Between May and August each year, billions of sardines spawn in the calm waters of the Agulhas Bank and migrate northward along South Africa's east coast. This spectacular natural phenomenon is known as the "sardine run." Between June and July, the spectacle reaches its pinnacle.
Every year, the abundance of sardines brings a variety of apex marine predators to the area, resulting in a brutal yet beautiful feeding frenzy—a memorable visual feast.
Showcasing this, the BBC's Blue Planet begins with a montage of images from the sardine run.
Sardine shoals can be over 7 kilometres long, 1.5 kilometres wide, and 30 metres deep. These shoals can be seen clearly from spotter planes or from the surface. Common dolphins, Cape gannets, Cape fur seals, Blacktip sharks, Dusky sharks, and Bryde's whales are among the predators that accompany the shoal. On their northern voyage from Antarctica to Mozambique's summer breeding grounds, humpback whales are also frequently seen. The mega pods of common dolphins that congregate to feed on migrating sardines are estimated to number up to 20,000 individuals, according to experts.
Each year, many SCUBA divers and adventurers travel to South Africa to experience the Sardine Run. The diving experience is simply unlike any other on Earth. This quote from diver Helene-Julie Zofia Paamand shows a little of what you can expect.
" From above, we are under a constant missile-like attack from the gannets, which do not get intimidated by our dark, bubbling shadows. The sound when they hit the water is incredible and it mixes with the dolphins’ clicks, which is a part of their attack coordination. The sharks are naturally quiet but sneak around in the background and like to approach from behind. Behind all this, you can hear the whales singing."
The Sardine Run is a wonder to witness. Whether you're diving, snorkelling, viewing from a boat, or flying above the migration, it's a photo opportunity unlike any other.
Sharks and dolphins are constantly attacking the shoal from below, causing the sardines to approach the surface. From above, gannets hunt by diving and may strike the water at speeds of up to 100 km an hour.
Experienced operators offer trips that depart from launch sites along the picturesque Wild Coast of South Africa's Eastern Cape. Trips range between three and seven days, and the area between Port St. Johns and Mboyti offers the best chance of seeing the sardine run at its peak.