A Super-Pod in False Bay

A Super-Pod in False Bay

False bay, South Africa, easily considered as the underwater Serengeti, where some of the world’s most fascinating marine migrations can be seen. One particularly special migration brews within the deep waters of the Atlantic Cape Agulhas, as millions of Sardines begin their perilous journey up the south-east coast of South Africa. April 2015 marks the beginning of the annual Sardine Run.

A warm feeling of nostalgia emerges as I think in retrospect to the same time last year. I went on a shark diving expedition with Apex Predators in April 2014. Having been shark diving before, I had experienced some incredible, uncomfortably close encounters with these giant, graceful Great White Sharks.

Third time round, I wanted to have viewing pleasure from the deck. The crew on board knew each shark by name, identifying them by the unique scars on their dorsal fins and rostrums. 

The small swells that gently rocked our charter from beneath were a dark shade of jade green. Cape fur seals were seen by the hundreds, playfully frolicking in the choppy water, seemingly ignorant of the danger patrolling the perimeter of Seal Island.

A southerly wind started to pick up, the darkened swells started to grow and the sea was now covered with little white peaks of troubled water. I watched as each weary couple immersed their bodies into the biting cold shark territory for a glimpse of the infamous predator. Despite the dark water and the wind, the sharks unknowingly gave us a show. Little did we know that the magic about to enchant us would upstage the efforts of the five-metre fish. 

The skipper, standing on the roof of the boat suddenly shouted, “DOLPHINS IN THE BAY!! Who would like to see them?!”

I raised my hands like a school-kid as if to say “Pick me, Pick Me!!”  All passengers shrieked with excitement at the opportunity; and with impressive efficiency the cage was lifted and the motor running.

Slowly the boat turned to face the open deep. In the distance I could see the turbulent splashing coming at a speed toward the boat. Within minutes we were surrounded by the biggest dolphin pod I have ever seen, two thousand Common Dolphins (Delphinus Delphi) surrounded the boat. Two-thousand!!!

Splashing, whistling, breaching, and squealing. So close you could hear them breathe. I still remember that sound…

A dolphin army focused and undeterred by the enemy. They were after the mega shoal of sardines. Oblivious to our amazement, they even used the boat as a barrier to corner the fish. They dazzled us, 2000 times over. I stood there, teary eyed with a lump in my throat, marvelling at their absolute splendour. There was nowhere to look without seeing a dolphin; the vast number overwhelmed every sense. And I quietly uttered, “This is the best moment of my life.”

Facts

Every year from April through July, countless shoals of Sardine migrate up the South-East coast of Africa following a narrow strip of cold Benguela current that runs against the warm Mozambican current. As the oxygen rich band of nutritious water tapers off, the Sardines fall prey to a variety of predators, while others succumb to asphyxiation. The migration invites a vast array of marine wildlife that can be seen from beach and boat.  The common dolphins frequent False Bay in smaller pods but numbers are staggering around the time of the Sardine Run. Following the Common dolphins in more recent years were various pods of Orca (Killer Whales) that hunted them. Other marine that life thrive off the sardines are whales (Minke, Humpback, Bryde’s, Southern Right), Sea birds (Penguins, Gulls, Albatross, Cormorants, Cape Gannets), Cape Fur Seals  and sharks (Bull sharks, Silky sharks and Bronze Whaler sharks) seen further up the east coast in the warmer Indian Ocean.

 - Tame Dreyden