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Sardine Run 2007 the Unofficial Wetpixel Group


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#21 Drew

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Posted 23 June 2007 - 06:07 AM

Day 09
With the reported main school of sardines 150km south of us, our attention was forcefully and happily turned on the cetaceans. First a pod of 300 common dolphins got the gannets into a frenzy of diving, really for nothing . The blonde birds of south africa are known to do what I coin as "desperation diving", just diving when dolphins are around just hoping there'll be food where dolphins are. However the dolphins were not feeding but just relaxing.
As they traipsed north, we turned our (long) lenses onto 4 charging humpbacks, challenging for escort duties with the female. They steamed on like runaway freight trains. In fact they were going so fast, we abandoned following them for 2 other whales travelling at a more relaxed pace. So what did they do to greet us? A double breach continued by even more breaching and head slapping. We followed the pair for an hour or so til they tired. But so were we. But the cetaceans didn't stop coming as we spotted a large disturbance of white water on the flat seas. We rushed out to meet the turbulance, revealing a pod of 70 odd bottlenose dolphins charging at speed. There's nothing like charging dolphins to get the blood racing, inspiring us to humm Wagner's Die Walkure. What a great way to end the day.

Day 10
What the ocean giveth, the ocean taketh away. The seas were barren. A manta, a shark, 2 whales, a loggerhead turtle and 3 dozen birds were all that were left. I believe the conspiracy of the boat skippers was responsible. Tri-Nations rugby between the All-blacks and Springboks made the skippers make up all sorts of excuses to watch the match live. Except the most used excuse of bad weather was obviously not going to work because the seas were flat and temperature was in the 70s. After so many campaigns, I'm seeing a trend of inactivity during big rugby matches. Such is the power of the rugby sangorma. In fact I'm writing this as we watch the Springboks kill the All Blacks.

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#22 Rud-gr

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Posted 23 June 2007 - 09:18 AM

Only "A manta, a shark, 2 whales, a loggerhead turtle"....!!!!
We're almost feeling sorry for you guys! :(
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#23 Drew

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Posted 23 June 2007 - 10:04 AM

Update... all blacks won!

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#24 Craig Ruaux

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Posted 23 June 2007 - 10:12 AM

Update... all blacks won!



Oh good, balance has been returned to the universe :(
Why would I take a perfectly good camera underwater??
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#25 Drew

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Posted 26 June 2007 - 12:13 PM

Day 12
3 of the guys fell to some sort of stomach bug that kept them off the boat. We still launched to find humpbacks in force, 14 sighted in all. However other than that, the day was pretty dead. But with reports of sardine activity only 60 km south of us, the spirits while dampened remain relatively good.

Day 13
In truth, balance did return to the run universe today as we had over 600 common dolphins, 100 oceanic bottle nose dolphins, 2 mola mola and 5 humpback whales all in the space of 3 hours. Of course the 6-700 gannets diving like a waterfall right in front of the boat made the day for all the guys after a few days of inactivity. Add to that high seas caused by strong winds and ocean swells, the ocean was boiling with life. Sardines arrived in patches but the seas were too rough to dive on them. The school was so thick the dolphins didn't even form a baitball, hence the gannets had no luck reaching the sardines which came up to maybe 25m, just a little beyond the range of the gannets.
Hopefully the winds will die down tomorrow and the action will still be around. It's coming down to the last 2 days for this group so it'll be close to find that perfect ending to their expedition.
Wish us luck!

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#26 MikeVeitch

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Posted 26 June 2007 - 02:12 PM

25m JUST out of reach for the gannets?!?! Wow! that is an impressive bird!

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#27 wagsy

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Posted 26 June 2007 - 02:33 PM

Sounds wonderfull Drew
Looking forward to seeing some images from you guys. ;)
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#28 Drew

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Posted 30 June 2007 - 05:34 AM

Day 14
The South Westerly front blew hard blowing out any chance of shooting topside or getting in the water. Other boats launched and beat themselves up in the white caps and high windy seas. With not much activity and bad conditions, I decided against launching.

Day 15
The Wetpixel boys decided to extend a day and were giving a nice parting gift in the way of a humpback whale encounter while swimming with dolphins. Unfortunately, one of the boys suffered a flooding and his camera was rust toast. The boys left with some of the best humpback and dolphin encounters I've seen so far.

Day 16
The new group has 2 wetpixel members, giftie and falsa orca. The other 2 are non-shooters. Their first day couldn't start better when we had 4 baitballs in marginal viz, 2 with a cape fur seal. 400-500 gannets were diving on the action all day as the sardines came up in pockets that were spread out. So the predators had their fill as they travelled along the coast.
After that we had a few breaching whales to end the long day.

Day 17
Started very promisingly with 500 odd birds diving all over the place and a large spread out pod of common dolphins chasing fish. We deduced from the speed of the dolphin action and bird diving, it was red eye (herring) the predators were feeding on.
Then all hell went silent for 3 hours as there was almost no life to be found. And again, life sprung out with a breaching whale (17 times) followed by a large pod of bottlenose dolphins. As 3 of our group were snorkelling with the dolphins they had a seriously big awakening when 4 humpbacks popped up right next to them!

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#29 jonny shaw

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Posted 30 June 2007 - 06:01 PM

I'm so jealous of you guys!!!!

Sounds absolutely amazing...

Wish we have the equivalent here on the East Coast of Oz.

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#30 NickJ

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Posted 01 July 2007 - 06:53 PM

Just back from S Africa yesterday. Amazing trip although the famed mega bait balls were rather elusive. Got some good u/w shark and dolphin action though, and a lot of incredible topside activity - tons of humpback whales, big dolphin pods, clouds of diving gannets etc. See attached - one of the best of my still shots, but I was mainly taking video. Jbonehoss has some truly amazing breach shots which I'm sure he'll post later. I have yet to see how my topside video has come out - moving boat etc.

ShawnH had a truly incredible u/w interaction with a playful humpback right on our last day. Three close passes nose to nose and his LMI running the whole time. I'm sure he'll post on WP in due course.

I'll update my website over the next few days and keep you posted. I have nothing of 'Blue Planet' quality, but certainly a very fun trip - and the LMI bluefin held up really well despite it's continuous beating and thumping on the boat. Drew was a great host, and v well organised for this, his eighth, trip. Our boatman for the run - Peaky (PKEE) is one of the best, and known to many of the dive fraternity. His beach launches through 5m swells have to be experienced to be believed - more adrenaline rush than any bronze whaler encounter! Great spotter too.

Drew is still out there with a second team and I believe they are getting some good bait ball activity now.

More updates once I get through my 700+ emails :)

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#31 Drew

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Posted 02 July 2007 - 11:22 AM

Day 18
Blow out!

Day 19
Started with a very tough launchat the river mouth which kept many boats off the sea.
Then we spotted bird activity throughout the area. Estimates of 800-1000 birds flying around diving on dolphins. Since the activity was scattered and nothing was solid, we followed a large pod of bottle nose dolphin when we spotted an albino baby dolphin... all white! We tried to photograph it but the rough seas and elusive little guy made it impossible.
We jumped in on the dolphins to attempt an underwater shot but were surprised with a humpback which came over to check us out.
After that the birds filled the skies again when the common dolphin pods started hunting. We dived in on baitball activity which turned out to be red eye herring and anchovies, not sardines.
With all the predators around, and the visibility to match, the next few days will tell the story.

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#32 MikeVeitch

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Posted 02 July 2007 - 03:45 PM

question: whats the diff between a herring or anchovie bait ball compared to a sardine one?

sounds like the former are not as good as the latter...

is it the way they school? Perhaps not as tightly packed? Size of the school? Size of the fish? Not as tasty to predators?!?

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#33 NickJ

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Posted 02 July 2007 - 04:00 PM

Seems that red-eye (so called becasue their eyes turn red after capture) don't school as tightly as sardines, and they scatter faster when the dolphins break up the balls. Means that you have to be in the water very quicky to see the action, which doesn't last as long and is less spectacular than the sards....

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#34 Drew

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Posted 05 July 2007 - 01:20 PM

Day 20
Again the day started with random action that amounted to nothing and then things hotted up in the afternoon. This year seems to throw all conventional wisdom out the window with a lot of action happening in the afternoon, probably because the type of fish which surfaces up to feed during those hours. The sardines are popping up in pockets and mixed with "red eye" herring, anchovies and a host of other baitfish including halfbeaks and shards. What makes it frustrating is the water viz has remained barely workable, in the 3-5m range.
The afternoon was topped by charging dolphins with hundreds of birds diving on them and a Bryde's whale joining the charge. This year the topside stuff has been spectacular!

Day 21
With the winds picking up, we detected sardine activity on the fish finder sonar passing deep. There aren't enough common dolphins around to gather the action so they remain deep and outside the range of the gannets. Hence no action underwater.
Still the afternoon action heated up with the bottlenose and common dolphins hunting at the surface followed by 2 whales which continued to head and jaw slap, breach and spin, often one after another. In fact the one double breach we had was so close I overfilled the frame and cut off the head of the other.

Day 22
At least today started like a day from the past... birds diving early in the morning on fish. We dived in with a redeye baitball with lots of birds diving on our heads, exhilirating since the baitball was no more than 2m wide. The thumping splash of the birds was very exciting for the newbies.
The baitball lasted for over an hour and was very difficult to track as the predators pared down the fish.
The great news is the fishfinder is locating large pockets of sardines... we just need more predators like the common dolphin superpods!

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#35 shawnh

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Posted 05 July 2007 - 04:04 PM

Wow...i feel like I am still on the Run with Drew. Amazing how cosistent the type of actitivity has been this year from week to week.
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#36 DeanB

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Posted 05 July 2007 - 11:31 PM

Unless you are fortunate enough to stay for a long period it seems to me to be a bit less dramatic than last year.. But this seems to be the way at the moment throughout the Natural World...

Dive safe

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#37 Drew

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Posted 06 July 2007 - 06:45 AM

Day 23
Nature was a cruel tease in a day of could've and should'ves. First baitballs everywhere but no viz. 3 mad scientists looking for data braved the murky waters filled with sharks to no avail.
Then we attempted to find the superpods farther out to sea. Instead we found a mako shark swimming on the surface. All attempts to dive with it were foiled by slowness on our part and a shark determined to avoid divers. Still seeing one very clearly from the boat was nice, seeing how they are in perilously low numbers worldwide.
We found the superpod afterward...in mini-superpod groups of 600 and 400. Plus they weren't very friendly. A day of battling for action with no real results, we called it a day at 2 and licked our wounds. It's also party night tonight!
The BBC(Beeb) have wrapped as have the IMAX and local south african crew. No production crew left satisfied this year as the viz was simply difficult. Our test samples showed more redeye herrings than sardines in the water.

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#38 Drew

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Posted 07 July 2007 - 07:16 AM

Day 24
We had the flattest seas to date. The water temperatures are down and visibility was looking decent inshore. Still only redeye herring and baby shads were been hunted by the common dolphins. Which meant action was too fast for diving with. Still it presented great top side photography opportunities.
Later in the afternoon, we snorkeled and dived with 3 different dolphin species, the bottlenose, common and the pan tropical spotted. The spotteds are very athletic and wonderful leapers. I was working the main pod when a black shadow in the deep blue came like a runaway bus at me.... a small humpback whale came to check the commotion caused by my bubbles. It proceeded to buzz pass everyone in the water before taking off.
Everyone was so elated to have dived and snorkeled with a big animal and decided to go in early today.
Other highlights of the day were a jumping sailfish and incredible diving gannet action with common dolphins leaping out of the water.

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#39 wagsy

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Posted 07 July 2007 - 10:25 PM

Drew if you stay there any longer you will become a citizen. :)

Sounds like an amazing place.
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#40 Drew

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Posted 08 July 2007 - 02:11 PM

Day 25
Last Day
The wind was howling but we braved the launch on our last day. We were rewarded with hundreds of birds and a pod of common dolphin mobilizing around a bryde's whale, which promptly ended much of the action with one big gulp. Too dark to jump into the water, we watched from the boat, anxiously waiting for the sun to rise higher. Sharks were visible from the surface so without good light, it'd be suicide to jump in. However, the wind picked up and we had to call it quits.Thus ended the team's campaign in 2007. As if it were deja vu from 2006, we watched from the cliffs as thousands of gannets dived on action in the huge swells.
Good news is the scientist boat has invited me to join their boat to help identify predator behavior. Can't say no to that! So day 1 (clock restarts Wed) will continue!

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