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The Sardine Run – South Africa

The world-famous Sardine Run takes place every year between May and July when millions of sardines spawn at Agulhas Bank and then head on mass northwards towards the warmer waters of Kwazulu-Natal. The shoals are often about 7 km (4 miles) long, 1.5 km (1 mile) wide and 30m (100 ft.) deep and are clearly visible from spotter planes.  Often referred to as the “largest biomass migration on the planet”, it is a sight to behold and every ocean lover’s dream.

The Sardine Run in Pictures

A collection of photos of the Sardine Run both over and underwater.

Marine Life on the Sardine Run  

Besides the teeming schools of sardines and mackerel, this massive marine event naturally brings out the big boys. All kinds of predators join the chaos to feed. Tuna, large game fish, sharks, dolphins, whales, seals, seabirds, and other pelagic species. It’s a spectacle and, I’d say, the world’s greatest dive.

The actions and symbioses of the various predators are incredible to watch. Dolphins usually start it off by rounding the sardines up into massive bait balls, 10-20m (33 – 66 ft.) in diameter and as deep as 10m (33 ft.) Once the sardines are rounded up, the sharks come up from the depths and seabirds launch an aerial attack. Bryde’s whales also take advantage of the opportunity and can swallow a whole bait ball. Other whale species, which may not necessarily feed, can also be seen in the area. Humpback, southern right and minke whales are sometimes spotted.

Dive Conditions on the Sardine Run

The Sardine Run, which can be snorkeled or dived, is tough. You should be fit and have experience being on a boat in the ocean as you’ll spend many hours in one waiting for the action on the wild Indian Ocean. Water temperatures vary depending on where you join it with more temperate water the further south you are.

Best Time to Dive the Sardine Run

The Sardine Run can be accessed from different parts of the coast depending on the time of year. The Sardine Run is an unpredictable event but is generally between May and July. In May and June, you can join it from the Eastern Cape area at the Garden Route, Port Elizabeth, and East London. From June to July, you can join the run from KwaZulu-Natal at Umkomaas, Coffee Bay, Durban, and Port St John. 

How to Get to South Africa

There are three major international airports in South Africa: Tambo International Airport (Johannesburg); Cape Town International Airport; and King Shaka International Airport (Durban). The best arrival point for the Sardine Run is Durban or Port Elizabeth, depending on where you will be diving. The best way to get around is to hire a car. 

Good to Know

Since the Sardine Run is quite unpredictable and you can spend days waiting for the action, it’s a good idea to make your travel plans as flexible as possible.

In 2017, the South African government reduced the national annual sardine fishing quotas by 50%. This has resulted in a resurgence of the sardine stocks. The result is a reemergence of the sardine run in full force.

From the land at certain points, you can literally walk into the water with a bucket and scoop up the sardines with the locals.

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