Nothing is ever certain on the annual Sardine Run. Many have read or heard those words. In fact, never a truer word has been spoken. Part of the whole Sardine Run experience is that when it all comes together it is the greatest thing you will ever see. So, for those prepared to wait it out, the rewards can flow in, quite literally.
My husband, marine biologist, Ryan Johnson and I have visited the Sardine Run for the past three years, bumping our way up and down the coast along East London (in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa). Last year I was privileged to get a fairly good day with some dolphins snacking off a small ball of sardines. Of course, just after my trip the guys with no cameras got the best day of all, with Brydes whales, sharks, humpbacks and dolphins all ploughing through a moving feast of oily fish.
I did however, also have some rather close encounters with humpback whales and even if I hadn’t seen a sardine these would have more than made up for it. A special treat just for me was swimming with a mola-mola (sunfish) or two, as they sunbathed near the surface.
Having seen the Run I can say that this one of the most incredible natural sights for any underwater enthusiast to see. Everything comes together in a whirlwind of teeth, feathers and scales. Feathers? Yes, even feathers as thousands of Cape gannets plunge headlong into the schools of silver. As I swam alongside greedy seals, penguins and even manta rays with sharks, dolphins and whales, I realised I was immersed in the greatest spectacle I may ever see. It’s all part of the annual Sardine Run.
After the news of the good sightings from last year spread, winter sardine fever is coming back to South Africa and boats are filling up fast. I won’t miss the early dark black mornings but ultimately I look forward to that vast blueness. The air and water is a bit chilly for us warm blooded critters. However, there is nothing quite as exciting as putting your head under the surface to see bait balls of thousands of glittering sardines darting frantically around the wide open mouths of some of the most charismatic predators on earth.