2017 TRIP REPORT
2017 Sardine Run in
a Nut Shell: Not many bait balls but excellent
big animal action. Whales galore, endless dolphins including
some sizable 'super-pods' of common dolphins and bottlenose
dolphins. Plus, great shark action during our chumming
The Sardine Run is always a roll of the dice.
Sometimes its one bait ball after another. Sometimes we get
lots of shark action. This year, the run was dominated by
Everyday - except for one day when we were
chased away by high winds - we found ourselves in the
presence of humpback whales. Sometimes they were solo. Other
times they were in pairs but they also seemed to traveling
northeast in small groups of 5 or 6 individuals. Of course,
we followed them eagerly along the wild coast enjoying
endless breaches and tail slaps.
Whenever it was safe, we slipped intpo the
water in their path in the hopes of inwater encounters.
There were so many opportunities that it wasn't long before
everyone had a personal encounter with one or two whales.
We also slipped in with pod after pod of
bottlenose dolphins. Although they were not the most
numerous dolphins that we saw each day, they were by far the
most interactive; often changing course in order to swim
rings around us.
As usual, the largest pods of dolphins were
longbeaked common dolphins. On some days many hundreds swam
by on their endless hunt for sardines.
Commons can be illusive in the water but with
so any in the water we managed to get close enough to enjoy
them streaking past even when the viz was a little low.
It seemed as though the baitfish were thin
this year so actual baitballs were hard to find but
eventually we did manage to jump on a respectable bait ball
and watched the dolphins and sharks decimating their food.
On a couple of afternoons when the cetacean
action slowed down, we chummed for sharks for a change of
pace. The first time we tried this, we attracted a few dusky
sharks almost immediately. By the end of that session we had
at least a dozen large duskies around us plus a handful of
oceanic blacktip sharks. It was a great opportunity to nail
some portraits of duskies - a species that is not often easy
The second time we chummed, we didn't get any
duskies at all. Rather, the duskies were replaced by bronze
whaler sharks; sometimes called copper sharks in South
Africa. These are harder to approach as they are not as bold
a species but after some perseverance and a lot of free
diving, we did manage to get some respectable shots.
At one point, our spotter plane pilot
directed us to a minke whale but it wanted nothing to do
with us so we soon broke off pursuit. Having a dedicated
spotter plane on the Sardine Run is invaluable. We are lucky
enough to have Janneman Conradie as our 'eye in the sky'. He
is a highly experienced ultralight pilot that spends much of
his time locating mantas from the air for his wife Andrea
Marshall. This year, Andrea joined us on the run and brought
a crew of volunteer researchers to tag and photograph both
species of mantas that coincidentally migrate past the Wild
Coast at the same time of year as the sardines. In the
evenings, it was fascinating listening to Andrea's team
strategizing or pouring over their ID images in order to
figure out which mantas were repeat visitors and which
hadn't been seen before.
Janneman also likes to buzz the boats now and
then just to keep us on our toes :)
On the one day we couldn't get to sea, we
toured the Wild Coast, stopping at spectacular waterfalls
and hunting for terrestrial wildlife to photograph like this
endemic Samango Monkey and Rock Agama.
We rarely get blown of the ocean during the
run but when we do, I really enjoy having a chance to see
more of South Africa's beautiful countryside.
Although it was a bit slow from a bait-ball
perspective, it was still a great week with an amazing
amount of cetaceans and plenty of sharks when we wanted
them. Next year we'll be back on South Africa's Wild Coast
looking for bait balls and enjoying everything that this
incredible body of water has to offer.
If you're ready to take your adventures to
the next level, join us next year for the
2018 South African Sardine Run
'The greatest shoal on earth!'