The Sardine Run - “The Greatest Shoal on Earth”

South Africa
Bali temple

Every year, from the end of May to the beginning of July, a spectacle larger than anything else on the planet takes place off the south east coast of Africa, from the Transkei coast up to the shores of
Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa. The Natal Sardine Run is legendary, not only because of the sheer volumes of these shiny little fish, but also due to the attendant escort of hungry predators.

Sardines thrive all year round off the Southern Cape coast of South Africa. Once a year, however, the warm Benguerra current that flows naturally south from the equator moves slightly off-shore and with it flows an incredible food chain made up of microscopic plankton and millions of sardines. In their wake come the predators, including many sharks and other game fish shooting into these massive shoals, like torpedoes with teeth.

From below come the dolphins, the fast and agile common dolphins supported by their slower and bigger cousins, the bottlenose dolphins squeaking and launching into the air and herding the sardine shoals into bait balls.

Then come the sharks – copper sharks, ragged tooth sharks, tiger sharks and, of course, the great white shark shovelling down dozens of sardines with every gulp.

On the fringes of this incredible activity are the majestic whales, the humpback, minke, Bryde’s, southern right and the killer whale.

Loading large twin-outboard zodiacs with photo and video equipment, snacks and drinks, snorkellers and scuba divers head out in the early light to spend the day searching the sea for sardines and predator activity. Arial spotters in micro lights buzz above the waves keeping radio contact with the boat skipper. The action is not for the feint-hearted and days can be long, hard and hot. Seas can be smooth or rough and the action is never to be guaranteed but when we find it, our blood turns to pure adrenalin.

Divers and snorkellers prepare dive gear and underwater cameras. At the skipper’s command they fall overboard into the middle of the action. The sardine shoal is so thick it blocks out the light. As we are enveloped by the swarm all we can hear is the chattering of dolphins and the deep grunts of whales. Bigger shapes move through the shoal – sharks – but they are totally focussed on the sardines and don’t bother us. Pure, bucket-list magic!


Cary YannyAsk the team

Contact Cary at 01473 852002 for help with your travel planning and advice on Southern Africa, or send us an enquiry.

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