“Millions of tiny little fish embark on a journey up the East Coast of Africa, no wonder it has been dubbed “The Greatest Shoal on Earth”
It’s been dubbed “The Greatest Shoal on Earth”. Every year around June and July billions of Sardines “run” or migrate up the East Coast of Africa between Port Elizabeth and Durban. What makes it a true marvel however, is not simply the multitude of silvery fish but the host of predators that congregate en mass for the feasting. The waters off the breathtaking Wild Coast literally boil as Dolphins, Sharks, Whales, Seals, Penguins, Cape Gannets and even Orca’s (Killer Whales) gorge themselves on the seemingly endless shoals of sardines.
A World Phenomenon
The journey itself has earned the title ‘the sardine run’. It’s incredible action will have your heart pumping, whether you’re scuba diving, snorkelling or watching from a boat. Even though it is unpredictable and can be pretty costly, any nature lover, photographer or water enthusiast should experience this dazzling wildlife extravaganza at least once in their lifetime. Many return year after year for the action. The bubbling turmoil at the surface serves as a cue for marine birds to join in the onslaught, joined by game fish like shad, Garrick and Geelbek salmon, whales, Cape fur seal and the much maligned shark. Every so often Dolphins and Sharks work together to separate a portion of a shoal and drive the fish to the surface where the scared and confused sardines form a ball. It is then that a true mass feeding frenzy begins. Cape Gannets “rain” from the heavens in their thousands as Dolphins, Sharks, Seals, Bryde’s Whales and even Penguins devour the ball from all sides. An experience which will stay in your memory forever. No wonder it is called “The Greatest Shoal on Earth”
The Sardine Run is much more than numerous glistening shoals of sardines moving up the coast. It involves and affects many marine animals and can be witnessed from the shore, the sea or the air. Great White Sharks, Copper Sharks, Common Dolphins, and Cape Gannets, Humpback Whales, and Southern Right Whales are key predators that pursue the shoals northwards along the east coast of South Africa.
The sardine run of southern Africa occurs from May through July when billions of sardines – or more specifically the Southern African pilchard Sardinops sagax – spawn in the cool waters of the Agulhas Bank and move northward along the east coast of South Africa. Their sheer numbers create a feeding frenzy all along the coastline. The Sardine run, containing millions of individual sardines, occurs when a current of cold water heads north east from the Agulhas Bank up to Mozambique where it then leaves the coastline and goes further east into the Indian Ocean. That is why to every scuba-diver, this is indeed the greatest dive show on earth. The ultimate highlight is the “bait ball”. This is when the sharks or dolphins or both corral a shoal of sardines into a tight ball, then dive into it in a frenzied attack to come away with mouthfuls of unfortunate sardines
Snorkelling – For the Non Diver
The sardines shoal closely together minimizing their chances of being taken by predators. Picture tens of thousands of birds, plunging from the sky, feeding on the fish, with larger game fish and numerous species of sharks, all feasting on the wealth of food that is available. It is truly mind blowing, an experience you will never forget. Therefore to the non-diver the show is just as rewarding. Most of the action is seen from the boat and there are plenty opportunities to snorkel with dolphins, whales and even sharks while being bombarded on all sides by Cape Gannets.
Clearly visible by satellite, the Sardine Run is a unique feature of nature and should be on every underwater photographer or videographer’s lists.