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Sardine Run Marine Predators

Wild Coast – South Africa

South Africa’s tempestuous Wild Coast plays host to an awesome array of marine predators, all in wait for the annually migrating sardines.

Each year from June to July, huge numbers of marine predators converge to feast on the passing shoals of sardines (Sardinops sagax) and other bait fish as they leave their feeding grounds off the Eastern Agulhas banks and embark on a treacherous spawning migration that takes them onto the Kwa-Zulu Natal coastline. This is the target for our Sardine Run Marine Predators photo safari.

The fish move within a cold finger of water that creeps up the coast and facilitates their movement. They can travel up to 40km a day, in pulses up the coast or in a massive shoals resembling an enormous oil slick. They are highly affected by ocean conditions and in some years they are not seen at all, possibly passing the coastline at depth, away from the predators’ scanning eyes. An army of marine predators pursues these rich oily fish, going to great lengths to gorge themselves in this brief time of plenty. This makes for a phenomenal opportunity to immerse yourself in the splendour of our marine environment and revel in up-close encounters.

As a qualified marine biologist and experienced dive operator, Steve Benjamin enthusiastically shares his knowledge and ensures a personalised adventure that is unparalleled.  Steve was part of the team for the BBC’s Natures Great Events seiries (2008) and has guided photographers on Sardine Run seasons ever since.

Safari Highlights:

  • Photography possible from above and below the water
  • 16 person boat limited to only 6 people
  • 1000’s of Cape Gannets as well a dozens of other bird species
  • More dolphins that you can imagine
  • Several species of sharks
  • Spectacular whale photography

The world witnesses two Great Annual Migrations, one terrestrial and one marine. The Masai Mara Wildebeest Migration is unparalleled on land and the Sardine Run off the east coast of Southern Africa is equally spectacular and exciting, and like its counterpart on land the Sardine Run brings together a diversity of species to create a drama at sea that unfolds minute by minute.

The Sardine Run takes place each year off the South African Wild Coast. Billions of sardines (a South African Pilchard or Sardinops Sagax) spawn on the Agulhas Bank where cool waters facilitate this. The young fish then start their northward migration in search of cool waters between 14 and 20*C, and the seasonal plankton that thrives in these waters.

The migrating fish form massive shoals with millions of fish in each creating a phenomenon that resembles a large oil slick, measuring on average up to 7Km X 1.5Km and 30 meters deep.

Each shoal is pursued closely by a host of predators, this constant threat causing the sardines to group closer and closer together until they appear as one massive organism moving through the ocean. At times predator pressure forces the fish into uncomfortable warmer waters, making it even easier for the predators to grab them.

Some predators appear from the sky, and clouds of Cape Gannets, Cormorants and Albatross can be seen following a shoal, and alert others to the presence of that shoal. The water seems to rage as bird after bird dives into the ocean to enjoy the rich harvest. An amazing thud, thud, thud can be heard as the birds dive, adding an audible drama to the visual spectacle.

Under the water the activity is as intense – if not more so – as predators including sharks, dolphins, whales, and seals join in the bountiful feast.

The Sardine Run coincides with the annual Humpback Whale Migration. These large creatures move north to mate and calve at the time of the Sardine Run which provides a plentiful food supply for their journey.

Up to 18000 Common Dolphin and Bottlenose Dolphin isolate a group of sardines and then round up the fish into tighter and tighter bait balls, measuring about 20 X 10 meters. Each bait ball lasts for about ten minutes during which time Bronze Shars, Dusky Sharks, Grey Nurse Sharks, Blacktip Sharks, Spinner Sharks, Zambezi Sharks, and gamefish like Bluefish, King Mackerel, Kingfish, Garrick, Geelbek, and Tuna join the feeding frenzy while Cape Gannets, Cormorants, Terns, Gulls and Albatross join the feast from the air.

The activity both above and below the water is indescribable!

On this safari you will enjoy an early hot Full English style breakfast before leaving your accommodation and setting out to sea moments after the sun rises.

Although each boat can accommodate 14 guests we limit this number to only 5 so that you are given the best possible opportunities for sightings and photography, and you can bring the diving and camera gear that you require, without much bother about space.

On each trip a top Marine Biologist who has specialized in the Sardine Run phenomenon will guide you. You will be accompanied by a professional wildlife photographer. An assistant is on board to assist you with gear, collect items for you, hand you your cameras and lenses and numerous other tasks.

During the trip you will follow the telltale signs that indicate the presence of a shoal. On reaching the frantic action you will be able to choose between topside photography, which will keep you absorbed and extremely busy. If you prefer, you can choose to snorkel or to dive to capture the bottomside or underwater action.

You will enjoy a morning snack on the boat – usually hot chocolate and a bite to eat. A packed lunch is served and plenty of water is available throughout the day.

Depending on the action the weather, and the available light you will usually remain at sea until about 17h00 or 18h00. You need to be back in the port before the light starts to fail.

After such a strenuous day you will be pleased that you evening are free time. You can choose to relax or you can enjoy dinner at any one of a number of local restaurants, many of which are really worth a visit.

After each varied and exciting day you will be able to discuss your experiences and photography with your guides, and you will return home knowing that you have experienced a unique phenomenon, and you photographs will be there to be enjoyed whenever you wish to revisit this remarkable adventure.

Day Dawn

Hot English breakfast served before departing accommodation

Day Sunrise

Set out to sea moments after sun rises

Day at Sea

Follow signs that a shoal is present and position boat for topside or bottomside photography

Day Mid AM

Hot chocolate and snacks served on boat

Day Lunch

Packed lunch with fruit and sweets

Day Late PM

Return to harbour before light fails

Day Evening

Free time to relax or enjoy dinner at one of the local restaurants

Dates & Prices

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