team have published over 30 peer-reviewed scientific papers.

Education is key to changing perceptions about sharks from fear to awe and inspiring new marine ambassadors. Our marine biologists also play the important role of guiding over 30000 visitors from all over the world on a daily basis via commercial tours.

What publications and TV shows does Marine Dynamics contribute to?

Here are a few examples:

What partners do you work with, and in what capacity do you work?

Marine Dynamics collaborates with various organizations, research institutions, and government agencies to support marine conservation efforts.

  • Dyer Island Conservation Trust (DICT) | Marine Research and Conservation (our environmental arm)
  • African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary (Project of DICT) | Marine Dynamics offers financial and operational support.
  • Great White Shark Protection Foundation ( | Member
  • Global Shark Diving ( | Member
  • Whale disentanglement Unit
  • Cape Nature and DICT MOU: Meetings are held quarterly. Activities include: African Penguin & Seabird Sanctuary, Penguin nest project, Dyer Island Complex Management Plan / Feedback, Seal / Gull Management, Aerial Survey Whales, Oil disaster management plan, Marine animal strandings, BRUV studies, Intertidal studies, Bird counts, Uilkraal estuary monitoring, Marine pollution – fishing line bins /clean ups / research, Educational programmes – Environmental calendar, Telemetry Bathometric survey Dyer Island, Shark and Orca update.
  • Plastics|SA | DICY Fishing Line Bin project – operational support. Plastics|SA collects fishing line to recycle.
  • Overstrand Municipality | Collaborates on a few conservation projects with DICT|Marine Dynamics
  • Two Oceans Aquarium / Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation | Turtle project – operational support
  • Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment | Operating permits, conservation and research projects, film crews, rehabilitation permits
  • Fair Trade Tourism | Certification and good business practiceResponsible Tourism Awards | Awards for responsible tourism practice (International awards)
  • WESSA | Blue Flag South Africa | Certification and good business practice
  • Safe Schools Programme | Marine Month Competition Overberg Schools
  • Marine Protected Areas South Africa | We join their campaigns to create awareness and education
  • Research papers|samples|collaborations

National Universities:

  • University of Cape Town
  • University of Pretoria
  • University of LimpopoRhodes University
  • Mammal Research Institute

    International Universities:

    • University of Michigan (USA)
    • Monterey Bay Aquarium (USA)Dallas Zoo (USA)Centro Studi Squali – Aquarium Mondo
    • Marino (Italy)Charles University Prague (Czech)
    • University of Southhampton (UK)
    • Bangor University (UK)
    • Sussex University (UK)

    What awards has Marine Dynamics won?

    The companies and Wilfred Chivell have received awards as below:

      • African Responsible Tourism Award 2020: Gold for the Wildlife category
      • Cape Town Tourism Leading Edge for Visitors Experience 2019
      • Lilizela Provincial Award 2019: Best Visitor Experience in the Marine Adventure category
      • Lilizela National Award 2018: Best Visitor Experience in the Marine Adventure category
      • Cape Town Tourism Future Forward Thinking for Visitor Experience 2018
      • Lilizela Provincial Award 2018: Best Visitor Experience in the Marine Adventure category
      • African Responsible Tourism Award 2018: Silver for Marine Habitat & Species Conservation
      • World Travel Market Responsible Tourism Awards 2017: Highly Commended
      • Skål International Sustainable Tourism Award 2017 - Marine Based, “Shark and Whale Eco-tourism Benefitting Conservation and Community”
      • African Responsible Toursim Award 2016 - People's Choice
      • African Responsible Tourism Award 2015 – Best for Wildlife Conservation
      • World Responsible Tourism Award – Best for Responsible Wildlife Experiences Shortlisted 2013/Longlisted 2014
      • First Choice Responsible Tourism Award 2006 Dyer Island Cruises Highly Commended in a Marine Environment
      • Lilizela National Awards 2015: Marine Adventure
      • Overstrand Mayor’s Floating Trophy for Environmental Conservation: 2004/2006 Finalist; 2007 Runner Up; 2009 Joint Winner; 2012 Winner
      • Birdlife Overberg: Honorary Membership for Clean Marine Project
      • Birldife South Africa: Blue Crane Award for Faces of Need Project 2006
      • Birdlife South Africa: Eagle Award for penguin conservation (Faces of Need 2008) (This is a once in a lifetime award)
      • Overstrand Conservation Foundation: Certificate of Appreciation
      • Business Partners: Regional Winner of Entrepreneur of 2005
      • Wilfred Chivell has been made an Honourary Life Member of the Shark Conservation Society UK

        Is there anything new on the horizon that you would like to share?

        We have a dream, of our own South African Seabird Center. The planned project, a South African Seabird Center, is an extension of the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary which is now a well-established tourism and conservation project, making a real difference to conservation and community.

        The Seabird Center will lead on from this public section with high-quality educational displays that showcase the life and migration patterns of seabirds seen off the South African coastline. A variety of static and interactive displays will allow the public to learn more about seabirds and the importance of seabird conservation. This addition will offer visitors an opportunity to engage with nature in a sustainable way.

        It is envisioned that this Seabird Center, which will be the only one of its kind in South Africa, will become iconic and attract visitors from all over the globe, and become a meeting space for the public, scientists and nature and birding enthusiasts. It is hoped that we can host Bird Fairs in Gansbaai due to this facility. Every December we have a penguin 5km fun walk attended by hundreds of supporters.

        Our objective is to encourage longer stays in the Gansbaai and Overstrand area and to bring the marine world to the globe throughout the year. Shark trips take place throughout the year and our whale watching experience is also extended throughout the year as a Marine Big 5 safari.

        Donations are welcome via our website:

        More Information on Marine Dynamics

        Marine Dynamics Website:

        Marine Dynamics daily dive sightings:

        Dyer island Conservation Trust:

        Marine Dynamics Instagram: