2017 Sardine Run in a Nutshell
Good 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 sessions.
The Sardine Run is always a roll of the dice. Sometimes it’s one bait ball after another. Sometimes we get lots of shark action. This year, the run was dominated by whales.
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 into the water in their path in the hopes of in water 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 bait balls 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 to encounter.
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!’