I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to La Paz, Mexico in the Sea of Cortez, twice in the past 12 months, to have some fun in the sun with one of my favourite marine creatures the Californian Sea Lion.
They are plentiful around these parts and if you haven’t had the pleasure of diving with them yet my advice is to put it in your dive calendar!
These guys live and play on the island of Los Islotes at the north of Espiritu Santo Island, also home to over four thousand other marine species. You can get there easily on a daily dive boat trip from La Paz with The Cortez Club, who provide a wonderful, fun filled day with the Sea Lions.
A word of warning though, you won’t want to leave and one day is never enough, when you experience the close friendly interactions you can have with these beautiful animals.
The experienced Dive Masters at the Cortez Club were excellent, never failing to provide plenty of friendly experiences with the Sea Lions.
The first time a Sea Lion shoots past you at close range, literally flying gracefully underwater, is an exhilarating and joyful experience, you will never forget. These interactions can last entire dives and with their inquisitive nature, I found myself in underwater heaven, loudly laughing through my regulator on numerous occasions.
The pups antics include, turning upside down while holding on to your fins with their teeth, in an effort to pull them off. Coming up behind you and pulling at your regulator hose (or in my case my pony tail) and if you’re lucky, playing a game of underwater paper, rock, scissors.
The population ranges from one hundred and fifty in winter to three hundred in summer and can have up to 70 pups per year. Most pups being born from May till July. While the pups and adult females are happy to come visit and play, the role of the dominant male is to protect his family, acting much like a bouncer, patroling his territory by blowing bubbles and barking underwater. Adult males are darker than the females and are much bigger, weighing in at up to 315kgs, so I thought it prudent to respect his wishes and give him the space he politely asks for.
They live from twenty to thirty years and feed on squid, anchovies, mackerel, rockfish and sardines. Watching them chasing fish around the sandy bottom of the island was also a delight. Accommodation and dive packages are available through the Cortez Club who get you back to your hotel in plenty of time to indulge in one of the best Margarita’s you are likely to taste.
Saturday 24th August
The beach of Eidenbukta on the western coast of Spitsbergen was our chosen landing sight for the afternoon. Our initial plan to visit the Walrus at a site further north was hampered by the strong winds and a distinct lack of Walrus, reported to us from our sister ship Plancius! Eidenbukta is a sheltered bay surrounded by glaciated mountains. The beach leads into a landscape shaped with glacial moraine mounds and many people compared this sight to a moonscape.
Of particular interest was the amount of driftwood that had collected on this beach. My colleague Katja was quick to point out that this wood that had been worked. There was no braches and they were very uniform in shape – these were logs that had been felled and stripped. But they definitely weren’t from here, no trees can grow this far north. In-fact these logs had floated here all the way from northern Russia, where they had entered the sea from rivers and become caught in the trans-Arctic current. Logging companies use rivers to transport large rafts of such logs downstream and these logs we were seeing in Spitsbergen were the escapees.
Sunday 25th August
It was an extremely rare moment, being able to stare across an expanse of ocean and think to oneself: this is how it must have been, before the days of commercial whaling and mass exploitation. This was the one and only occasion I have ever had such a thought.
Witnessing a stretch of ocean so rich with energy was a joy. The ship had just begun its crossing from the Northwest coast of Spitsbergen to the Northeast coast of Greenland. Leaving the Polar bears of Hamiltonbukta behind, we were steaming across the productive shelf waters of the Arctic Ocean and enjoying an ocean surface bustling with activity.
It kicked off with White-beaked dolphin sightings. These rapid little marine mammals darted in and out of the water with a real sense of playfulness about them. Next came the Minke whales in the distance and Fin whales too. It got to the stage that every which direction you turned there would be a leaping dolphin or a whale blow. Port, starboard, off the tip of the bow and the stern, everywhere there was some form of marine life relishing the productivity of the Arctic Ocean in summer. Towards the horizon I watched a whale breach three times in a row, it was too far to identify but nevertheless a whale breaching is always a sight to appreciate. The comical puffins in their fidgety flight entertained us above. Puffins are my favourite birds; their mannerisms never fail to make me smile. Happiness was what I felt as I watched all this life thriving.
Monday 26th August
This is one of two days we will spend at sea as we steam towards Northeast Greenland. The conditions are being kind to us and despite the visibility being quite poor, which means spotting marine mammals is difficult, the sea is relatively calm. While at sea I tend to have jobs to keep me busy and indeed there was dive gear and dive logistics to organise. But for me sea days are a great way to learn more about the passengers on-board and hear their interesting and quirky stories. At lunch today I listened to one Dutch passenger recount to me how he had been employed at the age of 69 as a Cheesemaster, travelling around the whole of Germany in his mobile home, selling cheese. Another lady from Las Vegas told me all about an amazing glass ceiling created by an artist in one of Vegas’ casinos. This is the only casino she will go to in Vegas because of this wonderful ceiling and the conservatory, which changes is floral display five times a year at a cost of millions of dollars. The officers on the Bridge recounted to me their most terrifying sea ordeals. While the second officer’s tale was of a heavily laden ship struggling to surface from the trough of a wave in the Barents Sea, the third officer proceeded to show me pictures of his ordeal off the coast of Brazil as mammoth waves smashed across the deck of the huge cargo ship. “When the crew are on their knees praying, that’s when you know you’re in trouble”, he said. A ship is full of stories and finding them is one of the pleasures of being at sea.