A phenomenon known as the sardine run — involving millions of the small fish swimming in formation as part of their annual migration — may be one of the most alluring spectacles of the marine universe, and it was captured beautifully by renowned wildlife photographers Chris and Monique Fallows during their recent expedition off the Wild Coast region of South Africa (see the following images).
The sardine run begins off the east coast of South Africa in May or June as the fish gather to spawn, then move north and out into the Indian Ocean. The enormous swirling masses, almost alien-like in appearance, are spectacular on their own. But their seasonal presence off South Africa’s remote Wild Coast region, for an array of ocean predators, signals a feast of epic proportions.
“The action was incredible and on a couple of bait balls we actually even had flocks of penguins charging into the action,” stated Fallows, who with Monique operates Apex Shark Expeditions, a cage-diving business. “Sharks came very close to divers in our group. This is without doubt one of nature’s most exciting events to be part of and it gives us and our guests a chance to be closer to the intense action than pretty much any other event out there.”
This year’s expedition was made more special — and at times more comical — by the surprising appearance of African black-footed penguins, which are rarely seen participating in this come-one, come-all pig-out session.
“Squadron’s of penguins assaulted the bait ball like a army of tuxedo-clad assassins,” Fallows stated, when asked via email to describe the scene. “Wave after wave flew underwater and snatched the hapless fish as they desperately tried to escape. For the photographers on board it was another amazing opportunity not previously observed in the sardine run and yet another reason why we run these trips year after year.”
“The penguins were so agile yet so beautiful as bubbles escaped from their feathers like miniature underwater steam trains leaving a cloud of smoke. The penguins were so preoccupied by the action that they did not know we were watching them and they raced up to, past and round our cameras, sometimes even pecking them.”
The presence of sharks would seem to add an element of danger for divers, but they show up specifically to forage on sardines and pay little or no attention to the human intruders.
Also participating in this feast are gannets and other sea birds, which dive-bomb in a ceaseless assault that lasts as long as the bait ball is near the surface.
“All around you it is chaos,” Fallows said.
But unless you happen to be a sardine, it’s a beautiful sort of chaos.
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