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The Sardine Run - All You Need to Know About the Best Dive in the World


The Sardine Run - All You Need to Know About the Best Dive in the World

2024-06-15 15 Jun 2024

Have you ever scuba-dived with a pod of dolphins? What about a school of sharks? Have you ever looked to the surface of the water and seen sea birds diving down to hunt, whilst at the same time a whale swims under you? Combine all of these amazing, once-in-a-lifetime sights and you have scuba diving the sardine run - the best dive in the world.

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What is it and why does it happen?

The sardine run is a phenomenon that is thought to occur due to upwellings and changes in water temperature. During the months of May to July, on the East coast of South Africa, there is an upwelling of cold water that comes from the South, which sends the sardines up the coastline with the cold water.

However, a warm water current called the Agulhas, which is uninhabitable for them also runs along Southeast Africa. The sardines are then sandwiched between this warm water current and the coastline, making them an easy target in massive numbers for predators such as sharks, whales, sea birds, dolphins, seals, larger predatory fish like tunas and mackerels, and even occasionally orcas and mola molas.

When smaller fish are threatened, they group in massive schools as a last form of defense. Sardines have this tendency, uniting into large spheres where they are tightly packed together. As many types of fish feed on them, they are commonly referred to as a type of ‘bait fish’, hence when they are grouped up in this way, they are called bait balls.

When diving the sardine run, these bait balls are indications of sardine run action, as they can be seen from the surface due to the disturbance of the water, and most commonly due to the presence of sea birds. An active bait ball seen from the surface can usually mean there are other predators around too.

Sardines migrate in the millions and this is a spectacle of everything spectacular and amazing in the ocean happening all at once!

Where can you go to see it?

The sardine run can be seen anywhere between the Agulhas Bank to the start of Mozambique. However, it is said that the best action occurs when sardine numbers are still high, as well as predators, and this normally takes place in the middle of the migration - off the coasts of Eastern Cape and Southern KwaZulu-Natal.

During May to June, it is recommended to visit the areas of Gqeberha and East London, and then the KZN South Coast in late June and into July, as the sardines move up the Eastern coastline as the season progresses.

About the dives

Most operators will require you to be comfortable in the water, have excellent buoyancy, be experienced in drift and boat diving, as well as be able to do a successful negative entry. This dive trip is not the time to be practicing skills, it is the time to be completely immersed in the wonders of nature.

Dive experience of over 50 logged dives is suggested in addition to a PADI (or equivalent) Advanced Open Water Diver certification that allows you to dive up to 30 meters deep.

On diving days you are most likely to be out at sea for at least half the day, searching for bait balls and entering the water several times to scuba or freedive depending on the action. Visibility can range from a mesmerising 30 meters, to a limited 5 meters depending on the day. However, you are sure to catch sights that only a few in the world have ever seen.

Some well-known dive operators include Pro Dive, and Blue Ocean Dive Resort.

It is not the most budget-friendly dive excursion, however, is an experience like no other, and one that you will never forget. Nowhere else in the world will you be able to dive with so many pelagic species all at once. The sardine run is definitely one for your logbook.


Written by Kayli Wouters

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