KwaZulu-Natal’s Eagerly Anticipated Annual Sardine Run

Known as the “Greatest Marine Spectacle on Earth”, or the “Greatest Shoal on Earth”, the annual Sardine Run that occurs on the coast of KwaZulu-Natal is an unexplained phenomenon, a breathtaking migration to behold. Because sardines lay their eggs in the water and the currents carry the eggs to the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean, it has never been understood why the sardines would migrate to the cold waters of the KwaZulu-Natal coast between the end of May and the end of July each year.

To describe the sardine shoal as massive would probably be an understatement, as millions of silver sardines form a river within the ocean that is approximately forty meters in depth, fifteen kilometers in length and an estimated four kilometers wide. It is such a large migration that it is picked up by satellites in outer space. The sardines move in these large numbers, and close together, to protect themselves from the constant battery of predators and increase their chances of survival. By feeding off plankton and swimming near the surface of the water, they are easy prey for both marine life and coastal birds.

KwaZulu-Natal is not really known for sardine fishing, as a mere seven hundred tons are caught here a year, as opposed to the Eastern Cape waters where approximately four thousand tons are harvested. While the sardines are so close to the beach, fishermen wade into the waters from the shore and drag out spectacular amounts of sardines in their nets.

As this is a natural occurrence, authorities remove all shark nets from this stretch of coastline during the sardine run so as not to interfere with nature and the extravaganza of predators it brings to the shore. Some of the sharks that have been viewed during this time have included Coppers, Great Whites, Bronze Whalers, Hammerheads and Zambesies, with an estimated amount of twenty thousand dolphins flocking to the coastline to feed. Whales, thousands of Gannets, Geelbek and Garricks can be seen during this time. Dolphins have found a marvelous tactic to fish for sardines. They move together as a hunting pack, circling the large group of fish, until they have managed to separate a small amount of fish into a fight group, called a baitball. They then guide the baitball to the surface, and feed off their catch.

The natural activity that can be seen from the shoreline, as whales, sharks, dolphins and birds each work tirelessly to feed on as many sardines as possible, is an inspiring sight. Professional and amateur photographers will be able to shoot some of the most magnificent marine animals in motion. Diving companies can also be found who take visitors to the heart of the feeding frenzy, while keeping at a safe distance so as not to be mistaken for food. Snorkeling, scuba diving and underwater viewing of this natural spectacular is an unforgettable experience. As is looking out on the active waters from the shore.