Sardine Run on the Wild Coast

Unique Natural Spectacle Off the Coast of South Africa

The Sardine Run in South Africa is one of the greatest natural spectacles on Earth, But it is relatively unknown. You can witness it on a snorkelling or diving tour. But you need the help of an animal; the dolphin. This article describes the best tips if you want to experience Sardine Run.

What is the Sardine Run?

The annual Sardine Run is one of the most enormous natural spectacles in the world. Millions of sardines are herded into swirls of action by dolphins, which attracts birds, sharks and whales to join in the hunt. It is a swirling mass of fish attacked by dolphins, sharks and birds. The fish turn out to be sardines and the spectacle is displayed off South Africa's Wild Coast.

But only if the conditions are right. That is why you have to go out on the water here for several days, in an agile zodiac and with a wetsuit against the cold water.

Divers on their way for the Sardine Run in South Africa. ©Corno van den Berg

This tour is relatively unknown. The reason is simple, it cannot easily be planned. The only time it could happen is somewhere in June or July. Because that’s wintertime and the cold plays an important role. It takes place when the cold currents from Antarctica hit the African continent. Sardines like cold water, and normally live at around 80 metres deep.

Dolphins on the hunt for sardines on the Sardine Run. ©Corno van den Berg

The Sardine Run can occur, but it could just as well not happen at all. So the weather gets monitored daily in the popular seaside towns of Coffee Bay near Port St Johns. 


The cold weather will bring out the sardines, which is a feast for the dolphins. Dozens of gannets are the first to drop like rockets from the sky. Just before they hit the water, they retract their wings.

Just before they hit the water, they fold in their wings. In the water, they try to catch the fish that swim near the surface. Suddenly there’s commotion all over, dolphins are everywhere. In the background, you can see whales. This could be it: the ‘Bait Ball’. It’s an eating frenzy that’s almost unequalled.

Once the sardine run begins, you can enter the water, but only under strict supervision. This goes for divers as well as for snorkelers. Because when the Bait Ball begins there is action everywhere: hordes of dolphins, sharks, whales and birds chase after the sardines. Thankfully enough of them escape to ensure there will be another sardine run the next year…

Accommodation for the Sardine Run

I spent the night in Coffee Bay, from where many Zodiac Tours depart. This cosy town is located by the sea and is also popular with surfers. The stay here was very pleasant and relaxed. You will find various small-scale hotels, but also more luxurious lodges and guesthouses. Be there on time, as the Sardine Run is often very short and everything is quickly fully booked.

When Does the Sardine Rune Take Place?

For the natural spectacle, the cold plays an essential role. So only in winter, it could take place; June or July are the most likely months. Although it is difficult to estimate when exactly the sardines will surface. Even if you don't see the Bait Ball, this is a great experience. You will see countless dolphins and countless whales, hunting, breaching, jumping and all. A journey to remember.

A whale emerges from the water during the Sardine Run. ©Corno van den Berg

Be Aware

The sardine run experience isn’t for everyone. You will spend days on the water in cold temperatures, in the wind, sometimes in rough waves, the water is cold, and more of that sort of thing. But you do get a unique experience in return: a swirling show of unrivalled action courtesy of Mother Nature. But only if luck is on your side.

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