Bronze Whaler Shark feeding on a sardine bait ball

My Sardine Run experience

by Petrus Jacobus van der Walt February 24, 2022

My Sardine Run Experience

Bucket list item, The sardine run. This the biggest unrivaled annual animal migration in the world, which can be seen from space.

My bucket list was going to be one item less. I finally decided, after years of dithering, that I was going to create my very own memories and experiences by getting down and wet and do the Sardine run Dive .

First things first, I had to book with an dive operator. I went down to my local dive shop in Simons Town and booked our space for their next Sardine Run.

My wife, Michelle and I decided that we would make this a mini holiday, spending two weeks in Cintsa for the 7 day Sardine run excursion and then move up the coast for a further two weeks of down time.

I checked all my gear, ensuring that all was in good working order. I really did not know what to expect as there was not much on the internet as to what I should take and prepare for.

After weeks of planning, getting our gear, itinerary, route, car serviced and the decision on what clothes to take as we were heading to the Natal South Coast, and it was winter, we were finally ready.

On a cold, misty May morning we headed out of Cape Town, taking the N2 past Strand, over Sir Lowry's Pass and up the East coast towards East London, From there we headed further North and took the off ramp to Chintsa and Buccaneers Backpacking hostel, which was going to be our home for the next 7 days.

Cintsa Lodge dinning deck view of lagoon
View over the lagoon from the dinning deck at Cintsa Lodge

On the first evening we met with the other 7 participants for the next seven days and we were all briefed on times of departure, the standard operating procedures while we out at sea and advised to have a waterproof jacket to put on over our wetsuits as we would be traveling up and down the coast the whole day looking for the sardine shoal. The waterproof jacket was to keep us dry and warm.

Winter out on the ocean can get very cold and even more so without a waterproof warm outer jacket.

The excitement and expectation was like an electric current, I could not wait for the next morning.

Early the next morning we had our breakfast and then headed off to East London Harbor from where we launched, going out to sea from the river and through the harbor.

Arial Gannet Attack on sardine bait ball
Arial Gannet attack on sardine bait ball.

That day was spent trolling up and down the coast looking for active signs of birds working, diving down upon bait balls.

There was a lot of surface action, with dolphins and whales all busy moving up the coast in the direction of Durban. An unexpected ocean safari.

Gannets surface action Sardine run 2022

Spend eight hours a day at sea anywhere in South Africa and you should experience something spectacular, but the waters off the Wild coast during the sardine run months are teeming with life, so just get out there and expect the un-expected !

 

Dolphin action Cintsa sardine dive
Sardine run Dolphins 

We spent a lot of time every day looking for sardines. We saw a lot of birds diving down on the bait balls but when we got there the sardines had sounded.

Humpback Whale breaching sardine run 2022

Hump back whale breach

It was only when we had found and located the  bait ball, that it was all stations go. Most of the time you will enter the water with mask and snorkel as the action is usually fast and furious requiring you to jump in and out of the boat many times.

The first time in, you do not know what is waiting for you. Adrenalin pumping you slide over the side of the rib boat, or as we here in South Africa call it a rubber duck, then look at at the skipper who points you in the right direction and you swim towards the shoal  to view the feeding activity of dolphins, birds, seals sharks and whales.

Ragged tooth Shark sardine run 2022
Ragged Tooth Shark sardine run 2022/

The first sight of the dolphins speeding past, circling around the bait ball taking turns to tear into the bait ball coming out the other side with their mouths full of sardine, left me mesmerized and time stood still as I did not quite know where to look as there was action all around.

Free Diver Sardine run
Free diver on bait ball, sardine run.

The sardine's were being targeted from above by Gannets, which are like guided missiles locked onto their targets, falling out of the sky by the hundreds, reaching depths of 4 meters, returning to the surface, beaks full of sardine and from below by the shepherds of ocean, the dolphins, circling, plunging and tearing to the bait ball, creating a shimmering mass of dark and light as the sardines try to confuse their predators by changing the profile of this huge bio mass.

Seals and sharks plunge wildly into this ever moving mass of sardine, leaving holes, evidence of their success in gorging and reducing the  numbers of sardine. 

Bryde's Whale Sardine run
Bryde's Whale sardine run.

Then like huge monster busses the sleek , fast Bryde's Whales, mouths wide agape, come tearing through this biomass of sardine, oblivious of the other predators, consuming ton's of sardine in a single swoop.

All that is left after this melee and feeding frenzy of a once huge bait ball of thousands of sardine, is a shimmering cloud of sardine scales floating in the current.

Time to get back on the boat and go looking for the next bait ball. 

Our skipper and dive master did their utmost to get us into the best possible position to appreciate the action  either from the boat or in the water.

The next 5 days passed in a blur as we were out every day from sunrise to late afternoon.

By the end of the 5 diving days I was exhausted and we still two days left.

The last two days were non diving days and game drives were organized and a visit to the local brewery where we had a scrumptious lunch will tasting the local brews. A fine finish to 7 very exciting days.

All in all the 7 days were well worth it and this year I think that I will go and do this incredible thing they call the sardine run all over again.

I have posted another post with more information on costs, different places where you can go experience the greatest migration in the world and what you need to know.

This is a bucket list item not to be missed.

Come and join me for this years Sardine run. It is going to be awesomely exhilarating.

There are several packages available from May through to end July.

The Wild Coast from Cintsa, Port St Johns and Mboyti is waiting to show you her majesty and diversity of the largest animal migration in the world. The sardine run migration.

For more info contact me at pj@toursafrica.co.za 




Petrus Jacobus van der Walt
Petrus Jacobus van der Walt

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