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Published: September 30th 2019
How to combine, yet again, nature's wonders in my holiday even including a wedding! Where to do this better than the Sea of Cortez, as Jacques Cousteau famously called it: The World's Aquarium.
Jacques Cousteau (1910-1997) was a French naval officer, explorer, conservationist, filmmaker, innovator, scientist, photographer, author and researcher who studied the sea and all forms of life in water. Cousteau described his underwater world research in a series of books and he directed films.
The Sea of Cortez is a dazzling pageant of nature. Scientists say this narrow sea between the Mexican mainland and the Baja California peninsula is one of the most biologically diverse bodies of water on the planet, home to more than 900 species of fish, thousands of species of invertebrates, and a wide array of marine mammals like sea lions, dolphins and and the world's largest animal, the blue whale. It is right above plates: North American plate (south-east movement) and Pacific plate (north-west movement).
I guess there's so much to share, but I find it hard to put in words. I've encountered the most amazing big pelagics. I'm still so happy thinking back of my time with The Shark Odyssey, run by Clara and Yago: the knowledge they have is incredible, and the experience they have all over the world is insane. Besides their effort of informing us by giving us lectures, they also did everything to include us volunteers (3 of us) and sharing this unimaginable underwater world with us. In the Bay of La Paz, we had to photo ID whale sharks by spending plenty of time snorkeling in the water collecting data: taking photos, filming, measuring its size and determine its sex by swimming underneath it, looking at feeding habits etc. The pattern of spots and lines behind the gills is considered to be a unique 'fingerprint', allowing the animals of the area to be tracked over time. We swam 3 days with these little youngsters,
because that's what they are. However that means 5-9 meters long 😊 Their beauty, their effortless movements, just seriously mind blowing.. In those days we also uploaded the photo's on www.whaleshark.org and helped out in the museum, Museo de la Ballena y Ciencias del Mar. The owner is this inspiring nature loving conservationist and artist, who started in 1995 by reconstructing the first skeleton, but by now has the most diverse collection in the world focused on aquatic mammals. (Sad update October 2018: the museum will be closed, due to the rent being more than doubled!)
To get ready we had to do check dives first. This takes place at Los Islotes
at Isla Espirito Santo,
an area where populations of sea lions are thriving. This activity is all intended in good fun, providing an enjoyable and enticing way for your diving proficiency to be put to the test, as well as allowing the project leaders to check the fit of your gear. Beforehand a little explanation: play with the youngster by tumbling, they will copy you, and they will playfully bite you/your gear, females might be curious and playful as well. But be aware of the big males:
them blowing bubbles means, go away! They are hilarious, playing, fooling around by biting flippers and cameras.. In these dives we also observed (read: 'chased') an octopus for a little, and then there was a second one..and they mated right in front of us! Never had I seen an octopus outside of its hiding place, and then as a cherry on top the mating 'ritual', honestly which was more of a little "poking" and then " running off". (it's more fun when personating it😉). And from the boat we saw again huge groups of Mobula Rays. (you can find footage of them schooling together and jumping)
Cabo Pulmo is marine reserve and national park. It's the oldest of the 3 coral reefs on the west coast of North America. Its a no-take zone since 1995. Prior, in '70-'80, it was an area where big catches in sports fishing mostly: sharks, marlin etc and locals fishing small colourful fish for their aquaria. There was no formal management in place. Then in '80-'90 the catches started to go down & sizes of catch went down as well. In '90-'00 the Castro family (not the Cuban) stepped in and made it a no take zone. Thanks to a lot of studies a lot of data was available. Today it is the only well-enforced no-take area in the Sea of Cortez: the locals are the ones who are implementing it, hence the success. The signs that it goes well: a 10 yrs study conclude that there's a 463%!i(MISSING)ncrease of biomass and besides this there's an abundance of big predators. I.e. black tips, bull sharks, lemon sharks, mako sharks, but also whales sharks and humpback whales!
In Cabo San Pulmo we did patrol the beach, because of the very shallow shore line, and with that it would be dangerous to enter with the sharks. It was a beautiful hike and we did see bull sharks and lemon sharks in the shallows. We are also diving to try to see bull sharks. Before entering the water there were black tips breaking the surface with their fins, I guess that combined with bull sharks, made me nervous. Sadly due to bad visibility we didn't see any,
they have seen us though 😊 The most impressive thing was yet to come.., between dive 1 and 2 we were relocating, and these boat/fisherman -it's their life- saw a huge female whale shark and started yelling to jump in.. I had the luck to jump just before her head, I ended up staring at this 12 meter(!!) long pregnant lady. She was huge, as was her belly, and she seemed to move so slowly and effortless until I saw her tail and all the other trying to catch up with her.. heavenly breathing and kicking like crazy we all just stared at her slowly moving tail swinging from left to right to left.
Last but not least, we went to Cabo San Pulmo,
know for American springbreak youngsters. Sadly also for game fishing. The Italian Jacopo is a marine biologist and founder of Cabo Shark Dive.
He has over 15 yrs experience with sharks, his experience in interaction with these glorious creatures combined with his photo- & videography and his cheerful attitude is overall thrilling. Due to some strong winds we 'only' had 2 days with him on the boat. What they do to attract sharks
is hanging flashers down the boat as a visible attraction, especially mako's respond to these very well as they think it's a school of fish. Besides this they use the attraction of smell via chum. Chumming is not the same as feeding(!): the chum that is used to attract the sharks is in a “chum box” closed with no free access for the sharks. And there is a liquid mixture of fish oil, fish blood and sea water tossed every few seconds in the water to attract pelagic sharks. And then you wait, sometimes it takes minutes sometimes hours for sharks to arrive. We are collecting data on: time of arrival, amount of approaches of the boat/chum-box/people, amount of times breaking the surface, species, sex etc. We ended up ' only' seeing hammerheads up close and personal whoopwhoop! 😊
Shark attacks are not actual attacks but encounters: 90%!i(MISSING)s provoked, and 10%!l(MISSING)ethal (because for i.e. blood loss), they want to check what you are.
There's a lot of footage of people touching the nose of a shark to create/provoke 'Tonic immobility'. There's discusion of it is created and with that relaxing, or provoked and with that stressful. Clara her opinion is: touching the incredible sensitive Ampuli de Lorenzi, releases adrenaline hence it is stressful. (and divers know that one of the main basic rules is: look but do not touch)
After this never-to-forget adventure I made my way to San Fransisco to attend the wedding of my monkey friends!. They've met each other and I've met them at Wildtracks Belize.
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