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Sardine Run 2018 Trip Report

By November 12, 2018 No Comments

2018 Sardine Run in a Nutshell

Good bait balls on some days, some with brydes whales and one with a Cape Fur Seal. Excellent humpback action including breaching displays and one whale that played with us in the water for more than one hour!

2018 was a great year for sardines. Some years the bait balls are mostly composed of red-eye, mackerel or anchovies. These fish don’t behave the same. They run faster, they do not form such tights schools and they break up too quickly. Sardines on the other hand, are well behaved until the very last fish has met its demise. Consequently, when you have actual sardines, the predators behave better as well, so when we got on a bait ball, we had ample opportunity to shoot the action.

Visibility could have been better but we worked around the cloudy conditions as best we could. It did mean that we couldn’t reef dive but we had enough water clarity to enjoy good encounters at the surface.

Cape fur seal on a bait ball during the sardine run

We chummed for sharks on one day and got some interest from a couple of bronze whaler sharks but for the most part we concentrated on bait balls.

A few times during the trip we spotted cape fur seals bobbing at the surface. I have seen penguins this far north and a few other odd predators but this was a first.

One seal put on a great show. For around 30 minutes we watched him smashing the ball, deftly plucking a fish from the school with each pass.

Speaking of strange encounters, we also stumbled upon a mola mola but even without a tail, it quickly outpaced me with barely a proof of life picture for my efforts.

The highlight of the trip for me was the humpbacks. Some put on aerial displays that allowed us to get breaching images, others swum past close enough for us to leap in and take underwater images.

On our last day, we had an amazing encounter with a humpback that lasted more than an hour. Whereas humpback encounters on the run usually involve jumping in in-front of the whales as they pass by, one friendly animal took a shine to us and swum and rolled around and around among the delighted divers.

The whale repeatedly spy-hopped in the middle of the group, then swum slowly, belly-up under us while we shot image after image. The encounter took place in the shallows where the visibility was extremely challenging but the whale came so close that we got an excellent look anyway. It was a fantastic end to the trip.

Friendly humpack whale on the sardine run
Bait ball diving with dolphins on the sardine run

As usual we stayed at a lodge called The Creek where the food is delicious and the staff treat us like family. Behind the lodge, a resident troop of vervet monkeys live in the branches of a gigantic bamboo tree. They’re quite shy but with patience you can usually snap a few images of them.

No water fall visits this year because the weather was good enough for us to go to sea everyday but we did make a sunset trip to airstrip where the views of the Umzimvubu River are spectacular.

Before we knew it, nine days on the water had come and gone and we were saying our goodbyes. Of course, we will be back next year to see what the ocean has to offer. Join us on the 2019 South African Sardine Run ‘The greatest shoal on earth!’