Each year in the winter time of June and July in South Africa, undoubtedly one of natures major events occurs.
Millions of tiny sardines depart their spawning waters of the Agulhas Bank found in the southern waters of South Africa where the chilly Atlantic Ocean and warm Indian Ocean meet. It's the coming together of the two seas that produce the waters excellent spawning grounds since they are loaded in nutrients.
The exact reasons why the sardine move away from such nutrient rich seas are certainly not well-known nonetheless they thrive in ocean temperatures of close to twenty Celsius. Because winter oceans of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal cool, it is understood the sardines take full advantage of their expanding area and go north up the South Africa shoreline.
Measuring 9 inches long, these tiny fish move in giant shoals plainly seen from the top of the sea. These shoals are generally several km's long and up to a km wide which means that in terms of numbers, they very easily rival Africa's other widley known migration of the wildebeest when they head north from the Serengeti into the Masai Mara.
The Sardine Run is really a massive event for the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal. Seeing that sardines are just about at the bottom in the food chain, it may not be much of a big shock to anyone any time they produce shoals more than a million deep that potential predators tend to be quickly on their path. Under the waves, the shoals of sardine are mercilessly attacked by sharks, tuna, dolphin and in some cases whales. As they come under attack, the tiny sardines form defensive bait-balls but it is not much defense because repeatedly, the predators attack the bait-balls, consuming a number of the tiny fish with each and every raid. There are such large numbers of sardines and predators in the sea during the Sardine Run that the Natal Shark Board remove the shark nets that normally protect beaches to prevent the sharks, dolphins as well as other large ocean creatures from getting trapped and dying.
When the sardines come under attack, they are forced into shallower waters and it is here they begin to come under assault from the air as the sardines come within diving depth of gannets who join in the abundant feast that nature has provided. Humans get in on the act too. As the sardines move to try and evade the array of predators, they swim into shallow waters little fishing boats arrive the fish are basically hauled ashore by throngs of waiting people. Together with the fishing nets all sorts of containers are used to scoop up the sardines by people trying to gather as much as they are able to take.
The Sardine Run is a natural event and it is therefore certainly not guaranteed. There were no shows recently but every winter, the Greatest Shoal on Earth is excitedly anticipated by the individuals who live life up and down the coast of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal in South Africa.
Written and contributed by ratherton