It’s shoal time! Forget Covid-19, she’s been bitten by sardine fever
After months of social distancing, freedriver Beth Neale enjoyed being “a part of the crowd”, even if it was with sardines.
The SA record-holding freediver, conservationist and filmmaker took a dive off the KwaZulu-Natal south coast near Pennington on Monday to swim among sardines – and sharks.
In a breathtaking video, Neale is seen diving into a shoal of millions of the tiny silver fish.
Neale told Times Select it felt like she was being transported to another galaxy.
“When the shoal was above me they blocked out the sun so it was dark. Then as they moved there would be portals of light and it truly felt like portals to another universe.”
“It was surreal. It was quite a moving and spiritual experience for me,” she said.
Two years ago, Neale dived off Port St Johns during the sardine run but the experience was nowhere close to her dive this week.
“There were more predators and dolphins than sardines there and it wasn’t really like what I experienced in KwaZulu-Natal. This time it felt like there were a billion tiny fish around me. It was unbelievable.”
“And it wasn’t even the big shoal. This was a smaller one and yet there were so many fish.”
It was difficult for Neale to see the fish netted on the shore.
“I know how important the sardine run is in the food chain and in difficult times like these how they can feed the hungry, but it still wasn’t easy to see the fish that had been around me, netted for a meal.”
Every winter‚ most often in June or July‚ millions of sardines leave the cold waters off Cape Point and make their way up the coast to KwaZulu-Natal.
Each year‚ holidaymakers flock to the province to catch a glimpse of the spectacle – called the Greatest Shoal on Earth – that includes sharks‚ dolphins and birds in a feeding frenzy as they prey on the sardines.
Entrepreneurial fishermen also prey on the tiny fish. The first crates of at least 30 dozen fish are usually the most expensive. By the end of the sardine run a dozen fish will cost between R10 and R20.