Baja Day 7: Bay of La Paz

This is the events of our sixth full day of the expedition. All photos from this day can be found here. The daily expedition report is also available.

Mother and Nursing Baby Sea Lion

This morning, we awoke in the Bay of La Paz. We spent the morning looking for whale sharks. A couple of local folks showed up with extra boats and a spotter plane to help us find the whale sharks.

We came within a few feet of a 12 to 15 foot whale shark. It swam directly under our boat and we could see the huge fish in detail, including being able to see the spots and the exact shape of the tail fin.

Whale Shark

Whale sharks area really quite magnificent creatures. Unfortunately, they are impossible to photograph without an underwater camera or happening upon them at the rare time when they decide to feed right at the surface. Fortunately, the ship’s videographer happened to be on the zodiac where the whale shark did exactly that!

In the afternoon, we went for a cruise off the shore of an island where sea lions breed. Noisy creatures. Very noisy. It is as if they really want to live by themselves, but can’t stand the solitude so they pile on top of each other and complain — very very loudly — about any perceived infraction of personal space.

The elder sea lions largely focus on finding the ideal chunk of beach space or rock and defending it from intruders. The younger lions occupy their time through play, mock fights, or harassing the sea gulls. Or, as we would shortly witness, investigating alien life forms visiting their island.

Pelican Preening

The islands are white from bird poop. Which, of course, means there are a lot of birds. Lots and lots of birds. There were turkey vultures soaring overhead, gulls and other birds of note.

Blue Footed Boobies

In particular, a pair of blue footed boobies were doing that special blue footed booby mating dance. This involves a series of moves initiated by the male that the female may join in to do a bit of formal synchronized dancing to determine if the partnership is viable. The male will also try to earn the affections of a female by presenting her with presents of rocks and sticks. Click through to the large image to see those sexy blue feet.

And, of course, there are those striking blue feet. Apparently, the exact blueness of the male blue footed booby’s feet is of critical importance to the female. He will go to great lengths to demonstrate their awesome blueness.

Brown Booby

We also saw a brown booby, but it wasn’t really doing much.

Half way up the rocks, there were a pair of Great Blue Herons doing a bit of family planning. This involved the male flying or hopping around the hillside to find bits of nesting material. If the female liked it, into the nest it went. If the material was not up to the female’s standards, the stick or leaf was promptly tossed off the cliff.

A pair of peregrine falcons had taken up resident in a hole at the highest point on the rocks. Peregrines are the fastest flying animal, often clocked at upwards of 200mph. They have to be great flyers as they only eat what they can kill on the wing. They are also fiercely territorial and will quite happily dive bomb just about anything that wanders near their nest.

Apparently, a turkey vulture flew a bit too close because one of the falcons dive bombed it at a dizzying speed with a huge burst of feathers from the vulture upon impact. The vulture flew a bit wobbily away and the falcons then spent a good 30 minutes zipping around at breakneck speed apparently reminding everything on wing that they were the rulers of that section of the sky.

Later, one of the peregrine falcons dive bombed a gull sitting on a rock. Hitting it right in the head. It didn’t hurt the gull — could easily have killed it, if it so chose — just knocked the gull right off its rock and into the water. The gull seemed a bit irritated, but resigned to accept such abuse by the local aerial bullies.

King of the Hill

Of course, the main attraction were the sea lions. While the adults complained about personal space, many of the juveniles were all too happy to hop in the water to come check out the zodiacs. They would frequently pop up on side of the boat, slap the water if no one looked, then zip over to the other side as soon as they had our attention.

Mother and Feeding Baby Sea Lion 1

There were also quite a few relatively newborn sea lions nursing. They mother/child pairs were generally unphased by either our boat or the other sea lions complaining loudly at each other.

Surprisingly, sea lions are actually quite good climbers. One had actually climbed up to a point nearly 20 feet above the water. How it clamored over the piles of loose boulders to get there was beyond me, but it was obviously quite proud of its accomplishment.

Sadly, there were a half dozen or so lions with parts of fishing nets stuck around their necks. If found, captured, and treated quickly, this problem can be rectified, though it is notoriously difficult and dangerous. Unfortunately, most animals are not treated and the net gradually strangles the animal. Or, worse, the net will cut through the skin and blubber, slowly killing the animal through seeping, often infected, open wounds. Donate here if you find this to be actionably disturbing.

Gap in the Island

After the zodiac tours of the area, we donned our shorties (small wet suits) and headed out to actually snorkel with the sea lions. This was clearly going to be an interactive experience given that the juvenile sea lions were absolutely fascinated by the anchored zodiac and area markers dropped by the crew.

Once in the water, it wasn’t long before zooming and cartwheeling sea lions were literally in our faces. They enjoy swimming straight at you, opening their mouths and shooting bubbles at you just inches in front of your face. Literally inches in front of your face. And at top speed, only to veer off in a completely new direction at the last second.

bbum & Sea Lion

I took a deep breath and dove (about 10 to 15 feet), rolling over to lay upside down just above the rocky bottom. The sea lions were quite thoroughly enthralled by this as two of them dove after me to “breath feint” me from above. They also had a grand time sneaking up and yanking on a fin.

The sea lions were also quite the little tricksters. Two of them kept trying to dig the anchor out of the bottom to steal the orange buoy marking the snorkeling area. It was clear that this wasn’t entirely fun and games to them. Some of the lions would show more teeth than air, clearly trying to intimidate. It worked; imagine an underwater german shepherd showing you a mouth full of teeth inches from your face in an environment where it clearly can outmaneuver you by many times over.

Amazing experience. Unforgettable. The playful grace of sea lions swimming is just mesmerizing to watch.

Bird Poo Island At Sunset

After swimming with the sea lions, we returned to the ship to watch a beautiful sunset and enjoy the Captain’s Farewell cocktail party and chat with the crew one last time prior to packing up and disembarking the next day.

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