Sea­sonal phe­nomenom is pop­u­lar among lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional tourists

African Times - - African Destinations -

AS WINTER set­tles in to South Africa a mag­i­cal mi­gra­tion hap­pens and, word starts to spread along the KwaZu­luNatal coast­line. “The sar­dines have ar­rived!”

Th­ese sar­dines em­bark on their an­nual jour­ney, swim­ming for more than 30 days from their spawn­ing ground in the Cape to South Africa’s east coast. This ma­rine spec­ta­cle means scores of fish­er­men join the sharks, game fish, ma­rine mam­mals and birds to gorge them­selves on this shim­mer­ing mass of tiny sil­ver fish.

Why th­ese large shoals of sar­dines swim to the KwaZulu-Natal coast dur­ing the winter months re­mains a mys­tery.

And yet, each year it’s the same: start­ing in May, mil­lions of small, shiny fish make the one-way jour­ney from the cold waters of the Cape to the warmer tides of KwaZulu-Natal, colour­ing the shore­line sil­ver as they con­vene close to the coast.

If you’re plan­ning to get in on the ac­tion, you’ll need to plan your trip prop­erly.

By the end of July they’re gone – dis­ap­peared just as sud­denly as they ar­rived, van­ish­ing into the great blue be­yond.

Like whale watch­ing in Her­manus or trav­el­ling to Na­maqua­land to see the wild­flow­ers in bloom, South Africa’s famed sardine run is a sea­sonal delight that is pop­u­lar among lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional visi­tors, un­der­stand­ably so.

It’s a phe­nom­e­non cer­tainly worth ex­pe­ri­enc­ing – whether it’s from land, the ocean sur­face or even un­der­wa­ter (ar­guably the most spec­tac­u­lar way to view it).

Typ­i­cally, the sardine shoals are mas­sive and can stretch for kilo­me­tres along the coast, and fol­low­ing the shoal – above and be­low wa­ter – is a car­a­van of preda­tors in feed­ing-frenzy mode.

Schools of sharks, such as the Bronze Whaler (or Cop­per sharks), Dusky and Black­tip sharks, fol­low the shim­mer­ing path of prey, feast­ing on the fish. Ma­rine mam­mals and game fish fol­low in hot pur­suit.

Cape Fur seals, Hump­back and Minke whales, and thou­sands of dol­phins are joined by shoals of Shad, Gar­rick and “Geel­bek” (a type of kob) as they dive, snap and feed on what ap­pears to be an un­lim­ited sup­ply of tasty sar­dines. Dol­phins ac­tu­ally em­ploy a tac­ti­cal hunt­ing strat­egy by “herd­ing” part of the sardine shoal into densely packed groups, termed “bait balls”. Work­ing to­gether un­der­wa­ter, the dol­phins drive the bait ball to­wards the sur­face, whirling, twist­ing and swim­ming be­low the shoal. As the sar­dines move closer to the sur­face of the wa­ter, birds plum­met out of the sky to pil­lage from above.

Cape gan­nets, cor­morants, terns and gulls all dive-bomb the coast in an un­re­lent­ing aerial as­sault.

In ar­eas where the sar­dines swim very close to the coast, game fish­er­men and lo­cal sardine lovers wade into the wa­ter and se­cure their share.

This is a ma­rine spec­ta­cle at its best – a once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­nity to view crea­tures of the earth, sky and wa­ter tak­ing part in one of na­ture’s un­ex­plained mys­ter­ies. Op­por­tu­ni­ties abound for those look­ing to ob­serve the great sar­dinerun phe­nom­e­non, whether it be from the coast, from the deck of a boat, un­der­wa­ter or with a snorkel.- www.

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