It’s raining Gannets!

the cape gannet & the Sardine run

The Cape Gannet birds are specialized divers and excellent aerial hunters. When the Sardine Run in South Africa occurs, large groups of Gannets form dive-bombing squads. From high in the air, they spot the dense bait balls of sardines swimming near the ocean surface and with their keen eyesight, they can detect the shimmering silvery mass of fish.

 Once they’ve identified their target, the Cape Gannets fold their wings back and plunge into the water like arrows, entering the ocean at high speeds.  They can reach speeds of up to 100 km per hour and dive to depths of up to 30m. They use their streamlined bodies and sharp beaks to snatch up individual fish. 

Thousands of birds plunge into the ocean sending a splash of water cascading upward like a fireworks display – a sight that can leave one spellbound! Once underwater, they swim swiftly to get their catch and we often see them swimming alongside dolphins and sharks who also relish in this feeding frenzy. 

The Cape Gannets feeding off a bait ball during the 2023 Sardine Run season in Port St. Johns. Footage supplied by 1OCEAN.

Seconds later we see the gannets breaking the surface with fish firmly grasped in their beaks, too full to fly, they float on the surface of the ocean possibly plotting their next dive!

During the sardine run, Cape Gannets may travel long distances to locate the sardine shoals and they play an important role in the Sardine Run by giving us an indication that bait balls are nearby. These birds can cover hundreds of kilometers in search of the densest aggregations of fish. Their foraging behavior is not only impressive but also essential for their survival and successful breeding.