Every year, between the months of April and May, millions of silvery sardines travel north from the cold southern oceans, hugging the shore as they make their way up along the pacific coastlines of Colombia. A phenomenon commonly known as the annual “Sardine Run” and is world famous in South Africa.
The first time we heard about it was on an expedition to swim with the Humpback Whales in Nuquí. Our Divemaster told us about the sardine migration season in the Colombian Pacific while navigating to the dive site. We made the decision right then and there to go back and see it the coming year…
Unfortunately the next year when we arrived, the weather was not in our side and we had three continuous days of rain which is normal in this part of the world. The Choco’s rainforest is one of the rainiest places in the world and we learnt how rain affected the visibility underwater in this area. There are many rivers coming out to the ocean in the south part of El Chocó department (State / Province). Even though the visibility was greatly reduced we had amazing dives and got to see a lot of sardines and other kinds of underwater life.
Now we were very interested in the Colombian Sardine Run, we just had to find the right place to do it. Right after we finished the expedition to Nuquí, we started looking at Google Earth and talking to people in Bahia Solano. We figured out that the best time to be in the water and have the best chances of seeing the sardines and their predators is on the third week of April.
We use Bahia Solano as our base but most of the freediving, snorkeling and diving is done between 20 and 50 kms away from the small fishing village. We go to places where the humboldt current gets closer to land making it better as far as visibility goes. Also even though there are also many rivers ending up in the ocean in this area, they seem to be smaller and not to affect the visibility significantly.
Every year we explore new dive sites and dive in some spectacular ones we have already pinpoint in our GPS.
The focus of the expedition is to find bait balls, usually guided by the birds and the dolphins. Once we find the sardines, we jump in the water and assess the scene. Most of the time we snorkel and freedive until we have no energy left and leave the SCUBA gear on the boat for the right moment to put it on and dive. Sometimes there is no need to use the scuba equipment as everything happens on the surface and since they can move fast, sometimes there is even no point to use dive gear.
The daily plan it to leave early in the morning in the direction of the dive sites which is also the sardines migration route. We always have two SCUBA tanks on the boat per person. Some days we will use them all and other days we might not use any. Remember that scuba diving is not the main priority of this expedition but to find and photograph the sardines and more importantly to experience the feeding frenzy. This takes time and patience and if you are thinking about signing up for this expedition you should think more like a fisherman than a scuba diver. We may be trolling for hours before there is an opportunity to jump in the water.