Sardine Festival 2010

The Greatest Shoal on Earth
The Sardine Run is much more than numerous glistening shoals of sardines moving up the coast. It involves and affects many marine animals and can be witnessed from the shore, the sea or the air, and from above or below the clean waters of the Indian Ocean. Great White Sharks, Copper Sharks, Common Dolphins, and Cape Gannets are four key predators that pursue the shoals northwards along the east coast of South Africa.

The shoals can get up to 20-30km long and the feeding displays that result are spectacular. Sharks and dolphins round up the sardines into huge “bait balls”, only to be consumed by the predators. White clouds of Cape Gannets plunge into the water like jet fighter planes, pods of common dolphins join together to herd the sardines through “super pods” several thousand strong, and hundreds of sharks join in pursuit. The South Coast offers several vantage points along its magnificent 120km long coastline for you to take full advantage of the experience from the comfort of a deck-chair.

Marine charters operate out of Port Edward, Ramsgate and Shelly Beach and Margate Airport boasts an active flying club and charters that follow the run to your hearts desire.

You can also dive with the sardines (including the reefs, wrecks and sharks) at Aliwal Shoal, Protea Banks and Rocky Bay as they migrate northwards along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline. An added bonus is that Ragged Tooth sharks congregate to mate during this period and you are sure to have exquisite dives and also experience our huge brindle bass, moray eels, rays, turtles, schools of pelagic fish, whales, dolphins, and many more marine species.
The South Coast has two world-class dive sites and none other than Jacques Cousteau himself rated Aliwal Shoal as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world. The Natal Sharks Board have reliably estimated that over 20,000 dolphins follow the annual sardine run and marine biologists have gathered much information through exploration of the oceans that they have now put paid to many of the myths that previously surrounded these creatures of the deep.

During the Sardine Run, you will find the presence of Humpback Whales and Southern Right Whales. This is merely coincidental as they have not been observed feeding on sardines. These whales migrate north to give birth and they mate off the KwaZulu-Natal coast.  Whales during their migration, they may travel up to 8,000 km in what is probably the longest mammal migration known to man.

Sardines are typically found in water between 14 °C and 20 °C.

During the winter months of June to August, the penetration of cooler water eastwards along the Eastern Cape coast towards Port St Johns, effectively expands the suitable habitat available for sardines. From the Port St Johns region northwards, it is likely that a cool northerly-flowing counter-current, flowing inshore off the warm southerly flowing Agulhas current, may be one of the factors responsible for the ‘leakage’ of large shoals of sardines further north in what has traditionally been known as the ‘sardine run’.

An up-welling of cool water along this section of coast is caused by north easterly winds which may also assist in the movement of large shoals of sardines northwards. The cool band of water inshore is critical to the run. If the water is too warm (over 20 °C) the sardines will remain in the cooler water further south or move northwards further offshore and at greater depths where the water is cooler. These conditions make the sardines unavailable to the seine-net fisherman, and many of the predators associated with them, as was the case in 2003 when un-seasonal warm sea surface temperatures (21 – 23 °C) were recorded off the southern KwaZulu-Natal coast during the months of June to August.

Sardines have a short life cycle and only live to 2-3 years of age. Spawning takes place in the spring and summer months off the Southern Cape on the Agulhas Banks. Scientists have established that each female releases tens of thousands of eggs into water, which are then fertilized by the males. These eggs drift with the current in westerly and northerly directions into the nutrient rich up-welled waters off the west coast. Here the larva mature and develop into juvenile fish which once strong enough, aggregate into dense shoals and migrate southwards, returning to the Agulhas Banks in order to complete their life cycle.

In South Africa there is a large sardine fishery off the Western Cape coast and approximately 100,000 tonnes are caught annually. Off the Eastern Cape coast the annual catch drops to about 7,700 tonnes whilst only up to a maximum of 700 tonnes is caught in Kwa-Zulu-Natal.

The Natal Sharks Board offers a Sardine Run hotline 082 284 9495