DIVING BAIT BALLS ON THE SARDINE RUN IN COFFEE BAY, SOUTH AFRICA
The Sardine Run is a very special natural phenomenon. The sheer number of sardines involved results in a feeding frenzy along the coastline of South Africa and in terms of biomass is said to rival East Africa’s great wildebeest migration.
The Sardine Run is where shoals of sardines drift north up the east coast of Africa to KwaZulu Natal and Mozambique from the cold waters of the Cape of South Africa. These shoals can be more than 7km long, 1.5km wide and 30m deep and are very easily spotted by planes or from boats on the surface.
It is usually around May-July and involves billions of sardines. They spawn in the Agulhas Bank, the southern most point of South Africa and then head north along the south east coast of Africa. The run occurs when a current of cold water heads north from the Agulhas Bank to Mozambique, where it heads out into the Indian Ocean. The Agulhas current is a warm, more northern current that pushes the cooler Atlantic southern current up against the east coast and hopefully forces the drifting sardines inshore so the run can be witnessed.
The Sardine Run is all about the water temperature. It has to fall below 21 degrees to happen. Sardines need cold water and will not be seen if the water is too warm. The run does not occur every year and in the last 23 years, it has failed on three occasions including 2003 and 2006. This year the weather is quite unseasonal. Today the air temp is 25C, unheard off at this time of the year.
DIVING A BAIT BALL IS ALL ABOUT ETIQUETTE IN THE WATER
The dive and snorkel briefing is all important as this is such an unusual phenomenon, if you do the wrong thing, you will disturb the bait ball action and it all ends for everyone. Then the search has to be repeated to find another bait ball.