Human Journey

In the Agulhas

On board with Lindblad Expeditions Southern Africa and Indian Ocean tour.

March 27, 2015 – The Agulhas current flows down the east coast of Africa from the north. It’s described as “narrow, swift, and strong” on our briefing material aboard National Geographic Orion. As it reaches the southern tip of Africa at Cape Agulhas (Cape of Good Hope is not actually the continent’s southern tip), it recirculates. Thus a major source of the current is the current itself.

In May to July millions and millions of Southern African Pilchards (Sardinops sagax) come to spawn in northbound water, forming the famous Agulhas Current sardine run. Schools can each be five miles long, a mile wide, and a hundred feet deep.

In the last few years some terrific footage of this phenomenal phenomenon has been filmed. Dolphins and schooling sharks rush the sardines as thousands of gannets rain from above.

It’s only March, but we got a tantalizing taste of the action in a mini-frenzy we happened upon today near Mossel Bay, South Africa. We had gannets, Spinner and Common Dolphins, several Bryde’s Whales, terns, and even a few African Penguins. It was quite a sight and we got to hang out near the action for a good while.

Cape Gannet
A juvenile Cape Gannet streaks in among a group of Spinner Dolphins – Photo by Carl Safina
Spinner Dolphin
A Spinner Dolphin with an attached remora appears to have just pinned a fish in its mouth, while the dolphin on the right has just missed a leaping fish – Photo by Carl Safina
common dolphins
Common Dolphins were among those taking part – Photo by Carl Safina
african penguins
I was surprised to see several groups of African Penguins in the action – Photo by Carl Safina
Carl Safina is author of seven books, including Song for the Blue Ocean, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Eye of the Albatross, Voyage of the Turtle, and The View From Lazy Point. Safina is founding president of The Safina Center at Stony Brook University, where he also co-chairs the University's Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. A winner of the 2012 Orion Award and a MacArthur Prize, among others, his work has been featured in outlets such as The New York Times, National Geographic, and The Huffington Post, and he hosts “Saving the Ocean” on PBS. The paperback version of Safina's seventh book, "Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel," is available in stores July 12, 2016.

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