Exploring with the Dive Ninjas: Diving with Striped Marlin at Mexico’s Secret Sardine Run

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It’s November and I’m waking up in a small fishing village on Bahia Magdalena. We are about to head 20 miles offshore in search of one of my favorite open ocean encounters—and one of this region’s best kept secrets.

The warm Baja sun is just beginning to creep over the horizon as we finish loading the boat. Our captain, Mele, gives the ok to push off and we are on our way. Mele has an unmatched understanding of these magical waters. He’s a local fisherman that made the switch to working in ecotourism and conservation projects a few years ago. His passion for these waters and their inhabitants is inspiring.

Our journey seaward takes us past Isla de Patos—a small strip of sand home to thousands upon thousands of tightly packed sea birds. Then along the mangroves that play a critical part in making this area so remarkable. As we move further offshore humpback whales are spotted breaching in the distance as they make their annual journey down the coast to Los Cabos. But the whales will have to wait because today we seek something even more extraordinary.

Soon we spot flocks of sea birds flickering on the horizon beckoning us to come closer – a tell-tale sign of the gigantic bait balls we seek. As we draw closer packs of sea lions can be seen lifting their heads from the water to catch quick breaths. I’m always amazed at how far offshore these salty sea dogs can be found looking for a meal. And right now, it’s breakfast time in Baja. From the boat we can already see the ripples created by a huge ball of mackerel frantically zigging and zagging just below the surface as they try to outrun one of the oceans fiercest predators.

Slipping into the water gives you front row seats to one of the most action-packed experiences our oceans have to offer. Imagine over 40 Striped Marlin working together with packs of sea lions corralling their breakfast into a tight ball and pushing it up to the surface. Then one by one they rocket through the bait ball striking and spearing the fish with their sword-like bill.

Without a moment to think they have already welcomed you into the hunt. It’s a heart pounding encounter, yet mesmerizingly beautiful. Thousands upon thousands of shimmering silver fish spiral into shapes reminiscent of liquid metal dancing on a gorgeous deep blue backdrop. All the while a barrage of sword wielding super-fish and the lions of the ocean ignite the waters around you.

Striped Marlin, Kajikia audax, are one of our ocean’s great creations. A super-fish engineered for extreme speed and vast open ocean migrations. They are one of the fastest animals in the ocean and capable of quickly reaching speeds of 80 kmh (50 mph). Striped marlin are a highly adapted apex predator. Their bodies have insets that allow their fins to lay completely flat when tucked in to help eliminate drag.

Marlin can even heat their eyes and brain to help them be able to manage such great speed and agility. Although not the largest species in the billfish family, they can grow nearly 4 meters (12 ft) long and weigh upwards of 190 kgs (450 lbs). Their long bill is covered in millions of rough denticles and is thought to decrease hydrodynamic drag as they slice through the water—in addition to being used for hunting and protection.

However, these beautiful creatures are listed as Near threatened on the IUCN Red List with their populations steadily decreasing. They are the prized subject of many sport fishermen and Los Cabos to the south is considered the sport fishing capital of the world. It hosts one of the largest sport fishing tournaments on earth as well as a big marina packed with sport fishing vessels running charters 365 days per year. It’s estimated that more than 12,000 striped marlin are fished each year just in the waters around Los Cabos.

Because of this Cabo San Lucas based Dive Ninja Expeditions has teamed up with Nakawe Project to integrate a new marlin research & conservation project into their annual marlin expeditions. The new project hopes to help better understand the population in Baja as well as look at the sustainability and impacts of fishing, while taking you to experience this awesome natural event firsthand.

How to Experience it

The season for these incredible striped marlin encounters takes place every autumn along the pacific coast of Baja California Sur, Mexico. The marlin normally begin to start arriving in late September and will stay through December. This means warmer, blue waters and good visibility. You’ll still want to pack a wetsuit, as this is the eastern Pacific, but a 5mm should be good for most. Your nearest major airport will be Los Cabos International, which offers direct flights from many US & Mexican cities.

Getting to the action though can be a bit of an undertaking, especially if you aren’t familiar with the area. There are a few locations where you can get in the water with the marlin, with the nearest one being a couple hours drive from Los Cabos. These are small fishing towns though, most without any proper tourism facilities. However, there are a couple operators that run multi-day trips out to experience the marlin and bait balls.

Dive Ninja Expeditions is one of the few operators that regularly run weekly trips each season. They have been actively working on projects in these areas for a few years that help support the local communities and further ongoing research and conservation efforts. They also work in these areas all year long on different specialized expeditions, so they know the local areas better than most. Whereas all of the other ops usually just pop in for a week or two each year.

Due to the remoteness of these areas, and the speed at which the bait balls are moving, trips are usually more geared to freediving or snorkeling instead of scuba diving. But don’t sweat it because all the action takes place right at the surface. The marlin use the surface as a barrier to push the bait balls against, making them easier to hunt. So, enjoy not having to stress over airline baggage weight restrictions for this one!

Interested in exploring this adventure yourself? Visit the Dive Ninja Expeditions website. Their 2019 striped marlin season kicks off in the next few weeks and their 2020 Striped Marlin Expedition dates go on sale the beginning of October.


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Jay Clue

Jay Clue

Jay Clue is a conservationist, dive instructor, explorer, and photographer based in Mexico. Under all the tattoos you’ll find a big nerd, with interests ranging from shark conservation to quantum mechanics. When he’s not diving or teaching you can usually find him wherever there are an abundance of delicious snacks. Find out more at: www.DiveNinjaExpeditions.com.

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