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The Best Dive in the World




Ask any knowledgeable diver for their bucket-list of dive sites and there’s a few that are mentioned again and again – Blue Hole in Belize, Barracuda Point in Sipadan, muckdiving in Lembeh Strait to name but a few – however there’s one event in particular that most of here at Big Blue would give our right arm to dive, filling divers with excitement and I imagine a little trepidation over what they might encounter on their dives.

This event is known as the ‘Sardine Run’.


 cape gannets diving for sardines 3871


The Sardine Run is a unique phenomenon occurring from May to July where millions of sardines travel up the south and east coasts of South Africa, causing a frenzy of excitement amongst everyone and everything that comes into contact with them. This migration of small fish come because of the cold currents along this stretch of coastline, and their insane appetite for the plankton that comes with it. The sardines converge close to both the shoreline and the surface whilst feeding on this plankton, making millions of ideal targets for all sorts of hungry predators which take great delight in this underwater banquet.

The first time I became aware of this was, like so many others around the world, watching the Emmy-award winning BBC documentary ‘Blue Planet’. There were birds diving 30 metres down to catch the fish, a few types of whale, bottlenose and common dolphins, sailfish and a few different types of shark too…it seemed every large predator in the ocean had converged to eat their fill and leave a large empty space where just minutes before had been thousands of tiny fish. Watching that at home with another Divemaster was like seeing something imaginary – surely it couldn’t have really been like that, it must have been cleverly edited over a long period of time, right?

Google being our friend, it turned out that this was the real-deal, and it happens every year off the coast of South Africa. It also coincides with the migration of humpback whales which also like to gatecrash the party for a quick feed, because a plain old sardine run obviously isn’t quite enough!


sardine whale 


How to Do it?

The closest international airport to all the action is Durban, and from there you can head to your dive centre of choice for your ‘safari’. If your budget allows it go for one of the 7 day options to really maximize the amount of stunning marine life that can be seen here – chances are you’ll see everything that you’ve witnessed on Blue Planet/National Geographic/Discovery Channel, however you’ll need patience, time and of course a helping of good luck!

It’s possible to experience the Sardine Run from a number of locations on the coast, with the most popular leaving from Mbotyi, Coffee Bay, Mpame, Port St. Johns and East London (not that one).

The dives on the trip are always dependent on the amount of action that is going on underwater, but the birds are always waiting, and when they’re spotted it’s in the water quickly! Sometimes you’ll be snorkeling, sometimes diving – again it depends on what’s happening underwater at the time, if could be over in minutes or may last longer and go deeper giving you the chance to don your dive equipment and head into the bait balls created by the predators.


sardine dolphins4 1688155i


What’s a Baitball?

A baitball is a portion of the huge school of sardines that the dolphins have managed to separate from their friends. The dolphins swim around the sardines, release air bubbles from their back to disorientate them and then herd the separated sardines together, which are also packing tightly together themselves for protection. Unfortunately for the stupid sardines it’s an idea that doesn’t work at all, as the bottlenose and common dolphins then push them towards the surface and pounce on their prey, usually gorging on every single one of the little blighters, leaving just a few fish scales as evidence of the massacre.




What can we see?

The numbers and variety of sharks is astounding: bronze whalers, zambezies, hammerheads, coppers, dusky, black-tip and great whites can be seen by the hundreds.  Bottlenose and Common dolphins are seen daily, with estimates declaring there to be around 18,000 of the delicious little buggers around during this event.

We also have our good friends the birds, without which it would be very difficult to find these baitballs. The cape gannet, African penguin and cape cormorant (amongst others) are our early warning signal to the action going on beneath the surface, and when we spot them we diving you can be sure something incredible is going on beneath you.

One of the most awe-inspiring creatures seen in the Sardine Run (for both divers and non-divers alike) are of course the visiting whales. Bryde’s whales, humpback, minke and southern right whales are common, even if they’re not joining the run.



How much does it cost?

Expect to pay a bargain price of around $2000 US for a 5 day trip, with prices going up to around $4000-$5000 for a week, which is recommended. Try using these guys if you're heading there this year:

Sardine Run 2018 -Nomadic Scuba





The Sardine Run is an event for everyone to enjoy - be it bird watchers, marine-life enthusiasts, amateur or highly experienced divers or snorkelers. The best dives in the world? I’d have to say a definite yes!


Now if only I can find someone to take me...


The proof!



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Read 275 times Last modified on Friday, 25 May 2018 01:18
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