The Sardine run experienced on the KwaZulu-Natal coast is an annual natural phenomenon which occurs during the months of June to August. The Sardines follow cool north flowing currents which move close to shore in the opposite direction to the warm south flowing Agulhus current. Millions of the little silver fish, in shoals of up to four kilometers in width and up to fifteen kilometers long, follow the current up the South Coast from the Eastern Cape to just past Durban before moving back into the deep cool water of the Mozambique Channel.
Locals will tell you that the Sardines will arrive after the last Aloe has bloomed. However, the weather plays a pivotal role in their appearance. If sea temperature stays above 20 Deg.C the sardines will stay in the cooler southern waters or follow the cool water further offshore on the opposite side of the warm Agulhas Current. Cold Fronts, moving along the coastline from the Southern Cape help to push the cold water current along the shoreline. Global Warming is being blamed for the "no-show" of the sardines in recent years, due to the rising average sea temperature and higher than "normal" winter temperatures.
The arrival of the sardines brings with it an abundance of other wildlife following the shoals. Dolphins, Ragged Tooth Sharks and game fish feed off the shoals, and can sometimes be seen as close inshore as the breaker line. During the sardine run, shark nets and drum lines are removed from popular bathing beaches and swimming is restricted. Members of the public should consult life guard station information boards daily before venturing into the sea.
The whaling moratorium has resulted in an ever increasing number of hump-backed whales returning to the Mozambique Channel to give birth to their calves. A wonderful sight to behold is a mother and calf breaching and splashing, their huge tails pounding the ocean.
Sea birds, such as the Cape Gannet, also follow the shoals, dive-bombing the sardine pockets at high speed. Their ravenous appetite for sardines can result in them being unable to take off from the surface of the sea until they have rested and partially digested their catch.
The sardines made a brief appearance on July 17th, with activity on Margate Beach and St. Michaels beach. The shoals then moved north towards Durban. Further pockets did arrive in August off Amanzimtoti and Balito Bay, but no further activity was seen on the lower south coast.