A last-ditch defensive measure!
One of South Africa’s most unknown, yet spectacular events takes place within a scant window of opportunity every year around June or July. International marine experts and authors have described it as the ocean’s equivalent of the spectacle of East Africa’s Great Migration, “the Serengeti of the Sea”. We are talking, somewhat surprisingly, of the “Sardine Run” which we South Africans have been taking for granted all these years!
As children and adults alike, we were watching the spectacle from the wrong side of the shore. The terrestrial side. In all honesty, except for the frenzy of the beach haggling, it was not all that spectacular from the landside. However, when one hits the surf and heads out to the big shoals offshore, that is when all hell breaks loose! “Jumping jaws”; sharks leaping clean out of the ocean, super shoals of predatory dolphins that take hours to pass, thousands of seals following the bounty from the Cape’s frigid waters and millions and millions of Gannets pelting down from above, is all in a day’s “game drive” with a difference. And if this were not enough, the run co-incides with Humpback (and other) whales migrating from Antarctica to warmer waters near Madagascar to calve.
The shoals are often more than 7 km long, 1.5 km wide and 30 metres deep.
The sea around the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape literally explodes with life. The zenith of sardine run observation is referred to as a “bait ball”. It can be described as a super-concentrated shoal of fish that has hit the surface after being systematically herded up from below by dolphins and sharks. This “herding” is one of the only documented accounts of dolphins and sharks working co-operatively. It is a complete feeding maelstrom, incredible footage having been screened on the National Geographic Channel and Discovery. A change of fortune for the sardine run came when David Doubilet, one of the world’s leading underwater photographers, featured an article about the contrasting oceans off South Africa. Since then, local KwaZulu-Natal dive operators have taken the world’s top photographers and scientists – and even a small (but growing) number of tourists – out to see this marine fest. .
We experienced a true cetacean and shark fest, with no fewer than 6 cetaceans seen and an extraordinary 6 shark species in a single dive! In one day, we spotted 30 Humpback whales (Megaptera novaengliae). Other species seen included Minke Whales (Baelaenoptera bonaerensis), Southern Right Whales (Eubalaena australis) Common Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) Pan-tropical Spotted Dolphins (Stenella attenuata) and Long-beaked Common Dolphin (Dolphinus capensis).
Video courtesy of one of our dive operators:
Basing ourselves at scenic Port Edward we will be launching daily and heading down the incredible Wild Coast on the lookout for Sardine action. We will be getting air support from helicopters who will put us onto Bait Balls, Mantas and Mola Mola (Sunfish) The Humpback Whale migration will also be in full swing and you will have a chance to photograph these majestic creatures up close. This stretch of coast is stunning with Cliffs on the ocean which provide a spectacular backdrop to the dolphins playing in the surf.
If the weather prevents launching there are a multitude of activities close by including the world’s highest bungee swing at Oribi Gorge and numerous Game Reserves where many of the iconic land animals can be seen. If you want to gamble on the tables instead of the weather there is also the famous Wild Coast Casino 10 minutes away. We will also take cruises up the spectacular Umtamvuna River where great birdlife can be seen.