Isnt it strange how one little fish can make all the difference? Well, what if there were a lot of these little fish, all together, in the same place, at the same time? Well that would make quite a difference indeed; in fact it might just cause something of a phenomenon. A phenomenon that can be found just off the East coast of South Africa, as every year, between the months of May and July, hundreds upon millions of sardines
decide to migrate. They leave their home turf of the southern oceans behind them and travel north until they hit the warmer waters of South Africas Eastern Cape
, travelling up the coastline before dropping anchor in KwaZulu-Natal
, for a little while at least, before swimming off into the sunset. The sardines summer holiday is known as the Sardine Run
and is one of the largest migratory movements planet earth bears witness to.
The sardines in question are not actually sardines at all! Their correct title is the Southern African Pilchard. Perhaps then it should be called the Pilchard Run
? Doesnt quite have the same ring to it, does it? These incredible fish gather in humongous shoals, averaging at 4 miles long, nearly a mile wide, over 30 metres deep and each one filled with hundreds of sardines. However, they are not alone on their journey; they are joined by all manner of fellow sea life, the vast majority of which have very large sardine orientated appetites.
It must make quite a delicious sight for prospective predators: millions of sardines ready for the taking but it also provides an amazing sight for tourists as well, as they are allowed to glimpse a once in a lifetime view of one of natures rarer events. They look on in awe as many species of shark and dolphin arrive to dine in style, with Bronze Whaler Sharks, Hammerheads, Bull Sharks and even Great Whites arriving at the table. They are joined by Common and Bottlenose Dolphins, Cape Gannets, seals, cormorants and even albatrosses and Orcas. Perhaps not the most appetising of meals for our pallet but there have been no complaints from the customers of this all you can eat sardine buffet as yet.
Dolphins have developed a particularly fun way of eating their food. They round up the unfortunate sardines into large balls, around 10-20 metres across and at least 10 metres in depth. These are termed as baitballs
. They then proceed to push the sardines up to the waters surface and enjoy a hearty feast. Many other creatures also benefit from the dolphins ingenuity, with a huge number of shark ploughing through the large balls of unwilling prey and eating as much as they can. They are joined by all manner of sea bird, from the Cape Gannet to vast numbers of gull.
Adding to the show is the appearance of Humpback Whales, migrating north, as with the sardines, to warmer waters. It is a happy coincidence the two coincide for it presents yet another opportunity for the tourist and local alike to play bystander to an already fantastical spectacle. The Sardine Run has helped greatly to increase the tourism industry in the area and it doesnt take much to understand why. What with scuba diving and snorkelling providing a means to view the extravaganza under the waves it also allows for near certain sightings of sharks, dolphins and many other sea creatures. But ultimately it is the sardines massive numbers and ritualistic behaviour married with the immense turnout of predators that makes their journey so special and draws people from all over the world to see it.
Photo Credits: www.sprig.co.za