Marine Life of Baja

 

Baja California is a diver’s paradise and island hopping on pangas is a marine adventure. More than 85% of the Pacific Ocean’s marine mammals can be found in the Sea of Cortez, and 35% of the world’s marine mammals are home here.

Giant manta rays are frequent flybys, sea turtles surf the currents, and whales upon whales are return guests to Baja’s coasts. The marine life has a voice in Baja, perhaps the last wild voice to be found in the explored world, and it’s impossible to see the Sea of Cortez without finding your sense of wonder. Although many of its whales and sea turtles struggle against extinction and population depletion, the marine life continues to live with an exuberant vivacity and entrance people with their “gentle joyousness,” as Herman Melville said.

 

(SEA LIONS), RAYS, AND SHARKS: OH MY!  

 

Sea Lion

SEA LION

Baja loves its sea lions, especially on Los Isolotes where the barking of sea lions can be heard far into the distance. In early July, the sea lions are pupping and two weeks later they congregate for breeding. Especially during breeding season, you can see large 600-pound chocolate bulls proving their masculinity by chasing, colliding, threatening, and posturing with their teeth bared and their heads shaking side to side. The smaller, paler females play less and sleep more, but the effect of the community is incredibly entertaining. You can even snorkel in the area with the playful sea lion puppies.

Baja California sea lions maneuver well over the terrain. They are able to turn their hindflippers forward to walk on all fours, and their strong front flippers allow them to range a greater distance over rocks. Occasionally, you can see them take a dive of over 300 feet into the rocking waves below.

Flying Mobula Rays

FLYING MOBULA RAYS

These speedy rays are known for their intrepid attempts at flight, during which they breach the surface and flap their “wings” a few times before descending back into the water. Mobula rays congregate in the Sea of Cortez and occasionally reach a height of over 9 feet in the air before biology catches up to them and they belly-flop with a splash. These captivating creatures most likely write to Santa every winter for a wish for wings, but they do not let gravity keep them down for long.

Mobula Rays are closely associated with sharks, and their flat bodies and wing-like pectoral fins allow them to gracefully swoop through the water as well as sweep out to the air. Rays are rather elusive in nature, but luckily larger aggregations can be found in Baja. Scientists believe that their “flying” behavior is a method of communication between other mobula rays to gather together for social purposes or also to signal available food.

 

Great White Shark

GREAT WHITE SHARK

Perhaps the most legendary of sharks due to its central role in the thriller film Jaws, great white sharks have a lot of swag. Now, great white sharks are the crown jewel of the pop culture leviathan that’s grown from Jaws to venerated Shark Week. Although they are beginning to lose their notoriety as mindless eating machine, they have retained their enigmatic fearsomeness. Of the average number of shark attacks per year, around 100, great white shark attacks account for one third to one half of those. However, Spielberg exaggerated such attacks as few are fatal and scientists have come to see great white sharks as nibblers who “sample bite” and then liberate their targets rather than seeking out humans as prey. There is some slight comfort in this discovery, but perhaps not enough for great white sharks to lose their chilling demeanor.

Reaching up to 15 feet in length on average and 20 feet tops, great whites are the largest fish on earth. They received their name due to their white underbellies that contrast their grey upper bodies that allow them to sneak along the ocean floor. Although they can blend into their watery surroundings, they have the ability to breach the water completely much like whales when an attack calls for it. Much of their menacing visage comes from the rows upon rows of serrated, triangular teeth.

FUN FACT: Disney’s Bruce from Finding Nemo might have been on to something as he reminds us that “fish are friends, not food.” Great white sharks mainly prey upon seals, sea lions, sea turtles, and even small toothed whales. 

Sea Lion

SEA LION

Baja loves its sea lions, especially on Los Isolotes where the barking of sea lions can be heard far into the distance. In early July, the sea lions are pupping and two weeks later they congregate for breeding. Especially during breeding season, you can see large 600-pound chocolate bulls proving their masculinity by chasing, colliding, threatening, and posturing with their teeth bared and their heads shaking side to side. The smaller, paler females play less and sleep more, but the effect of the community is incredibly entertaining. You can even snorkel in the area with the playful sea lion puppies.

Baja California sea lions maneuver well over the terrain. They are able to turn their hindflippers forward to walk on all fours, and their strong front flippers allow them to range a greater distance over rocks. Occasionally, you can see them take a dive of over 300 feet into the rocking waves below.