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The Sardine Run is one of the greatest marine events in the world.  If you choose to watch you will be able to see enormous shoals of silver sardines, but also the predators that follow the course of the shoal along the east coast of Africa, most notably the sharks, dolphins and whales.

What is the Sardine Run in South Africa?

The sardine run travels along a huge distance of ocean and undergoes an array of changes during that time. The sardines start of at the Agulhas Banks on the Southern Cape coast of South Africa and take a south to north current - a cold one – between June and July. 

The current carries the sardines north, as well as their food source, which is plankton.  The sardine run is also known as the greatest shoal on earth, because it contains not only the sardines and the plankton, but also a variety of different predators.  You are likely to encounter: Dolphin, Game fish, Whales, Sharks and Seals

Believe it or not, over 20,000 dolphins – bottlenose and common – bryde’s whales, orcas and others follow the shoal, as well as thousands upon thousands of sharks, who leave their home on the southern Cape and coast of Namibia.  Following the sardine run really means you will be able to see marine life in all its glory.

The Sardine Run Expedition

It is actually possible to go scuba diving on the sardine run. It aims to give the highest level of excitement and adventure whilst you are there, whilst making sure that the natural environment is not disturbed by an influx of tourists. 

This is why there are only a few licensed operators and these are controlled by strict guidelines.  Also, some of the money you will spend on your trip will go directly to a local charity that works towards ocean conservation.

The shoals are sighted by the telltale signs of dolphins and game fish splashing at the surface or by flocks of birds diving into the water. Once the boat gets into position in the line of the shoal’s movement, you will enter the water and watch as the wave of life passes by.

This can last up to twenty minutes. You will then board the boat again and continue searching for further action. Whereas it is possible to scuba dive, it becomes tiring and time consuming, that is the reason why snorkeling is the preferred option when in the water.

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Sardine Bait Ball as seen during the Sardine Run

Photo Credit: wanderlasss

Of course, sometimes boats will be unable to leave the harbor or stay in the water for as long as they expected to due to bad weather or perhaps because the group collectively decides that other activities are more interesting.  Generally, if you go on a sardine run diving trip, other activities will also be organized.  These tend to include at least the following:

  • A trip in the microlight, flying you across the Wild Coast
  • Horse riding
  • Hiking tours, including some beautiful nature trails
  • Visits to waterfalls that tumble into the sea, something that can be seen only in very few places on the world
  • Cultural visits, such as little African villages or an audience with a local medicine man
Of course, going on the sardine run will also allow you to socialise with fellow diving enthusiasts, forging friendships that may last a lifetime.  Each group will spend the night together in a lodge, so you will really experience a fantastic and exciting atmosphere.

Safety of the Expedition

Safety is of course of the utmost importance.  Not just the safety of the divers and tour operators, but also the safety of the marine life. Since sardine run operations began in 2001, the safety record still stands at 100%.  This is because all staff members are highly trained and regulated and they all know the local area like the back of their hand.

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Dolphins chasing the sardines during the annual sardine run

Photo Credit: Our Planet. Close Up.

Of course, all of those that go on the sardine run expedition also have a responsibility for their own personal safety and that of the local wildlife, both on land and in the ocean.  All divers accept responsibility for conservation and thereby ensure they do not cause any damage to the local environment, for example by destroying corals or dropping litter.  The tour operators expect this attitude to continue for the visits that are done on land, particularly when visiting local villages.

Best time to be part of the Sardine run in South Africa?

It must be mentioned at this point that the Sardine Run is a natural phenomenon, therefore the exact timing cannot be predicted. Mid June to mid July has been chosen, as records indicate that this is the time that the Sardines generally appear along the stretch of coastline.

Would you like to be part of the Sardine run? contact us. We have packages available which include accommodation and unlimited sardine run action.

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Rutger Thole is an avid scuba diver and loves to travel, dive and write about scuba diving. Based in Amsterdam he runs bookyourdive.com and at least twice a year he plans a dive trip of the beaten track.

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