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Birds on Sardine Run

INFO ABOUT
THE SARDINE RUN

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INFO ABOUT THE SARDINE RUN

The Sardine run is the annual migration of sardines along the coast of South Africa towards the southern coast of the country, in KwaZulu Natal. It is the largest documented biomass migration on the planet, and is classed as the marine equivalent of the famous wildebeest migration that takes place on the Masai Mara and Serengeti plains of central Africa. And it is undoubtedly just as exciting and spectacular to witness.
 

Driven by forces that are not yet fully understood, millions upon millions of sardines (Sardinops sagax) travel during the winter months in South Africa from their cool habitat of Agulhas Bank in the Cape to southern KwaZulu Natal, where they go to spawn and then return.

Driven by forces that are not yet fully understood, millions upon millions of sardines leave their cool Cape habitat and move eastwards following the cold current, which in turn is driven from the south by winter storms, usually during the months of June to August.
 

he greatest spectacle of the sea

recommended for divers

boat dives   

suitable for divers and non-divers

private divemaster

8m semi-rigid boats

advanced level 

private instructor

mega & macro fauna

ABOUT THE MARINE LIFE

Sardines are known to prefer water temperatures between 14°C and 20°C, so they travel according to temperature changes and thermoclimates. 
Literally thousands of sharks, dolphins, various pelagic species and oceanic birds follow the sardines along the coast, constantly harassing and chipping away at the main shoals, and feeding on them at their own pace.
 

As a spectator of the Sardine Run, you often hear the term "bait ball". Hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of common dolphins form super-herds of between 100 and 30,000 members and set off in search of sardines.

The Common Dolphin has developed a technique for isolating a school of sardines and compacts them into tight pockets (known as bait balls) using bubble jets, sonar and incredible teamwork. They also have the amazing ability to time the birth of their young just before the sardine migration, allowing the adults to flash and teach hunting tactics to their young during this incredibly food-rich time of year. It is truly an unforgettable experience to watch these amazing animals cooperating with each other. 
 

In turn, many shark species take advantage of this great feast of food, including the occasional Great White Shark, Tiger Shark, Bull Shark (known locally as the zambezi), but the most common are the Copper Shark (Carhariunus brachyurus) and Dusky Shark (Carcharhinus obscurus), which when attracted to the activity, sometimes number in the thousands. 
 

Sometimes the dolphin and shark can be seen working together to contain the Bait ball, taking turns to enter the ball with their mouths open and swallow as many sardines as possible, until there are none left. Most bait balls are generally brought to the surface effectively blocking any possible escape route.

Dolphin with sardines
Sardine and Sharks
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Dolphin jumping on surface
Gannets Sardine Run

This, in turn, allows oceanic bird species, such as Albatrosses, Terns, or Cape Cormorants to name a few, to take full advantage of this incredible food source. But the most common of these is the Cape gannet. This is one of the top predators in the bird world. They have incredible eyesight and have the ability to swoop 30 to 40 metres from the air towards the feast, and amazingly reach depths of 8 to 10 metres where they swim animatedly biting and swallowing any sardine within reach. They are true divers and often, on surfacing, will fight and comically jostle for any sardine that has been brought to the surface, offering fantastic photographic opportunities.
 

Bryde's whale is also regularly seen participating in the feast, probing and darting up from the depths with their mouths open to gobble up as many sardines as possible. They can be seen on the outskirts or in the middle of the action and wait for no permission to start feeding, with no regard for what is around them. 
 

Several other species of whales also appear during the migration, including the Southern Right Whale (Eubalaena australis) and the Fin Whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis), to name a few.
 

As the migration reaches KwaZulu-Natal, predatory tactics tend to change in shallow waters as the continental shelf, once again, moves seaward for a considerable distance. Here, predators accumulate bags of sardines in strategic bays, which they successfully compact, and block any escape routes, displaying an astonishing level of intelligence and teamwork among the various species.

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Another totally unrelated migration that takes place during the same period as the Sardine Run is that of the Humpback Whales, which travel from Antarctic waters northwards in search of warmer waters in Mozambique and Tanzania where they mate and breed. 
 

With the narrowing of the continental shelf along the Wild Coast, family groups of whales have the opportunity to encounter others of their species. Almost every day during the winter periods from June to October, spectacular acrobatic jumps, tail movements and loud flapping can be seen on the surface.

The Sardine Run is an ocean experience, and it is important to bear in mind that the sea is susceptible to day-to-day weather conditions, and being out in nature, bad weather scenarios can occur, and the extent of the activity may vary.

Humpback Whale on surface
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Divers in boat
Dolphin with sardines

DAY OUT DIVING

We meet daily as early as possible in the restaurant of the accommodation to have enough time to have breakfast and prepare for the departure. 
The zodiac awaits us at the Umzimvubu river jetty, where all our equipment has been ready since the day before. 
We embark, put on our life jackets, and set off down the river towards the breakwater, and so the day begins. Hold on tight!
 

After a thrilling launch through the waves, and now positioned offshore, we take off our lifejackets, get everything ready and on hand for when needed, and then we all start looking for all kinds of action, from whales, dolphins and ocean birds to the small silver sardine.  
 

We are in contact with our gyrocopter pilot, who we like to call our "eye in the sky", and it is he, Brad, who updates us on the sightings. 
 

Once the action is located, we determine if the action is fast moving, in which case we snorkel in the water, or if it is a more static activity, so we can go straight to the scuba gear for those with qualifications. 
 

The daily trips last approximately 6 to 8 hours, depending on sea conditions and the amount of activity. As the action is fast and furious coupled with variable sea conditions, long zodiac rides and all day at sea, the trips can be strenuous, so it is recommended that clients are relatively fit. 
 

We are usually the last boats at sea at the end of each day, giving our clients a full day at sea, taking advantage of all that nature has to offer.

WEATHER & SEA CONDITIONS

The best weather and sea conditions on the Wild Coast are during the winter periods. Some rain and cloudy conditions can be expected on some days, but usually good weather prevails. 

Sea conditions can vary from calm and smooth to rough and choppy, but as a general rule, there will always be some movement on the high seas, so for those more prone to seasickness, we recommend sea sickness tablets. 

On all trips we ensure the safety of all of us first and foremost, so decisions are made based on this. 

The air temperature ranges from 14ºC to 25ºC and it usually cools down at night. Water temperature ranges from 15ºC to 22ºC.

Visibility ranges from 2 to 30 metres, and as a safety precaution, water activities are only undertaken in conditions that offer at least 5 to 8 metres of visibility.

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DIVE CENTER

Mozambique Experience is associated with one of Tofo's dive centres located in the best existing area, with excellent modern facilities fully equipped with swimming pool, changing rooms with hot showers, classrooms where courses are offered, cafeteria - restaurant and unbeatable views. 

DIVE BOATS

We have two 8 metre semi-rigid zodiacs, both with a capacity of up to 16 divers each, although we prefer to keep groups smaller and usually go with a maximum of 8 divers per boat. 
Each boat is equipped with 2 Yamaha 90hp 4 stroke engines, emergency oxygen, first aid kit, life jackets, contact radio and emergency plan.

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DIVE EQUPMENT

For those who feel the cold on longer dives or during the winter months, we recommend wetsuits of at least 5mm, or even semi-dry 7mm. During the summer, when the water temperature usually stays between 27°C and 28°C a 3mm is usually sufficient. 
For those who prefer to rent, Scubapro and Mares 5mm wetsuits are available, as well as a selection of closed fins and masks. 
Diving cylinders are in steel and/or aluminium with capacities of 12 lt. For those wishing 15 lt. steel cylinders we recommend that you contact us before you travel to reserve them. 

NITROX

Due to the profile of the dives, we always recommend diving with enriched air nitrox to increase safety and bottom times. The nitrox available is 32% and up to 40% for those certified. 
For those who are not yet certified and prefer to do it here with us, it can be arranged with Robert and Lacin.

Scuba Oxygen Tank
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A DAY AT THE SARDINE RUN

We meet daily as early as possible in the restaurant of the accommodation to have enough time to have breakfast and prepare for the departure. 
The zodiac awaits us at the Umzimvubu river jetty, where all our equipment has been ready since the day before. 
We embark, put on our life jackets, and set off down the river towards the breakwater, and so the day begins. Hold on tight!
 

After a thrilling launch through the waves, and now positioned offshore, we take off our lifejackets, get everything ready and on hand for when needed, and then we all start looking for all kinds of action, from whales, dolphins and ocean birds to the small silver sardine.  
 

We are in contact with our gyrocopter pilot, who we like to call our "eye in the sky", and it is he, Brad, who updates us on the sightings. 
 

Once the action is located, we determine if the action is fast moving, in which case we snorkel in the water, or if it is a more static activity, so we can go straight to the scuba gear for those with qualifications. 
 

The daily trips last approximately 6 to 8 hours, depending on sea conditions and the amount of activity. As the action is fast and furious coupled with variable sea conditions, long zodiac rides and all day at sea, the trips can be strenuous, so it is recommended that clients are relatively fit. 
 

We are usually the last boats at sea at the end of each day, giving our clients a full day at sea, taking advantage of all that nature has to offer.

WEATHER & SEA CONDITIONS

The best weather and sea conditions on the Wild Coast are during the winter periods. Some rain and cloudy conditions can be expected on some days, but usually good weather prevails. 

Sea conditions can vary from calm and smooth to rough and choppy, but as a general rule, there will always be some movement on the high seas, so for those more prone to seasickness, we recommend sea sickness tablets
 

On all trips we ensure the safety of all of us first and foremost, so decisions are made based on this. 
 

The temperature in air ranges between 14ºC and 25ºC during the day, although it cools down early in the morning and in the evening, so we recommend warm clothes for the boat. The water temperature is between 15ºC and 22ºC.
 

Visibility ranges from 2 to 30 metres, and as a safety precaution, water activities are only undertaken in conditions that offer at least 5 to 8 metres of visibility.

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DIVE CENTER

Mozambique Experience operates from the only dive centre based in Port St Johns all year round. It is a family run business that we have been associated with since 2008, when we started running our first Sardine Runs. 
 

The location of the centre is ideal, on the banks of the Umzimvubu River. The atmosphere couldn't be more family friendly, and the team we work with is undoubtedly the one with the best knowledge of the area and the migration. Starting with Rob, the captain and dive master, who has been selected on several occasions by major television channels to film documentaries.  And with the advantage of being the only ones who have the aerial support of our pilot Brad, who flies over the area a couple of times every day and with whom we are in direct and exclusive contact about what we see from above.

DIVE BOATS

We use 8 metre semi-rigid zodiacs with 2 Yamaha outboard engines of 85 HP each. Each boat is licensed to carry 12 passengers, including the captain and a guide, however, during the Sardine Run, we limit space and comfort to 6 divers or 8 non-divers. 
Our boats are SAMSA certified and carry all required safety equipment including oxygen, first aid kits and communication devices.

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DIVE EQUPMENT

With sea temperatures between 14ºC and 22ºC, we recommend 7mm wetsuit, booties, hood and gloves. We encourage all divers to bring their own wetsuit, mask and snorkel, fins, BCD and regulator, however we do have a variety of equipment for hire. Equipment hire must be booked in advance.
Scuba tanks, weight belts will be delivered on the day of arrival. The tanks are made of steel, and we have 12 and 15 litre tanks. 
 

For non-divers, 5mm wetsuits are available for hire.

DIVE QUALIFICATION

We recommend that all recreational divers have a minimum level of advanced diving and be able to maintain the level of fitness required for the Sardine Run. 
It should be understood that the Sardine Run is a high risk, fast action event, which makes this experience, often in limited visibility, a "gruelling" one. For those seeking adventure and thrills, it is guaranteed. 
It is important that the diver should feel comfortable among sharks and be able to practice good buoyancy control and understand that there is no reference to the bottom as our waters are deep and the action is close to the surface. 

On the first day, after you have presented your diving qualifications, we will do a check dive (possibly surrounded by some Raggedtooth Sharks). This is for your own safety and comfort, to allow you to adjust your equipment and familiarise yourself with the local conditions before all the action, because once it starts, there is not much time for adjustments.

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DIVE GUIDES

Rob Nettleton is an experienced PADI Divemaster and commercial skipper, having operated consistently in the field for more than 30 years. He has been enthusiastically diving and fishing the Sardine Run since the age of 16, and he passionately loves to share his wealth of knowledge, experiences and fascination for this amazing phenomenon with all.

Robert Marin is an experienced PADI MSDT Instructor based in Mozambique since 2011 and has led diving guided trips to the Sardine Run since 2008. He has a deep passion for nature and has an excellent knowledge of marine life locally and during the Sardine Run.

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Important to note:

Due to our typical African surf launch & beaching of boat techniques, 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.

 

The Sardine Run ocean experience is safe to enjoy, as a passenger, by most, however there is a certain effort required by everyone on board. As a snorkeler or diver, action can be incredibly fast paced and at times, chaotic as predator chases prey, meaning that a certain level of fitness is required to thoroughly enjoy each and every encounter and in water activity must be undertaken by those reasonably comfortable in the water.

Do you know what we can see during the Sardine Run?

Southern Right Whale, Humpback Whale, Bryde's whale, Bryde's whale, Common Dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, copperhead shark, tiger shark, great white shark, dusky shark, bull shark, silky shark, Cape gannet.

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Recommended things to bring:

  • If you are a diver: Diving equipment: BCD, regulator, fins, booties, mask and snorkel, wet or dry suit (contact us for more information), gloves, surface buoy, torch, computer. Possibility of renting equipment.

  • Scuba diving qualifications (including Nitrox).

  • Waterproof and/or windproof jacket for Zodiac trips.

  • Watertight bag (camera and other dry equipment)

  • Anti-sickness tablets

  • Camera and housings with chargers, memory cards and extra kits needed.