South Africa's Sardine Run
Sea Air Land Expeditions (SEAL)
Questions and Answers -- FAQ

When does it happen? - The Sardine Run is a natural phenomenon and as such, is subject to its own timetable and agendas. The run generally begins toward the end of May and can extend into late July, though the movements of the shoals are virtually impossible to forecast. We dive over the period which historically falls in the middle of the run.

How do we find the action? - Normally, the activity of the sea birds is a dead give-away, but if the shoals are far out to sea we use the services of a microlight aircraft. As soon as the pilot spots the sardines he communicates with the boats and guides them to the shoals of fish. We get additional information from the Natal Sharks Board boats and other boats in the area to view this spectacle.

What dive certification is necessary? - The Sardine Run is restricted to advanced divers only. The activity as a whole is considered to be strenuous. There is no hospital nearby so you should be in very good health. The trip can be summed up like this: big sharks, no bottom diving, deep blue type diving, dirty water, multiple ascents and strenuous boat trips. The trip is strictly for the avid diver/photographer. Non-diving guests are welcome to join the trip and ride on the boat to witness the surface activity but must understand the boat is a "duck" and does not have toilet facilities or any shade.

What is the diving like? - We launch the boat at approx 0700. As soon as the sun is up the microlight takes off and flies up and down the coast looking for telltale signs of the shoal. Because we are looking for activity that is moving, we spend most of the day at sea. When we find activity - sardines, whales, dolphins, sharks, etc. - a decision is made to whether snorkeling or diving is most appropriate for the particular opportunity. Often the action is quite far out to sea and in deep waters, where it is not possible to drop down to the ocean floor. As a result, most dives are done in mid-water, as the bottom is often far too deep for sport divers.

How long are the dives? - Dives on average are of fairly short duration as the action moves past quite quickly. Often it is a matter of being in the water for 5 or 10 minutes and then quickly back on the boat to follow the activity and then jump in again. The activity, as a whole, is considered strenuous. When it's determined it's best to snorkel, divers are dropped in front of the "activity" and wait on the surface for the activity to reach and pass them. The emphasis of the trip is on the surface activity and being right in the action with all the sardines, dolphins, sharks, birds etc. This adventure isn't for the faint hearted!

What are the water conditions? - Water temperatures are around 19 degrees and 21 degrees C. (66 to 70 degrees F). The "Run" takes place during South Africa's winter which is dry season. Theoretically, this means there's little runoff from rivers so the water should provide good visibility. In reality, because the sardines and their prey can really churn up the water, visibility can be anything from 5 meters (15 ft) to 20 meters-plus (60 ft).

What kind of boats are used? - We will be using 2 eight meter "rubber ducks" (Zodiacs or similar), each accommodating 6-8 divers. Each boat is licensed with the Department of Transport and has a fully qualified shipper and dive master on board. There is oxygen, a DAN First Aid Kit and communications with shore via ship-to-shore radio, cellular phone and satellite phone as back up.

What dive equipment is required? - Due to the extreme nature of The Sardine Run and in order for your comfort and ease in the water, we recommend bringing your own dive gear. Gear and equipment is available for rental but then you run the risk of being in the middle of one the greatest dive adventures of all time and having equipment that's not working perfectly for you.

Where do we stay? What about meals? - You'll stay at the Mbotyi River Lodge or in the river town of Port St Johns - our "dive camp" is minimum 3 star luxury and chosen at the discretion of SEAL to best suit our dive objectives. Meals are included. For the occasional early launch (06h30) we take packed breakfasts to eat on the boat. Light lunch and refreshments are provided on the boat. Dinner is a 3 course affair. Two divers share a room. (Alcohol is not included).

What else is there to do in the Transkei? - If weather prevents taking the boat out, don't worry. You'll still have a fun day. Here are some of the activities available:

For more information about SEAL, and the Sardine Run in South Africa:

Or simply phone Island Dreams at 1-800-346-6116, or email

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