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Oceans of Plenty
Step into the world of writers and photographers as they tell you about the best, worst, and quirkiest places and adventures they encountered in the field.

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South African Coast

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By Kennedy WarnePhotographs by David Doubilet

In the greatest shoal on Earth, cold and warm waters surge together off South Africa to create rich marine ecosystems and a billion sardines on the move.

Read this compelling excerpt, or print the whole story.

In our search for shoals, it was the gannets we saw first in the distance, looking like swirling flecks of ash. Addison—cap jammed down on his shaven head—would open the throttle and race for the spot. If lucky, we would arrive to find the glorious chaos of a fully developed bait ball. These aggregations of ultimate frenzy are created when common dolphins ("common" both in name and number) work together to shear off a section of a shoal, corral it into a scrum the size of a tennis court, and force it to the surface. Only then do other predators appear, making the whole thing, as Addison says, "go ballistic."

The result is an eruption of fin and flesh. Dolphins squeal like sirens as they make strafing runs at the edges. Eight-foot (two-meter) copper sharks thresh their way through the shoal, biting and gulping. Cape fur seals, elastic underwater acrobats, corkscrew up through the middle then flip backward, snapping up fish on the way over. And all the while gannets rain from the sky, so fast and so many that it looks as if they are being sucked into the ocean by a vacuum cleaner.

During our weeks at Mkambati we dived on dozens of shoals, and every one was different. Some shimmered like blue carpets that suddenly turned silver as the fish caught the sun on their sides. Some were so solid and dense right down to the seafloor that swimming underneath them was like crawling under a mattress—and just as dark. Others were on the move, specks of light streaming ceaselessly toward us as mesmerizing as a computer screen saver. Sinking down into one shoal, I found myself in the hole of a sardine doughnut, being watched by innumerable unblinking yellow-rimmed eyes.

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VIDEO David Doubilet talks about photographing the underwater world off the coast of South Africa.

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Final Edit

The photo rescued from the cutting room floor is this month's Final Edit.

More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
Cannibalism within the womb (intrauterine cannibalism) is known to occur in some fish species, such as the spotted ragged-tooth shark (see page 17 of "Oceans of Plenty: South Africa's Teeming Seas" ). The most common form of this type of cannibalism is oophagy, which occurs when an embryo eats unfertilized eggs. Less common, but far more extreme, is embryophagy, when the strongest embryo eats weaker ones within the same uterus. Also known as adelphophagy, or "eating one's brother," embryophagy is only known to occur in sand tiger sharks.

While intrauterine cannibalism is rare, cannibalism in general is not uncommon in the animal kingdom. Scorpions, spiders, ants, otters, muskrats, and even pigs and bears are known to have cannibalistic tendencies. Animals may commit cannibalistic acts to ensure reproductive supremacy by eliminating rivals or simply to ensure survival in times of famine. According to the Humane Society of the United States, minks raised in cages for fur production have been driven to cannibalistic acts by the severe conditions in which they live.

—Elizabeth Connell

Did You Know?

Related Links
The Penguin Page
Learn more about the African penguin from the African penguin fact sheet available through this site, which also has links to photos of African penguins. Go to for information on other penguin species.

Robben Island Museum
Robben Island Museum's Web page introduces readers to the tragic history and exquisite natural beauty of the former prison island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for years.


Branch, George. Two Oceans: A Guide to the Marine Life of Southern Africa. D. Philip, 1994.

Branch, Margo, and George Branch. The Living Shores of Southern Africa. C. Struik Publishers, 1981.

Payne, A., and R. Crawford. Oceans of Life Off Southern Africa. Vlaeberg Publishers, 1989.

Robinson, Allan, and Kenneth Brink, eds. The Sea. John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1998. 


NGS Resources
Skelton, Renee. "The Great Penguin Rescue," National Geographic World (January 2001), 12-15.

Holmes, Mike. "Oil and Penguins Don't Mix," National Geographic (March 1973), 384-397.

Graham, Robin Lee. "World-roaming Teen-ager Sails On," National Geographic (April 1969), 449-493.

Ross, Kip. "South Africa Close-up," National Geographic (November 1962), 640-681.

Johnson, Electra, and Irving Johnson. "[Yankee] Roams the Orient," National Geographic (March 1951), 327-370.

Ault, J. P. "Sailing the Seven Seas in the Interest of Science: Adventures Through 157,000 Miles of Storm and Calm, from Arctic to Antarctic and Around the World, in the Non-magnetic Yacht 'Carnegie,'" National Geographic (December 1922), 631-690.


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