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What a Ball!

written by Chris Fallows

A mini Sardine Run off Cape Point, Cape Town

Posted on Monday, 11 January 2016

We arrived back from a great trip to Antarctica to find various messages on our phone telling us about fantastic tuna and wildlife sightings off Cape Point, South Africa.

A colleague of ours Gareth had been out a few days earlier and told us about amazing shark activity he had seen. We know from many years of data we have collected that if West or SW blow at this time of the year, blue water, bait fish and gamefish can be found in huge numbers in our area. Although I was exhausted after our travels, the weather charts showed one day of good weather the following day and the sea surface temperature charts and others showed all the signs for good action.


Heading out with David our Apex Skipper and a good friend from Sweden, Hans, we headed offshore to the area that had been reportedly so good two days earlier. Conditions were excellent but bar a few birds and the odd seal all was quiet. A friend of ours called on the radio to say he had seen a large raft of birds and lots of seals and although there was no activity at the time, it was obvious something had happened earlier. We pushed several miles further offshore to this area until Cape Point was a speck on the horizon.

Lines went in and quickly an approx. 30kg yellowfin tuna was hooked and lost.

We pushed further out when suddenly I saw a flock of terns working.  Beneath them were big splashes, yellowfin crashing bait.


Yellowfin tuna off Cape Point

In the distance a Brydes whale lunged through bait fish and around it sharks, tuna and birds tore at the scraps.

Although I have seen this many times before off Cape Point and around the world, I always get excited and kind of lose the plot. Fumbling between setting up my camera and putting my wetsuit and dive gear on, I prepared to enter the water. As quickly as it started it was over, eish!


Looking up I saw in the distance what I thought was big pod of dolphin charging towards us with a large flock of birds above them.

As we got closer a few puffs erupted from within the midst of the commotion; Brydes whales and then the spray we thought had been dolphins turned into hundreds and probably thousands of 25-40kg yellowfin tuna going mental trying to catch anchovy.



Holy moly I now went into panic mode. This was THE biggest commotion I had ever seen off Cape Point, other than orcas hunting 1000+ dolphins. When Dave asked where we should position the boat I couldn’t speak properly I was so excited. Probably a 1000+ birds, mostly Cory’s and Sooty shearwaters with two tern species, gannets and gulls, at least half a dozen Brydes whales, many sharks and definitely thousands of tuna and skipjack all going ballistic. 


As we approached the seething mass of predators, birds and fish, it suddenly died out. I was devastated. How could this happen, WHY %%#&& !!!!

I was still shaking my head when in the distance yet more birds, not nearly as many, but all hitting the same area. Whatever it was had a good focus, something you always look for when diving on bait balls. Approaching we saw fins, shark fins, YAHOO, game on!



Bronze whalers of various sizes were competing with yellowfin & skipjack tuna and a few seals for a small bait ball. I levitated myself overboard and swam to the seething mass. Although the water was clear, the commotion of the tuna and sharks crashing the bait ball had turned it into a mess of bubbles, scales and churned water. It was amazing. For about two to three minutes we watched in awe and then it was over. Elated we climbed onto the boat, when as they say in the infomercials we all hate, “but there’s more”…. In the distance a Brydes whale lunged through bait fish and around it sharks, tuna and birds tore at the scraps. I fell over board and raced towards the frenzy; as I did so a Brydes whale swam under me, whilst all around hundreds of good sized tuna carouselled into the bait ball and at the same time sharks twisted and turned. This time the bait ball was sardines and the Bonze whaler sharks seemed that much more frenetic. A shark raced through the ball and banged Hans in the head before another one swam off with one of his cameras lights, epic! This is what one can experience on the annual Sardine Run.



And so it continued, we would get back on board and there in the distance the birds would indicate another event. Sadly though by this time the predicted wind had freshened and seeing the activity became very tough. Reluctantly we decided to head home, after two hours of marine predation overload.


How many tuna were there, hmm who knows but I would have said well over 15-20 000 in the 25-40kg class attacking the many bait shoals on the surface as well as the rugby field sized patches of churning spray we saw annihilating bait fish on the surface spread out over kilometers in the distance.  Certainly a day to remember and what a welcome home!


Click here for more info on our offshore trip and our Sardine Run expedition.


Baitball, Cape Point - Cape Town, Sardine Run - East London


Debbie Fogle

This is truly amazing! To witness this spectacular event first hand is wonderful. To share it with the world is generosity at its best. Thank you, from someone who will never be that deep in the water to see something so grand. (I'm scared of water) hehe

Posted on: 12 January 2016

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