30 Day til Expeditions Begin!

With just over a month to go until the first of our 2015 Sardine Run expeditions, we’re beginning to feel like kids on Christmas Eve here at Aliwal Shoal Scuba. Soon, we’ll start listening to Sardine Run reports on the radio, tracking the shoal’s progress as it moves slowly northwards along the coast from the Cape. We’ll start monitoring the weather, and getting increasingly excited as the sea temperature falls to create the perfect conditions for the migrating sardines. We’ll start checking our dive equipment, preparing our cameras, booking accommodation and generally getting ready for the temporary move to the Wild Coast. Then, before we know it, it’ll be time to pack the boat and the bakkie, and start the long haul south to Port St Johns, our centre of operations for the duration of the Run.

Incredible Excitement in June

It’s sometimes hard for those that have not yet experienced a Sardine Run to understand the incredible excitement caused by this annual phenomenon. After all, sardines in themselves are nothing much to look at- and yet, their arrival on our coast sparks a nationwide fever that goes far beyond the diving industry. Fishermen, naturalists, tourists, and really anyone that happens to be within a few miles of the coast during the months of June and July are also no strangers to Sardine Run madness. In 2009, the Sardine Run was featured in the BBC documentary Nature’s Great Events, and since then has become a bucket-list event for discerning divers, wildlife-enthusiasts, underwater photographers and cameramen from all over the world.

Underwater World’s Greatest Natural Phenomenon

So, what is the big deal? To understand why the Sardine Run has been called one of the underwater world’s greatest natural phenomenons, it is necessary to first understand what exactly it entails. Essentially, the Sardine Run describes the migration of billions of sardines- or more specifically, the Southern African pilchard. The migration begins in late May/ early June, after the sardines have spawned in the cool waters of the Agulhas Bank, near the Cape. The spawning coincides with the temporary opening of a corridor of cool water along the east coast of South Africa- a corridor along which the sardines run northwards in their billions. Just offshore, the warm Agulhas Current creates a barrier across which the sardines cannot stray, as they are unable to tolerate temperatures greater than 21 C. They are therefore confined to the narrow corridor of cool water, in a phenomenon that creates such a density of sardines that the Run rivals East Africa’s great wildebeest migration in terms of biomass.

Watch Apex Predators In Action

This sudden bounty of fish explains why fishermen get so excited about the Sardine Run- but why is it such a momentous occasion for divers? For us, its not the sardines themselves but the predators attracted by their presence that make this annual event so special. Tropical and temperate predators both follow in the wake of the Run, unable to resist the easy pickings created when a huge number of fish are penned into a small area with no means of escape. The dynamic nature of the Sardine Run makes for a thrilling environment in which anything is possible. We have seen everything from orcas to great whites, and from Cape fur seals to penguins during our many years spent in pursuit of the Sardine Run. The most common predators include great flocks of Cape gannets, that plunge from the air like bullets from a gun; super-pods of common dolphin; and bronze whaler sharks, whose skin shimmers in the sunlight as though it is forged from precious metal. The Sardine Run is a wildlife lover’s paradise- and even for those that choose not to get in the water, this event creates prime conditions for whale watching and bird watching.

Weekly Sardine Run Expeditions

This year, we will be running weekly Sardine Run expeditions out of Port St Johns from 27th June. We will spend as much time as possible at sea, looking for the bait balls that trigger the chaotic action for which the Run is so famous. The search is never boring, as the Wild Coast seas are alive at this time of year with migrating humpback whales, dolphins and seabirds. We will stop to snorkel with the dolphins whenever they initiate contact, and once a bait ball has been located, it is up to our guests whether they want to witness the event from the surface, on snorkel or on scuba. The Sardine Run allows us to experience nature at its most powerful- at its most raw and most beautiful. It offers us front row seats to one of the greatest shows on earth- and it is for this reason above all others that the Sardine Run generates as much excitement as it does.

With just over a month to go, the countdown to this year’s Sardine Run has well and truly begun. To find out more about our expeditions, or to book the few remaining places, get in contact via Facebook, or send an email to umkomaaslodge@gmail.com

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