KwaZulu Natal Tourist AttractionsSardine Run
Where? The Sardine Run takes place along the coast of the northern Eastern Cape and southern KwaZulu-Natal coastline, between May and July. Watch the press for details.
The Sardine Run is an annual migration of sardines along South Africa's east coast, between May and July. These tiny fish migrate from the cold waters of the Cape to seek the warmer, sub-tropical waters of KwaZulu-Natal.
Sardines are cold-water fish. They like to remain in cold, nutrient-rich waters, which is why their usual home is along the Western Cape where 200 000 tonnes are caught annually, creating work for thousands of fishermen, and meals in a can for thousands of people.
Why, then, does a group of them veer off and head east?
We know that their passage has a great deal to do with the cold currents that stretch along the Cape and Eastern Cape, for these currents produce a great deal of plankton; sardines' major food source.
They mate and spawn on the Agulhas banks off the southern Cape coast and their eggs are left to float, fertilised, on the waters of the open sea, where they are carried north west. Once they are strong enough to swim against the current, they collect in huge shoals and make their way slowly back to their spawning grounds.
There is a small group that annually makes its way east up the Wild Coast. No-one understands why. They seem to take advantage of a cool water current on the continental shelf of the east coast. This cool water is a seasonal occurrence and happens only as a thin strip between the coast and the warm Agulhas Current.
If the current doesn't occur, the sardines don't run. Consequently for the years 2013 and 2014 the sardines did not run up the coast to enter KwaZulu-Natal's waters.
To minimise their risk of being eaten the sardines converge and travel in huge shoals. They travel in groups of thousands at a time remaining close to the surface of the ocean and close to the shoreline for much of their passage.
As a result they become targets for a whole group of predators – birds, larger fish, sharks, whales and dolphins – all join in the feeding frenzy. Humans too join in the hunt for sardine. The appearance of common dolphins along the KwaZulu-Natal south coast is an indicator.
This annual sardine run give everyone the chance to stock up – from commercial fishermen to women who fill their skirts with the tiny, slippery fish. The shark board has to be on the ball as well, as if they do not lift the nets before the shoals arrive, they are severely damaged by the sheer numbers of sharks and dolphins.
But their temporary removal means 'discretionary bathing' on the part of tourists, who are no longer protected by the nets. If the sardine run is on, you enter the waters at your own risk.