The Greatest Shoal on Earth: A Marine Big Five Safari


An African safari is about so much more than the Big Five – a term coined by the big game hunters of another era – but for many visitors, a trip wouldn’t feel complete without a peek at a roaring lion, galloping buffalo, prowling leopard, rare and precious rhino, or a huge elephant crashing through the undergrowth. Now there’s another Big Five to add to your South African wishlist, but this time the adventure’s to be found off the coast, rather than on land. It’s here that every year the sardine run takes place – an annual migration of millions of sardines heading north into the welcoming warm waters of the Indian Ocean that rivals the famous wildebeest migration in its scale.

As spectacular as it is to witness the waves turn silver with shoals of glimmering fish, the real treat is the marine predators that amass off the Eastern Cape coast, waiting for their feast to begin. It’s the best place to see the Marine Big Five in action, the ocean’s VIPs, every bit as thrilling as their land-based counterparts: Southern Right Whales, Great White Sharks, Common Dolphins, Cape Fur Seals and African Penguins.

The feeding frenzy begins when dolphins – as many as 18,000 in number, and made up of both the black-backed, white-bellied Common Dolphin, as well their iconic Bottlenose and Humpback cousins – round up the sardines into bait balls. These spherical swarms of fish can extend to a depth of 10 metres, attracting the attention of sharks, whales, game fish and birds. As well as the giant Southern Right Whales that are regular visitors to the South African coast, you’ll find humpbacks and even orcas, which follow the sardines up from the Southern Ocean. Arctic skuas, albatross, gannets and terns wheel above, while penguins dive and feed, and seals trail the shoals all the way up the coast to get their fill.

It’s marine wildlife watching on its grandest scale, whether viewed from above or from under the waves by experienced divers and snorkelers. In 2015, Mantis is offering four-day sardine run sea adventures launching from Port Elizabeth or Port Alfred, where guests are able to spend up to six hours at sea per day. After an early launch, you’ll seek out the shimmering shoals, and watch in wonderment as thousands of birds plunge into the ocean, and a huge variety of sharks and other predators make their appearance. With a maximum of eight guests per charter, it’s an intimate and exclusive way to enjoy this nautical extravaganza. Better yet, why not add the trip on to a land-based safari, and let your Big Five become a Big Ten?

  • Each day begins at 8am, spending 4-6 hours at sea. Snorkelling is possible on request.
  • You may encounter Humpback Whales, Southern Right Whales, Orcas, Common
  • Dolphins, Bottlenose Dolphins, Humpback dolphins, sharks, seals and a variety of sea birds such as Arctic Skuas, Albatross and Gannets as well as Penguins!

What to bring:

  • waterproof closes, or wet suite (if hire request min. 2 month prior arrival)
  • dry bag for Photo equipment
  • sea sickness tablets if required

A boat charter requires a minimum group size of four, and a maximum of eight.

Full Charter per Boat, for the full 4-day trip: 19.000 ZAR per boat, including VAT