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*All distances listed are as the crow flies, and not actual travel distances.
Every year during the southern hemisphere winter months, one of the greatest migrations in nature occurs along the east coast of South Africa. It’s called the Sardine Run, when over half a billion sardines make their way to warmer seas further up the coast, relentlessly pursued by whales, dolphins, seals, sharks, penguins and seabirds. And a little further far behind are the trawlers to scoop up masses of fish to appease the world’s food demands.
The Sardine Run is a natural phenomenon and the tiny fish gather in vast numbers as a means of protection against the many predators that hunt them. Dolphins cleverly herd the fish to form ‘bait balls’ into which the dolphins can plunge and easily pick off their prey. High above are the gannets who dive at great speeds into the shoal while from below, the giant Bryde’s whale appears from the depths, mouth wide open to gather as many fish as possible, in one swoop. Sharks, seals and penguins attack the shoal from every other angle. Experienced divers swim amongst the chaos to appreciate the survival dance that happens between the hunter and the hunted.
The gannet seabird gives spectators and fishermen first glimpse of the arriving Sardine Run, as they hover over the shoal and dive into the sea. At night, these birds rest on the sea surface, a spectacle in itself. Often, the run occurs close to shore and locals wait with their buckets and nets to scoop up fish as they are pushed towards the beach.
Over the last few years, El Niño and other unusual weather patterns have impacted on the quantity of sardines and hopefully nature’s balance will be restored in the near future.
The Sardine Run is a mystery to scientists, as the fish spawn earlier in the year and the migration is therefore unexplained. For visitors, it’s a fantastic demonstration of one of nature’s awesome curiosities.