Baja California - The Ultimate Ocean Safari
We are in South Baja California, Mexico exploring a unique and beautiful body of water called the Sea of Cortez. This ocean, also known as the Gulf of Mexico, is one of the most productive seas in the world. The granddaddy of all ocean explorers Jaques Cousteau called it 'ze' Aquarium of the World. Where else in the world would you find over 40 species of ocean mammals, 30 species of shark and hundreds of fish species?
We come to the Sea of Cortez primarily to find whales. Here you can find find the largest, the Blue Whales, and the smallest, the terminally endangered Vaquita porpoise, as well as Fin Whales, Humpbacks, Sperm Whales, Bryde's Whales just to name drop a few big ones. Adding to that are Orcas, false killer whales, dolphins, sea-lions and thousands of mobulas rays. It is also a new area to meet the largest fish in the world - pregnant whalesharks.
And lets give it away - in a week of ocean safari we spotted all of the above!! Plus, if you read to the end a bonus Blanket Octopus.
But off the top. Our base is La Paz, South Baja, which allows us to access various parts of this ocean. We are supported by a spotter plane manned by a marine biologist who finds us the most interesting animals every day. On small "pangas" we head out to sea following our naturalists gut feeling, fishermen input and the latest from our "eyes in they sky.
Orcas - Killer Whales
And right on day 1 - we hit target species numero uno - the mighty Killer Whales.
Killer whales come to this body of water to hunt dolphins, sharks and mobulas which aggregate in huge numbers here in May/June (see below). The beauty of these absolute apex predators is breath-taking and for most of our guests its the first time seeing the giant 6 ton dolphins up close. Below video by our guide Gabo.
The next day we are scanning another area and find ourselves surround by a "super-pod" of hundreds of common dolphins hoping that some more Orcas would come in to hunt them. We also briefly saw some Sperm Whales, but they dove before we could get closer.
False Killer Whales
But instead our pilot informs us that he found a pod of False Killer Whales. These large black dolphins are a bit smaller than the "real" killer whales, but they are also more inquisitive and hunt fish and dolphins as well. We ride with them for a while before we get in the water.
Swimming with these animals is thrilling as they interact with us. There is definite eye-contact, bubble-blowing, teeth-showing as well as funky squeaks and whistles.
One of our groups gets a magnificent encounter with a relaxed and curious animal that seemed to want to say something or show something. If we could just speak whale... (Video by our guide Gabo)
The next day we start getting lucky with the big whales. Something truly unique about this area is that the largest to animals to have every lived on this planet can be found here at this time of the year. Blue Whales comes here all the way from the far Northern Arctic to give birth to their young. Now the blue whales slowly move south in pairs of mother and calf, briefly stopping to suckle hundreds of liters of reach blue whale milk. We didn't see this in the water like we did in Timor, but amazing nevertheless.
A much lesser known whale is the Fin Whale. This whale is the fastest whale in the ocean and can swim at speeds of 60km an hour. Like the Blue Whale they can reach enormous sizes - while the Blue can reach 30m this Fin Whale still can grow to be 27m long. They are similar in shape but have much more interesting patterns and behaviors. They are here to feed on the rich krill clouds in deeper waters. Check out this video below to see some beautiful aerials of both whale species. Below aerial videos by Olivia Smith, Charlie Fenwich and Simon Lorenz.
Pygmy Mobula Rays
This area is world-famous for the largest ray aggregation of the world. Hundreds of thousands of Munk's or Pygmy Mobula Rays come to this area to mate. The larger aggregations stimulate the unique behaviour of breaching and belly-flopping which can be seen every day, everywhere. Getting in the water is a bit more difficult, but of course we also managed to get there.
Watch below video by Simon and our guest Charlie Fenwick.
This area is a newly discovered area where pregnant Whalesharks seem to cruise around before giving birth. It is brand-new information and our operator is heavily involved in the research on this behaviour. The Whaleshark is the largest of all fish in the ocean and only the females reach the biggest size of 16m. Until recently these were only found in the waters around Galapagos but scientists have shown that this area is another pre-birth swimming area.
Only thanks to our brilliant spotter pilot were we able to find this approximately 12m female who kindly allowed us to swim aside her.
Video by our guest Olivia Smith
And as a grand finale, as promised, we encountered the most unique of all octopi - a little known but very flamboyant species called the Blanket Octopus. This creature features a colorful, semi-transparent webbing between four of its arms which elegantly flow in the waters. This female was at its maximum size as it was carrying eggs. A few lucky swimmers even saw it under water. Video by our guest Charlie Fenwick
This trip was a giant success and Insider Divers will be coming back on a yearly basis. No other place in the world gives the opportunity to swim with so many whales in one single place.
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About the author
Underwater photographer Simon Lorenz is the founder of Insider Divers and one of our main trip leaders. He is a regular author for dive magazines and speaker at events. Simon speaks 6 languages and has dived on all continents. A PADI instructor and photo coach his aim is to further the dive, marine and photography skills of our guests. Simon has worked with CNN, BBC, NatGeo and supports various marine NGOs such as WWF and The Nature Conservancy. Simon fights for the protection of sharks in his role on the advisory board of the Hong Kong Shark Foundation.