Very early in the morning, National Geographic Venture anchored at Los Frailes, immediately south of the Cabo Pulmo National Park. Not long afterwards, a glorious sunrise that painted the sky in reds and oranges presented us with the elusive green flash, an optical phenomenon where the first rays of the rising sun, or the last rays of the setting sun, are refracted and bent by the atmosphere. A pure green blip can be observed by those of us with the patience and dedication to look for it. The clean skies of the Sea of Cortez are ideal, and many nonbelievers are transformed there. After breakfast, we boarded local pangas that took us to explore the wonderful national park. Snorkelers had a great time looking at the healthy coral reefs and the large variety of fish, including several different species of damsels, parrotfish, wrasses, and many more. They also spotted the occasional sea turtle and California sea lion, which delighted many. Those who chose to stay dry got to see different parts of the area and observed humpback whales as well as sea lions basking on the rocks. Cabo Pulmo National Park is a very special place with an interesting story. It was created by the Mexican government in 1995 by petition of conservationists and researchers, but most importantly, by the local families who decided to stop fishing and protect the reef in front of their small community. After a few hard years of trying to make a living without commercial fishing and really enforcing the protection mandate of the area, local residents are now the proud custodians of what scientific researchers consider the most successfully protected marine area in the world, with an astonishing 463% rebound of fish biomass!
After leaving Los Frailes, we headed north towards Cerralvo Island. The southernmost island of the peninsula of Baja California, Cerralvo is located in a rich part of the Sea of Cortez that is famous for its abundant sportfish and mobula ray populations. We soon found proof of that, and we spent the whole afternoon watching as rays jumped several feet out of the water and showed the tips of their fins above the surface. We also encountered a couple large groups of bottlenose dolphins and had a wonderful time watching them as they followed the ship, rode the pressure wave in front of the bow, and jumped high out of the water. But the day had one final, marvelous, black-and-white surprise for us…killer whales! Several females and at least one younger individual slowly swam in the channel between Cerralvo Island and the peninsula, allowing us to follow until after sunset. What a wonderful way to finish an extraordinary day exploring the Sea of Cortez!
IMAGE: A school of porkfish at the Cabo Pulmo National Park, Baja California Sur. Photo by Carlos Navarro