Berna's travelblog Marco Bernasocchi's adventures blog

Run sardine, run…

Planet earth at its best again in the next 5 days, once more I’m privileged and I managed to make my way to Port St Johns in Eastern Cape just in time for the sardine run and I’ll be diving/snorkeling every dy till Sunday with Rob and Debby of I’ll make only one post for all 5 days but I’ll update it day by day.

The sardine run of southern Africa occurs from May through July when billions of sardines – or more specifically the Southern African pilchard Sardinops sagax – spawn in the cool waters of the Agulhas Bank and move northward along the east coast of South Africa. Their sheer numbers create a feeding frenzy along the coastline. The run, containing millions of individual sardines, occurs when a current of cold water heads north from the Agulhas Bank up to Mozambique where it then leaves the coastline and goes further east into the Indian Ocean.
In terms of biomass, researchers estimate the sardine run could rival East Africa’s great wildebeest migration. However, little is known of the phenomenon. It is believed that the water temperature has to drop below 21 °C in order for the migration to take place. In 2003, the sardines failed to ‘run’ for the third time in 23 years. While 2005 saw a good run, 2006 marked another non-run.
The shoals are often more than 7 km long, 1.5 km wide and 30 meters deep and are clearly visible from spotter planes or from the surface.
Sardines group together when they are threatened. This instinctual behaviour is a defense mechanism, as lone individuals are more likely to be eaten than large groups. [Wikipedia]

Day 1 – the day of the sharks

Today we had an amazing day snorkeling, all action was very fast so we never got into our diving gear but jumped in may times on fast snorkel gear. On basically every drop we had sharks, many, big curios sharks, fantastic :) on two occasions we had plenty of dolphins and as a cherry on the cake just before going home we got two short snorkeling with humpbacks whales. Incredible :)

Day 2 – the calm day

Today we didn’t have much action, the morning seemed great, with gannets and common dolphins at the same place but then all died off and the day was very calm with some very large pods of dolphins (in the hundreds) and a very good sighting of a humpback whale just under us… got to love small groups! once back at the hostel, we drove uo to the airstrip to have a beer watching the sunset :)

Day 3 – kiss the dusky, praise the humpback

Woah… another great day, first of all because the people on the boat where super cool, Debby and Rob (doing their job as great as usual) and Max and Henni, the owners of the super jungle monkey hostel. A locals and Marco boat! :)
In the morning all looked like bait balls again, but like yesterday it died out. But we got to see a small bait ball chased by sharks, gannets and dolphins. Cool. The “daily whale wish” also became true when we dropped on a whale with some dolphins… suuuper cool.
But the best still had to come, we casually dropped in the water where another bot told us there where two sharks and they where there, and stayed… big time! more than an hour later I was the last one getting out of the water after an amazing session free-diving and snorkeling with those two beauties (in fact probably a dusky and a blacktip). After some good old pontoon sleeping, the whales where again kings with their majestic breachings… just too good!

Day 4 – the day of the Baits

When this morning I turned on my camera and the lens wouldn’t open giving an error, I knew it today I going to be the day we’ll finally see the sardine balls. And so it was!!! YEAHHHH!!!
Fi first got a fast moving small anchovy one but then, as Rob said droooop quick and it was raining gannets and Deb just quickly glimpsed over and giggle good stuff Marco. I boosted to the action and wow, breathtaking… incredible.
Natural mastery of predation and collaborative work.
After 15-20 min of snorkeling there were too many people around (was kind of the first big ball of the season) and I went back to the boat to get my scuba gear on and went for another 15 minutes of dive… wow!
I just made a quick edit of my one of my videos. I’ll do more from home. I’m not a big “video guy” but the camera was broken, so no shots.

Day 5 – the day of the Humpbacks

When they say the Mt. Blanc is 4810m above sea, do they include the 5 meters difference due to rough sea? ;) no just kidding, not that bad but choppy choppy. The day went on veeery calmly with some dolphins, a random shark and a nice Skua bird eating our hot dogs…
As the day was almost over we started seeing some nice whale breachings and Rob dropped some of us. Swimm swim swimm uff uff uff hard but then a nice humpback passed graciously 5-6 meters from me… woahhhh… and it wasnt all, 15 min later Rob says again: “in! quick!” I drop, look and swim like crazy, the others somehow don’t follow, I go. and then… the best sardine run farewell present ever, I had to move away to not get smacked by a humpback fin… incredible. Soo beautiful, big and gracious, definitely incredible.

Packing up

It is listening to an Ukulele jam session that I’m writing up this last bit of my incredible sardine run experience. This were five days of action, waiting, thinking, humbling and profound internal reflection. I’m not going to say that this days changed my life, but they were definitely important. As I mentioned in my Kalahari post I’m in a period of my life in which I do a lot of thinking, and having the privilege of witness nature wonders at its best in calm and rough long days on the ocean gave me a lot of time to think about important things and to remember what life is all about… Passion.

To any of you that made it as far as reading this, remember passion is all, do what you love and love what you do and give the chance to yourself to be part of nature as much as you can. It will give you with much more than you expect…

The guys we spotted during the 5 days

  • Dusky sharks
  • Bronze whaler (Copper sharks)
  • Black tip sharks
  • Bottlenose dolphins
  • Indopacific dolphins
  • Common dolphins
  • Humpback whales
  • Albatros
  • Cape Gannet
  • Skua

One Response to Run sardine, run…

  1. Martusia says:

    Where’s sth new to read???

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