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Old 25th May 2009, 10:23 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Queuing up for dinner: Dolphins enjoy sardine feeding frenzy

Queuing up for dinner: Dolphins enjoy sardine feeding frenzy

By DAILY MAIL REPORTER
Last updated at 11:55 AM on 22nd May 2009


Like workers in a canteen the dolphins line up patiently as they look forward to a rather large and tasty lunch.

The aquatic mammals head to the South African coastline each year for the Sardine Run - an underwater migration where millions of fish head eastwards from their cool spawning waters near Cape Town in search of zooplankton.

The dolphins, alongside sword fish and sharks ambush them from below, while gannets and gulls hover above the waves waiting for their chance to pick up a morsel from above.

It is one of nature's greatest phenomena which takes place in June each year. Underwater photographer Alexander Safonov is looking forward to experiencing the awesome sight again after he captured it on camera in 2008.


Working as a team common dolphins head towards a bait ball in Port St. Johns, South Africa

'Last year was my first sardine run and one I had dreamt of seeing ever since I saw BBC's Blue Planet movie a few years ago,' explains Alexander.

'Our ultimate goal was to witness and photograph bait ball activity, which is part of the elusive sardine run where huge schools of migrating sardines are chased by thousands of dolphins, sharks, birds and even hunting Bryde's whales.'

Likened to east Africa's buffalo migration, the sardine run sees them spawn and migrate from the cool waters of the Agulhas Bank, northward to the warmer waters along the east coast.

Shoals are known to be four miles long and one mile wide, and are clearly visible from the surface of the ocean.


Sharks and swordfish force the fish towards the surface where hovering birds prepare to dive on the prey

Followed by thousands of hungry dolphins, sharks, sea birds and seals, the sardines protect themselves from this onslaught by forming into giant balls called 'bait balls' which can measure as large as 65 feet, or 20 metres, in diameter.

But for three of the past five years, the cold current has not arrived, and neither have the sardines, as they are unable to tolerate water that is warmer than 20 degrees Celsius.

Last June, as part of a five man team, Alexander spent 15 days in the South African waters waiting for the opportune moment for his picture, though at times it appeared he would not get his chance.

'The sardine run is unpredictable and in recent years due to climate change, quite rare,' the 34-year-old said.

'I consider ourselves very lucky to get five bait ball encounters - most people don't get even fraction of action we had.

'We started to dive right into bait balls only on the 10th day because before that conditions were prohibitive. There was heavy rain, floods, bad visibility - many factors were against us.'


The images won the 'Wideangle Traditional' category in the Our World Underwater 2009 competition

However on the final day, Alexander, a software engineer by trade, was fortunate to photograph one last bait ball, with 20 metres of almost perfect visibility.

'Being inside a bait ball is not for the weak minded - divers are surrounded by charging dolphins, sharks in frenzy mode, birds falling from above at speeds exceeding 60 km/h,' he said.

'It is very risky and participants need to be prepared to deal with curiosity and aggression of animals.

'I am familiar with bull sharks, but meeting one in open ocean bait ball conditions is a different experience.
Aggressive and curious, they are not limiting themselves just to small fish - sometimes they try to grab bigger prey such as birds. However it is rarely a successful affair.'


Sharks feed on a wave of sardines heading towards their own feeding grounds

As the predators work in unison to break up the bait balls, the feeding frenzy makes for spectacular images.

'Things changing very quickly inside a bait ball, and a photographer need to rely on reaction and instincts to nail down interesting scenes, taking in equation animals, available light conditions and strobe lights.' Alexander's persistence and self confessed luck enabled him to capture these award-winning images.

A recipient of the Grand Prix award at the Moscow International Diving Festival "Golden Dolphin", these images also won him the "Wideangle Traditional" category in the Our World Underwater 2009 competition.

Mr Safonov is set to return to South Africa's east coast this June.

'This time I will try to spend more time in solo mode in bait balls, since solo diving has less impact on predators behaviour than a group of divers,' he said.

'One of the goals for next season I want to define for myself - more quality topside photos such as gannets falling onto the bait.

'I will also try to focus on capturing hunting Bryde's whale behaviour, but really need to be lucky to see and photograph this.'

Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencete...ng-frenzy.html

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Old 25th May 2009, 10:26 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Queuing up for dinner: Dolphins enjoy sardine feeding frenzy

omg, its beautiful..

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