The Sardine Run is also known as “The greatest shoal on Earth” and in terms of biomass it is estimated that the Sardine run could rival East Africa’s great wildebeest migration that takes place on the Masai Mara and Serengeti plains of Africa. It’s the largest marine migration on the planet and it is still not fully understood.
What is the Sardine Run and what to expect?
It is an Ocean Based Safari and the experience of a lifetime for snorkelers, divers and photographers alike. It is a natural phenomenon and anything can happen on any given day. It is a totally wild and unpredictable real African event. If you are serious to experience the Sardine run the best way is from a boat.
Aside from sardines there are 5 or 6 species of baitfish migrating at the same time. (Anchovies, sugar mackerel, redeye herring, East coast herring, Sauri & a few more) These attract predators in all shapes and sizes and this creates an incredible natural mayhem and action at a very fast moving pace. Some of the above species have a tendency to “ball” as a defensive strategy, as sardines do, while others just scatter and create chaos.
You may see huge pods of dolphin and numerous species of sharks. At the same time we have the annual Humpback whale migration. They can be spotted daily moving north in small family groups or pairs. A huge variety of oceanic birdlife arrive in their thousands. This include the well-known Cape Gannet, Albatross, Petrels, Cormorants and Terns and all dive bomb the bait balls and schools of fish on the surface.
The Sardine run takes place on the Wild Coast or Pondoland coast of South Africa. The Wild coast has a breathtaking and dramatic coastline of cliffs, waterfalls and secluded beaches. Port St Johns is situated on the eastern seaboard of South Africa about 400km south of Durban. Port St Johns is renowned for its unparalleled natural beauty and a relaxed lifestyle. It perches alongside the massive Umzimvubu River which has carved its way through the ancient rocks leaving two 300 meter ramparts towering on either side.
On a typical day at sea these schools of fish are constantly on the move. Indicating that the predators are feeding on bait such as Sauri and halfbeak, which have a tendency to move fast, scatter and just generally create chaos. The only way to take advantage of this is to jump in, and watch the action pass by, jump back onto the boat and do it all over again.
There is often no time to don scuba and we then take advantage of it by jumping in on snorkel. This can go on for days and can be very tiring. But rest assured that each time you jump in, it can be your opportunity to see or photograph something phenomenal.
A stationary bait ball can last anything from a few minutes up to a few hours. These “balls” can appear at any time and this is what everyone looks and hopes for. This occurs when the common dolphin start feeding on baitfish such as Redeye herring, anchovy, and sugar mackerel which have a tendency to ball as a strategic defence.
The dolphins “herd” the ball and bring it to the surface using their speed and ability to blow bubbles whilst other predators such as sharks and sea birds attack from above and below. This static bait ball allows you enough time to don scuba equipment and dive in with a front row seat the most incredible marine action on Earth.
It is difficult to describe the excitement of the Common and Bottlenose dolphins that hunt the sardines. Cape Gannets, Albatross and other sea birds dive into the shoals from great heights. Humpback, Southern Right and Brydes Whales can also be seen in pursuit of this moving feast. Below the surface, the action continues with Copper, Dusky, Blacktip, Whitetip, Bronze Whaler and Zambezi sharks.
The Sardine run is a natural phenomenon that normally happens from the second week of June to the middle of July. Join us and experience the sardine run with an open mind. It is one of the most amazing marine experiences in the world and most go away with special and lasting memories.
Why do the Sardines migrate?
Sardines have a short life cycle of 2-3 years. Spawning takes place in the spring and summer months off the Southern Cape on the Agulhas Banks. Each females release tens of thousands of eggs into water, which are then fertilized by the males. The eggs drift with the current in a westerly and then northerly direction, into the nutrient rich waters off the South African west coast. The larva mature and develop into juvenile fish which congregate into dense shoals and migrate southwards, returning to the Agulhas Banks in order to complete their life cycle.
During the South African winter months of June to August, the penetration of cooler water eastwards along the Eastern Cape coast towards Port St Johns, expands the habitat for the sardines. Sardines are typically found in water between 14 °C and 20 °C. Sardines group together when they are threatened. This instinctual behaviour is a defence mechanism, as lone individuals are more likely to be eaten than large groups.
It is likely that a cool north flowing current, inshore off the warm Agulhas current (that flows southwards), can be one of the factors responsible for the large shoals of sardines along the coast of Port St Johns.
This cool band of water inshore is critical to the Run. If the water is too warm (> 20 °C) the sardines will remain in the cooler water further south or move further offshore and at greater depths where the water is cooler.
Itinerary for the Sardine Run Ocean Safari
Day 1: Arrive at King Shaka International airport in Durban. At 12h00 we transfer from the airport on a scenic road transfer to Port St Johns. It is a 5 to 6 hour road transfer which we complete during the day as travelling at night is not advisable due to stray animals, pedestrians etc on the road. On arrival in Port St Johns we will have a full briefing.
Day 2 to 6: Full days at sea (Weather permitting). Breakfast is from 06h00. We transfer to the dive boat for a 7h30 launch for the days sardine activity. We spend the day searching for sardines. Depending on the Sardine activity, we return to Post St Johns and the guest house at about 15h00. The rest of the afternoon is free and dinner is served at 19h00. On the days that we can not go to sea, due to bad weather, we will arrange for land-based activities. Accommodation is on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis. A packed lunch and refreshments is included on the sea days on the boat.
Day 7: After an early breakfast you depart for the 5 to 6 hour road transfer to King Shaka International airport in Durban.
Optional: Extend your trip with scuba diving with shark and/or reef dives at Aliwal shoal (Umkomaas) or at Sodwana bay (Northern Kwazulu Natal).
Important notes/ additional information:
The action can be incredibly fast paced and chaotic at times, and a certain level of fitness is required to thoroughly enjoy each and every encounter. Any in water activity must be undertaken by those reasonably comfortable in the water.
Due to our typical African surf launch and beaching of our boats, along with the possibility of uncomfortable and choppy sea conditions at times, we do not advise that those with limited mobility or frailty take part in boat activities of this nature.
Please note that on a Sardine Run Expedition most of the “diving” (approx 80%) is on snorkel as the shoals move fast and there is not enough time to don scuba gear to follow the action. Only when there is a “static bait ball” there may be time to don on scuba gear. Most of the action takes place on the surface up to a depth of 10 meters. This is a Marine Ocean Safari as most of the action can be viewed from the boat, and on snorkel.
If it is a slow day and all clients agree, a reef dive can be a nice diversion and a chance to blow bubbles.
What to bring on the boat each day:
• Sun protection i.e. hat, sunglasses & sun block
• Warm and waterproof jacket
• Waterproof bag for your towel and anything you wish to bring onto the boat (space is limited so please choose something relatively small)
• Camera, video equipment, binoculars (in a waterproof bag)
• Sea sick tablets (If necessary)
Our boats are 8.5m Superducks powered by 2 x 100hp 4 stroke Yamaha outboards.
Each vessel is licensed to carry 12 passengers including skipper and guide, to ensure your comfort we limit our carrying capacity to a maximum of 8 clients.
Our boats are certified by SAMSA and carry all required safety equipment including oxygen, trauma kits and communication devices.
Our team has the experience and knowledge to make sure your Sardine run safari is an incredible experience. We have are highly experienced skippers and dive guides with many years of experience with the Run. We want to ensure your safety and to make your trip as informative and enjoyable as possible.
Weather and Sea Conditions
The best weather and sea conditions on the Wild coast happen to be during the South African winter months. A little rain and overcast conditions can be expected on some days, though normally good weather prevails.
Sea conditions can change from calm to rough. We put safety first and our crew decisions at sea are based on your safety at all times.
The air temperature ranges between 14 to 25 ºC (58 to 76 ºF) and it is often colder at night.
Water temperature ranges between 15 to 22ºC (59 to 71 ºF)
Visibility ranges from 2 to 30m. As a safety precaution, in water activities are only conducted in conditions with visibility of more than 5m.
Notes for divers
Divers will be asked to produce their certification cards as well as logbooks and sign indemnities on arrival at Port St Johns and prior to taking part in any ocean activity.
Checkout dives will be done on the first day and prior to any sightings taking place. This is for your own safety and comfort, also to enable you to tweak your equipment and to familiarize yourself with local conditions ahead of all the action. When we join the action there is little or no time to tweak your gear.
All gear has to be pre-booked. We encourage you to bring your own wetsuit, mask, snorkel, fins, BCD and regulators. We however do have a full range of equipment for rental.
Rental: Per item @ R 65.00 per item and for full equipment @ R 325.00 per day.
Cylinders and weight belts will be supplied. We make use of 10 & 12ltr steel dive cylinders.
With water temperatures between 14 – 22 ºC, a wetsuit thickness of 5 – 7 mm with hood, booties and gloves are recommended for this time of year.
It is advisable to bring your own SMB (surface marker buoy) to keep inside your BCD pocket.
Rinsing and drying facilities will be available on site.
Our 16 seater Quantum transfer bus will depart from Durban Airport at midday on the following dates 19th/25th June & 1st / 7th of July 2020. Transfer by road on a scenic drive to Port St Johns
The transfer back to Durban will leave early from Port St Johns on the last morning of each safari.
All international flights to/from South Africa arrive and leave from Durban, Cape Town or Johannesburg. Various regional internal flights are available to all the other airports in South Africa.
Please book your departure flights for after 16h00 from Durban if you are transferring with us from Port St Johns.
There is also a SAA Airlink flight from JHB to Umtata. A one way road transfer from Umtata to Port St Johns is R1500 per person.
Sardine Run Ocean Safari - Dates
Safari 1 19 - 25 June 2020
Safari 2 25 June – 1 July 2020
Safari 3 1 July – 7 July 2020
Safari 4 7 – 13 July 2020
Optional Scuba add-ons
• Shark and reef dives at Aliwal Shoal (Umkomaas)
• Sodwana Bay (Northern Kwazulu Natal) dives at one of the top ten scuba diving destinations in the world.
This can be arranged either prior to the start of your Sardine Run Safari or immediately following it. We will arrange the dives including accommodation and transfers.
Contact us for more information.
In Port st. Johns on the wildcoast in a beach front house has 5 spacious bedrooms and can sleep up to fifteen people. Three of these bedrooms are en suite and two are serviced by a separate beautiful bathroom.
Flanked by another two bedrooms, the sun deck stretches outward, soaking up the wild coast sun. The premises are secure and have an assistant in attendance on the premises. The guest house is within 50 meters from the shoreline.
Accommodation is on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis with packed boat lunches on our sea days.
Experience the amazing Sardine Run with Deep Blue Safaris!