The Sardine Run, off South Africa’s rugged Wild Coast, has been called one of the ocean’s most dramatic events. Each year from May to July, scores of sardines (Sardinops sagax) move away from their feeding grounds off the Eastern Agulhas banks and begin a dangerous spawning migration that leads them to the Kwa-Zulu Natal coastline. The fish use a cold finger of water that moves up the coast to facilitate their movement. They can travel up to 60 km a day and are highly affected by the oceanic conditions.
Some of the ocean’s top predators follow these rich, oily fish – and their presence makes for awe-inspiring underwater encounters. Long-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus capensis) travel in groups numbering up to 5000 individuals and tens of thousands of Cape Gannets rain down from the skies above. Copper (Carcharhinus brachyurus) and Dusky sharks (Carcharhinus obscurus) are found closer inshore, hungrily searching for those shimmering shoals …
The hunt for sardines is an epic journey, with many other ocean characters arriving in the area around the same time. While the sardine expedition unfolds, Humpback whales embark on their annual migration, where 22 000 whales move up the South African coast. The passing whales breach, fluke slap, tail lob and swim in pods of 2 – 15 animals strong – a spectacle that can even be seen from shore. The ocean is alive in a way you never imagined, all while we are searching for the elusive sardines!
We have designed these trips to coincide with with the period that the shoals of fish have traditionally passed specific points on the coast line (Port St John’s). Our goal is to find baitballs and dive whilst the predators are feeding on sardines, but this does not happen every day. However, with the myriad species that call this region home and the presence of protected areas like the Pondoland marine protected area which conserves local biodiversity, this awe-inspiring stretch of South Africa’s wildest coast never fails to deliver once-in-a-lifetime ocean safari experiences. The Run is unpredictable and the weather can be wild – but the reward is an exhilarating ocean adventure – and is well worth the chase!
Sardine Run Details, Cost and Booking
- 3rd July – 10th July, Port St John’s – R 20 000 p/p – Enquire Expedition
- 15th July – 22nd July, Port St John’s – R20 000 p/p – Enquire Expedition
- Six boating days, weather permitting, with packed lunches.
- Seven nights’ accommodation, including breakfast.
- Sardine Run dive guide.
- Air fills, cylinder and weight belt.
- Transfers to and from Port St John’s
- Dive gear hire
- Dinners and drinks
Non-direct international flight into Umthatha airport or international flights in King Shaka International airport. Check times and flight details directly with your travel agent.
We will be staying at a riverside lodge, the Outspan Inn, on the water’s edge. Here you can rise, have breakfast and simply walk to the boat waiting for you on the water. It’s been our home for the Run during past 6 years and we look forward to going back.
Diving and water conditions:
This expedition is 95% snorkelling, we will only SCUBA dive if we find a static baitball. We spend most of our time snorkelling. Competent freedivers are welcome, but a high level of physical fitness and swimming competence is expected. SCUBA divers need to have excellent buoyancy control and be comfortable with open water diving and adhering the in-water guide.
No large patches of brightly coloured equipment, specifically yellow and silver. No touching of animals. Follow skipper’s instructions at all times.
Surface to 20 m. Type: snorkeling, SCUBA and boat-viewing.
0 – 20 m (minimum 5 m visibility for bait-ball dives).
17° – 22°C.
- A 50% deposit is payable to Animal Ocean upon booking. This deposit is payable per person and is non-refundable as well as non-transferable. The outstanding balance is to be settled 30 days prior to the start of your trip.
- Any additional expenses are to be settled prior to the guest’s departure.
- No credits will be given for cancellations beyond our control.