Cape Town, Sardine Run

“First glimpse of the sardines”
“Under the shoal”
“A short tailed ray in the foreground as a cape fur seal chases the sardines in the background”
“The swirling patterns made by the shoal were mesmerising and it was amazing to see how the fish would leave a gap around the taller kelp fronds”
These giant short-tailed rays were there in numbers and would gently glide over the kelp before shooting up into the sardines”
“The cape fur seals burst in for another attack on the sardines.”
“The birds hammered the sardine shoal from above”
“A short tailed ray bursts up off the bottom and into the shoal”
“The shoal opens up and parts around Steve as he dives down”

“Sardine Run in Cape Town!”

“While flying around the Cape Peninsula on Monday I spotted multiple massive shoals of sardines, starting with a giant baitball at Dias Beach, Cape Point, and with further shoals dotted here and there along the False Bay coast towards Smitswinkel Bay. Some were in deeper water in the classic bait ball formation and others were pinned against the shore but all were being hammered by opportunistic predators including sharks, fish, cape fur seals, stingrays and an array of seabirds. After landing and packing away the plane I was amped to grab my dive gear and camera and head south for a shore dive but it was already too late in the day and time was not on my side. After chatting to Steve Benjamin we made the call to launch his boat the next morning and spend a day looking for baitballs. Anyone having done the sardine run on the Wild Coast will tell you that you cannot get yesterday’s bait ball today! But given the sheer amount of fish around I was hopeful that there would still be some for us to photograph in the morning.

Launching at Miller’s Point we ran south towards Smitwinkel Bay with a shore based spotter reporting a sardine shoal trapped in the bay. There was a small armada of fishing boats trolling up and down the kelp line and as we arrived one of the anglers hooked a yellowtail. Rolling overboard the first thing I saw was a big shoal of yellowtail swimming in the kelp, such an awesome sight! As I swam towards the birds I was engulfed by a swirling shoal of shimmering silver fish… jackpot!

As we swam through the shoal it parted and closed up again behind us. Diving through the fish to the bottom was super spooky as the fish closed up again above us and suddenly the light was gone. Lying on the bottom in the kelp in the pitch dark was a surreal experience and every now and again the fish would suddenly boil as a seal burst in to grab a meal. The seals appeared to be the main predators but there were also some properly giant short-tailed stingrays cruising up in the water column and trying their luck. The yellowtail and katonkel shoals came in from time to time and sniped at the edges while the birds hammered the fish on the surface and on the bottom the hottentot picked off any injured sardines. Being a baitfish is definitely not a great existence!

Free-diving is the only way to get into and under the shoals as the bubbles from a SCUBA rig scare the fish away. After spending a few hours trying for a variety of images we took a break and headed towards Cape Point where we found more sardine shoals. Rounding the Point we found that the previous day’s massive bait ball at Dias Beach was long gone and while being very clean the water was a chilly 12.8 degrees. We decided to call it a day and ran home into a fresh northwester with full memory cards, big smiles and a serious case of POG!”

Source :
Images Credit to Jean Tresfon, Marine Conservation Photographer