I’m often asked “How was this years Sardine Run?” and the easy answer is … absolutely incredible. Being apart of this event and witnessing it each year is a privilege. It is an emotional, physical and mental journey that is highlighted by its massive contrasts. This is more than just a diving trip or something one does and moves on from, you have to arrive with a open mind and a willingness to experience a true wilderness or the experience will disappoint you. The Sardine Run is an adventure with huge rewards and sometimes big lows. Each experience is different and each year brings different challenges and situations.
This year was a year of strong winds, warm water, humpback whales and one without any big movements of sardines. All the marine predators were searching, as we were, for these fish but turned to other species to feed in their absence. This kind of feeding behavior lead to fast moving but very intense action, with great surface viewing and, when it slowed down enough, some insane underwater action.
The annual Humpback whale migration was specular this year and we saw over 350 during our time at the sea. Port St Johns must be the premier whale breaching location in the world, I lost count of how many breaches I saw, sometimes only a heart stopping, 20m from the boat.
I tried to update facebook and twitter with information as the weeks passed, thank you to those who followed me. If any one is thinking of doing the Sardine Run next year read the past posts and follow me for more info.
Next year we will be there once again, to join the army of predators and enjoy the spectacle of nature.
Here is a report from the photographers of Outdoorphoto.co.za
From Wim (Van den Heever) on the stormy ocean:
This morning we headed out onto a very choppy sea with a northeasterly wind blowing strongly. We headed north into the wind and almost immediately found ourselves surrounded by a massive pod of dolphins. There were dolphins as far as the eye could see in all directions, with whales inbetween. We jumped into the water and spent ages with the frolicking, playful dolphins who swam and jumped around and past us in their hundreds - no, I think it was thousands! There was a constant stream, allowing us to take hundreds of magnificent photographs both above and under water. The dolphins found us quite interesting and many swam right up to us, giving us eye to eye contact again and again. After we clambered back onto the boat and set off again, we captured some wonderful seabird images against the backdrop of the restless ocean and the menacing storm clouds. An inquisitive Petrel landed close to our boat to feed, and was soon followed by a Subantarctic Tern and a little later a Yellow- nosed Albatross arrived. While we were watching these birds, a group of Gannets dived into the ocean only about an arms length distance from the boat. What an amazing sight these birds proved to be. The ocean was becoming quite rough at this stage, and we turned to head back to shore. Now, whales really enjoy rough seas, and as we made our way back to Port St Johns whales could be seen almost everywhere, jumping, twirling, breaching, and making the sea appear totally alive. One of the whales allowed us to approach really close as it jumped, pirouetted and then threw itself back into the water - a typical breach manoeuvre. After taking many photos of the cooperative animal we noticed that the whale remained close to us as we journeyed on. We sped ahead to get images of the whale approaching and to film the magnificent creature from underwater as well. We dived into the ocean and then spent some quality time with this wonderfully friendly Humpback. If you think that whales are enormous when seen from above the water, under water they seem to be twice as large! We were thrilled as the whale swam around us and up to us and remained with us for as long as we were there. This surreal experience lasted for ages as we swam around and around each other. He was so close that we could stretch out an arm and stroke the whale. Although he seemed to enjoy the contact, some of us were rather intimidated by his size and concentrated on photographing the interaction. Being that close to a gigantic whale under water has to be one of the most impressive, somewhat terrifying, yet memorable experiences of a lifetime. It is something I will never forget and will relive again and again for the sheer majesty and beauty of the encounter. By the time we returned to the boat the weather was becoming stormy and the wind picked up quite a bit. As most of the afternoon had passed, we returned to the Port. After these spectacular days and unimaginable encounters, we wonder what tomorrow can possibly bring for us ...
Video by Grant Hulley from this year Run. Beautiful time lapse scenic shots and baitball action