Annually during the months of May through to July, an ocean phenomenon occurs in South Africa. It’s a time of plenty for all, as large shoals of sardines move in a band up to the Kwa Zulu Natal coast. Crowds of varied, frenzied sharks, gamefish, whales, dolphins, birds and even humans prey on these millions of shiny fish that migrate from the icy waters of the Cape to the warmer waters of the Kwa Zulu Natal coast.
Although the great bulk of South Africa's sardine stock is to be found in the cooler Cape waters, each winter a small proportion of the stock moves eastwards up the Wild Coast. These shoals take advantage of cool water on the continental shelf of the east coast that occurs seasonally as a narrow band between the coast and the warm, southward flowing Agulhas Current.
It is not clear what advantage the sardines gain by entering the warmer Kwa Zulu Natal waters. On the contrary, in fact, local waters are less food-rich than are Cape waters, the favourable cooler conditions are only temporary and, to make matters worse for the sardines, they are accompanied by many predators which prey on them heavily.
Sharks, such as the copper, dusky, blacktip and spinner, join gamefish such as shad, garrick and geelbek, and marine mammals like Cape fur seals and dolphins in hot pursuit of the shimmering mass of sardines, or each other. As the shoals are driven to the surface, birds like Cape gannets, cormorants, terns and gulls - plummet out of the sky to pillage from above.
The progress of the Sardine Run is closely monitored by anglers, who flock to the beaches and rocks to participate in excellent game-fishing. Local communities flock to the shoreline especially once these sardines wash out.
We get a once a year delicacy of fresh sardines from this ocean phenomenon. From time immemorial is part of our local communities culture. Being an Indian, my mum uses her own twist to spice up these cold water delicacies and serve them while still hot. We also get to prepare them in other ways like a Portuguese style or the Sicilian way.
Bottomline, these winter months are exciting and entertaining times. Sometimes sharks come feeding in the shallows, the variety of sea life that is visible in all its glory for all to see and experience. A wondrous gift to see. Fish and birds come from far and wide to feed on this sardine occurrence. It can be compared to The Great Wildebeest Migration in East Africa.
We got to taste these little treats just 2 weeks ago. Sardines are rich in Omega 3, calcium, vitamins, minerals, proteins etc. They make tasty casseroles, salads, curries etc.
The Greatest Shoal on Earth is something not to miss!