South Africa : Interesting facts
Around June each year, word gets out along the KwaZulu-Natal coast that the sardines have arrived. They’ve swum for more than 30 days from their spawning ground in the Cape to reach South Africa’s east coast. Scores of fishermen join the sharks, game fish, marine mammals and birds that gorge themselves on the shimmering band of silver fish. Being a part of this great phenomenon is an opportunity that should not be missed!
Why large shoals of sardines swim to the KwaZulu-Natal coast during the winter months remains a mystery. And yet each year it’s the same: starting in May, millions of small, shiny fish make the one-way journey from the cold waters of the Cape to the warmer tides of KwaZulu-Natal, colouring the shoreline silver as they convene close to the coast. By the end of July they’re gone – disappeared just as suddenly as they arrive, vanishing into the great blue beyond.
Like whale watching in Hermanus or travelling to Namaqualand to see the wildflowers in bloom, South Africa’s famed sardine run is a seasonal peculiarity that is popular among local and international visitors. It’s a phenomenon certainly worth watching – from land, the ocean surface or underwater. Typically, the sardine shoals are massive and can stretch for kilometers along the coast. And following the shoal – above and below water – is a caravan of predators in feeding-frenzy mode. Schools of sharks, such as the bronze whaler, dusky and blacktip shark, follow the shimmering path of prey, feasting on the fish. Marine mammals and game fish follow in hot pursuit.
The Sardine run is a marine spectacle at its best – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view creatures of the earth, sky and water taking part in one of nature’s unexplained mysteries.
You can watch as Dolphins employ a tactical hunting strategy by ‘herding’ part of the sardine shoal into densely packed groups, termed ‘bait balls’. Working together underwater the dolphins drive the bait ball toward the surface, whirling, twisting and swimming below the shoal. Also, as the sardines move closer to the surface of the water, birds plummet out of the sky to pillage from above. Cape gannets, cormorants, terns and gulls all dive-bomb the coast in an unrelenting aerial assault. You can also witness game fishermen and local sardine lovers wade into the water and secure their share in areas where the sardines swim very close to the coast.
The fact that National Geographic, Discovery Channel and dozens of other world renown TV stations, magazines and photographers flock to these waters is testimony to the colossal status of the sardine run.
Visitors can choose from a wide variety of viewing options such as from the coast, from the deck of a boat, scuba dive or with a snorkel.
DID YOU KNOW?
Sardine-run shoals are usually 15km long, 4km wide and approximately 40m deep.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Book your trip anytime from mid-May to mid-July.
TOURS TO DO
Those wanting to capture the phenomenon on film should contact Apex Predators, which offers a photographic marine safari with marine wildlife photography expert Chris Fallows – Renowned photographer, conservationist and the author of Great White: The Majesty Of Sharks
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