Apex Sardine Run Expedition 1
Posted on Wednesday, 24 May 2017
Apex’s Sardine Run has begun. Heading out of the Buffalo river mouth in East London on day one was an adventure into the unknown. Being the first group up in the area we were hoping for some early season action. With a rumor of an early flush of sardines the week before we were hopeful. After little activity on a beautiful flat sea we noticed after about 2 hours of cruising constantly searching for gannets a small flock wheeling high in the sky some 2 km or so ahead of us. As we approached close the telltale repetitive diving of the birds in the same spot indicated a possible focused food source. Upon closer investigation we noticed about 15-20 bottlenose dolphins crisscrossing over the same area. When roughly a 50m away we could see a dark shape, a bait ball. We quickly donned our gear and cautiously drove closer.
First one fin, then a second and then several more slashing fins on the surface indicated sharks!!
Super excitedly we entered the water. A shoal of orbiting maasbanker, a smallish bait fish, were being corralled into the famous “bait ball’ shaped orb we all so badly wanted to see. Staying a respectful distance away and still allowing all the predators free access to the ball we sat back and watched in awe as about 15 or so bronze whaler and dusky sharks entered and exited the ball right in front of us whilst bottlenose dolphins took turns at attacking the shoal from below and on the sides. Due to our small group size and no other boats in the area the carousel of predators and bait fish interacted undeterred for over 3 hours until such point as we were all dived out and understandably cold from the unusual 14c water.
What a fantastic start to Apex’s Sardine “maasbanker” Run for 2017.
Days 2-5 brought a variety of mixed action with plenty to see. Hundreds of gannets tore into shoals of saury, locally known as Walla-walla. Accompanying the gannets were several schools of common dolphin.
We also saw good numbers of Brydes whales, although none were seen on bait balls.
At this stage no humpbacks were yet seen, although the first were expected any day so I am sure our second group will get lucky with these athletic giants.
Day 6 was fantastic, we had another bait ball, but this one of a very different type.
We decided to try an area where I suspected we may see a few different species of cetaceans in deeper and warmer water. En route we saw 2 manta rays which was new for me, having not seen one in this area in the past 7 years.
We also saw a fantastic ensemble of open ocean seabirds including shy and Indian yellow nosed albatross, dozens of white chin petrels and sooty shearwaters, cory’s shearwater and also a wedge tailed shearwater.
After several hours of searching and scanning we caught sight of a clump of buoys on the surface. As we got closer we saw a shoal of saury fly out of the water being energetically leapt after by a massive bull Dorado, amazing!
As we got alongside the buoys we realized we had stumbled upon a free floating Fish Aggregating Device (FAD), which had probably broken loose from somewhere in Mozambique or further away. A FAD is any floating object purposefully placed into the ocean to attract fish.
Under the FAD were roughly 30-40 big dorado, small rainbow runners, a beautiful yellow colored shoal of kingfish, a batfish, a shoal of bluish chub like fish, a crab and then to top it off 4 young silky sharks who were very keen to say hello to each of us.
It was amazing to be amongst this eclectic crowd of ocean nomads who had drifted with their little floating home for probably thousands of kilometers hoping that the currents would take them somewhere favorable.
En route home we saw good numbers of Brydes whales and a lot of gannets and bottlenose dolphins feeding on bait fish right outside of East London harbor.
We were all very grateful for the amazing sightings and also a big thanks to Marcus our captain and Dylan our divemaster. A big thank you to our guests whose enthusiasm and enjoyment for each sighting, no matter what it was, went a long way to making this a super first Sardine Run Expedition for 2017.