Socorro and Baja California
End of December 2021 a group of 18 Insider Divers got together to visit the famous Revillagigedo Marine Park aboard the Nautilus Undersea. Before we departed we dove the sites around Cabo San Lucas. After our return we travelled around the South tip of Baja California diving and snorkeling with the many underwater highlights this area has to offer. Feeding whalesharks, playful sea lion puppies , sleeping turtles on wrecks and snorkeling with pelagic sharks. We also saw humpback whales and as a grand finale Sperm Whales.
Socorro Islands 2021-22
Check out the full trip video.
Cabo San Lucas - Pre-Trip
Nestled at the south tip of Baja California's long peninsula this is where Sea of Cortez and Pacific Ocean meet creating a huge bio diversity. This is where we all met to start our tour.
After testing everyone on arrival and a hearty Mexican dinner we headed out for two days of diving these potent water (with daily Covid testing).
The giant Sardine school right off the the dive site Lands-end was a definite highlight. That's Bob there swimming into it.
We also got very lucky to see a huge school of cow nose rays passing Pelican Rock.
This is famous Sandfall at Pelican Rock, the sand being replenished via the narrow landbridge that separates Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez.
At Lands-end there is a population of adult Sea Lions. It took me an entire dive waiting for them to get this shot, they are not deliberately coming close to humans. That is why after Socorro we would head to La Paz and los Islotes to get nice close up sea lion interaction (see below).
Revillagigedo Islands a.k.a. Socorro Islands
These few islands are almost 300 sea miles away from land and are the center of the largest marine park of North America. Mexico has gone above and beyond for their ocean protection in this area, marking the giant area as absolute no-take zone which is marshalled by a permanent navy settlement on Socorro Island.
The coast of the pacific ocean mostly has deep waters and canyons and all along the coast of the Americas and there are only very few islands breaking the surface. These are all hotspots with dense marine life and predators. The most famous are Galapagos, Cocos and Guadeloupe Island that are all famous for wild, fishy waters teeming with sharks!
Canyon - Isla San Benedicto
Upon arrival at night the island proved it's sharkyness immediately with literally hundreds of silky sharks swarming around our boat all night.
Next morning we started our routine of four dives a day that we would maintain for 5 days.
And sharky it was right away... Canyon has a famous shark cleaning station where we could watch up to 10 silver tips getting cleaned at the same time. Galapagos and White Tip reef sharks were also seen diving in and out of the site. There was also a passing of a Pelagic Black Tip Shark and someone thought they saw a Tiger in the distance.
Another species common to Revillagigedo are Scalloped Hammerheads that are known to school in large numbers, which we were lucky to see on the second dive already.
Zee watching a silver tip and galapagos shark getting cleaned.
We also got out first interaction with Bottlenose Dolphins that like to come in close to say hello.
El Boiler - Isla San Benedicto
This is the signature site of San Benedicto. The giant tower of layered volcanic rock is famous for dolphins and manta rays. Surprisingly this site was a bit quiet compared to other places on the journey, but the 4 dives were certainly not wasted as we did have some marvelous encounters in clear and warm blue water.
The first Gianta Manta on this trip didn't disappoint. She flew rounds around us coming close and enjoying our bubbles. These manta rays (Manta Birostris) are bigger than the usual reef mantas (Manta Alfredi) that divers see more often. They are very similar, but main difference is that Giant Manta are fully pelagic, meaning they don't come close to reefs and are therefore only encountered rarely and in few places. Socorro is by far the best place in the world to see them regularly.
On the second dive we also encountered a big and playful pod of Bottlenose Dolphins. This one was showing off its newest member, a baby dolphin which can seen on the above image at the bottom.
Nothing beats getting swarmed by dolphins, like our guide Esteban in this situation. Make sure to watch the video where Lena can be seen "dancing" with our dolphin friends.
Roca Partida - Open Ocean
Roca Partida is a tower of rock sticking out of the ocean in the middle of nowhere. It is around 50km from the closest island and it is the size of a large bus. Under water it's rock walls drop 100m to the first ledge, before dropping further to around 1000m. Imagine the surfacing rock as the top tip of world's highest building - Dubai's Burj Khalifa, then you can imagine what the dive site feels like.
This site has always been an absolute highlight of our trips here, but the 2021 season had not been good. Very limited shark and manta action so far... but we would be the first group of the season to get lucky. Very lucky indeed...
As we rolled in the first animal we came across was this male whaleshark. A gentle soul he would be circling the island and the divers the entire day. What a treat.
The fish followed the whale shark around all day as well.
We had another repeating encounter with this black morph manta ray which kept elegantly cruising around the rock on it's five meter spanning wings.
And we had sharks galore. The white tips are literally everywhere here. During the day they are mostly cruising slowly or cuddling on the few rock terraces. But in the afternoon (and all night) they are out and about looking for a kill. An absolutely thrilling experience, seeing them cruising around us with rapidly moving eyes searching for prey.
Punta Tosca - Socorro Island
The first of two main spots on Socorro islands is Punta Tosca which provides an interesting terrain of ridges that slowly drop deeper into the ocean. They have less fish life but so much more manta action.
Mantas come to these islands to get cleaned. Something that reef mantas do all the time, the Giant Mantas only come to land occasionally as studies of manta IDs show. (We always submit our belly shots to various institutions and in return we get the data of the individuals we encounter. Usually they will have only been seen once or twice before).
There are less cleaner wrasses here and the Clarion Angelfish take over the role of the cleaner fish. Much larger than normal cleaner fish they can keep up with the giant sea pancakes and eat parasites off their bellies. The Clarion Angelfish is endemic to the south tip of Baja California and critically endangered due to increasing aquarium trade (a single fish can fetch several thousand dollars).
Clarion Angelfish cleaning Manta bellies.
The team quickly understood that Mantas also like bubbles as means to clean their bellies. They actively seek out our bubbles, and if we blow them smartly they remain hovering enjoying the bubble bath.
Freja at the manta spa!
Cabo pierce - Socorro Island
After checking in with the rangers we headed over to our last dive site, Cabo Pierce, on the other side of Socorro Island. Here is where we will do the exciting night snorkeling with Silky Sharks.
Not everyone is immediately convinced of jumping in the water boiling with sharks.
But after a while no one can resist to get in the pitch black water and see the silkies up close.
The next day we get in for our final day of diving.
We get very lucky right away. On the first dive we had dolphins and manta rays crossing.
As the day progressed we had more and more manta rays. They even did some nice dancing for us like her in the picture with Valentin.
Nice portrait of a Giant Manta.
So many mantas that I could do my beloved "Manta-Hat Selfie"
So as our main tour draws to an end we have lots of happy faces all around.
Extension Part 1 - La Paz
After extensively diving the Pacific we headed over to La Paz on the Eastern side of Baja, facing the Sea of Cortez. Here we would snorkel with whale sharks, dive a wreck and swim with sea lion puppies.
El Mogote Whalesharks
The area known as El Mogote is a huge stretch of sandy coast that seems to have a seemingly endless amount of shrimp and krill rising from it. Young whale sharks are familiar with this phenomenon and for half of the year cruise and feed on this abundant, albeit invisible, food source.
The beauty is that we can watch whale sharks feeding from close up. It is not that often that we can study the suction feeding of literally thousands of gallons of water.
Fang Ming Wreck
Next we head to the wreck of the Fang Ming, a scuttled illegal immigration ship that was sunk as an artificial reef in front Espíritu Santo Island which is also a national park.
The wreck has been stripped of all dangerous materials and engines as well as plastics. Generous holes have been cut into it to make it easy to enter the wreck on all levels.
A highlight are the sleeping green turtles that have made this ship it's wreck. There is a lot more wildlife on there. In one of the rooms a moray smoothly glides from one side to the other.
It is possible to dive throughout all rooms, even the bridge is accessible. In some rooms large air pockets have been filled by breathing gas from divers.
Los Islotes - Sea Lion puppies
A huge highlight for everyone was the colony of sea lions called Los Islotes. This big colony has lots of puppies and they are very used to divers and snorkelers and are totally unafraid. Check out this video and see if you can stop smiling!
These puppies are really teenagers - unafraid and mischievous.
It's all fun and games! Twisting and playing!
They love pulling on snorkels. Amandas snorkel was a favorite!
Like little dog puppies they love pulling on things. Fins are very popular.
They are happy to pull on hoses, like Z's breathing hose.
Nibbling on fingers is another favorite. Very gentle, like a well behaved doggie!
Being investigated by a furry torpedo can be surprising at times.
Check me out!
My attempt at a sea lion selfie.
Offshore Sharks - Cabo San Lucas
As grand finale we chose to snorkel with sharks that are never seen on reef dives. Blue Sharks and Mako Sharks! Check out the video below.
Pelagic sharks or offshore sharks are scavengers that roam the ocean currents in search for a meal, mostly dead animals. During this time of year they can be encountered within reasonable distance from Cabo San Lucas. It is never guaranteed, but we immediately got lucky and on day 1 already had several target species by the boat.
First to the boat and most charismatic was the blue shark. You can already see from their face that they are the friendliest sharks out there. Almost comical.
They are investigating everything including divers and cameras which allows us photographers to get some truly close up imagery.
Less friendly but equally inquisitive is the Shortfin Mako Shark, the fastest shark in the ocean. They also come close to us, but rather zipping rather fast past us.
Actually the Mako in this session was following the blue shark around, trying to figure out what it was eating.
Nice portrait of a Mako Shark.
You do need to keep an eye on the Makos, as they have some very serious teeth in their mouths. So best to have a camera between yourself and the shark.
We also had a Silky Shark come on for close inspection. At some point we had three blue sharks, a mako and this silky in the water around us.
And as a grand finale to the trip we encountered two Sperm Whales on the way back. They were less excited about meeting us than we were and unfortunately dove down immediately leaving a nasty poo cloud.
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Simon Lorenz was the group leader on this trip. He is the founder and owner of Insider Divers, a company that offer expert led group trips for scuba diving and snorkeling.