South African sardine run brings exciting underwater action

Every year huge schools of sardines pass South Africa. The fish are migrating and spawning, spreading their young across as many regions and climate zones as possible, to increase their survival chances.

For marine predators this annual migration is a moveable feast. Every sort of fish and mammal—dolphins, porpoises, whales, seals, all sorts of birds from gannets to penguins, sharks, tuna, and every other kind of fish big enough to eat a sardine will be on the scene, gobbling down whatever it can get.

For humans this is a feast of a different sort—a feast of underwater wildlife action.

Dive shops all along the South African coast run boats out looking for bait balls, so scuba divers can see the variety of undersea life.

“The sardine run is a special event that happens only in South Africa, and it happens in different areas throughout April, May, June and July,” said Nadia Aly from Scuba Diver Life Expeditions.

“We’re here searching every single day for bait balls,” she said.

Divers look for flocks of gannets, the deep-diving fish-hunting birds. When they see hundreds of gannets plunging into the sea, they know they have hit the jackpot.

“You’ll have penguins and whales, sharks, all the mammals coming around feeding on them. And it’s phenomenal,” said scuba diver Garry Coburn.

“We’re looking for the gannets, then we see the African penguins, then we know there’s a good sign. We head over there and it’s just a feeding frenzy, is what it is,” he said.

Nadia Aly said much the same thing. “Guests can get confused pretty easily. There’s just so much excitement happening.

“There’s seals, there could be penguins here in Port Elizabeth, sharks, Bryde’s whales, humpbacks, you just never know what’s going to be there. The only way to really describe it is that it’s intense,” she said.

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