In Search of Humpbacks, Dolphins and Mantas

The main reason for coming to Mexico in January was to take a boat out to the Revillagigedo Islands and dive with humpback whales, dolphins and giant oceanic mantas. We were rewarded just one hour after leaving the safety of the marina at San Jose del Cabo on the southern tip of Baja California Sur:

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A friendly Mexican wave from our first humpback. Sadly he was one of the few we saw and only on the surface from the boat.

After a pretty calm overnight crossing, we arrived at the volcanic San Benedicto. Two of our fellow divers had drone cameras and got some amazing footage of the crater, but you’ll just have to make do with the same view as we got on arrival.

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The scenery above the water was spectacular, but underneath we were treated to a magical couple of dives with dolphins:

I had never experienced this before and it is how it should be. The dolphins chose to come and play with us and they decided when they’d had enough and swam away. In the marina at San Jose del Cabo, tourists can pay to swim with dolphins trapped in a pool, separated from their natural environment by a fence. Is that right?

After the two dolphin dives the captain, took the boat to Socorro Island. It was a pretty calm overnight trip, but in the morning the skies were grey and it all looked a little ominous. We had two rather uneventful dives, apart from this lovely octopus:

I could spend hours watching octopus change colours and textures, transforming themselves to become part of their surroundings. Amazing creatures – most definitely in my top 10.

When we surfaced the storm had begun, so the third dive was cancelled and we watched Socorro Island dissolve into the ocean – there were torrents of mud gushing down the cliffs into the sea, turning it from blue to brown. Axel, who had been diving Socorro for 17 years had never seen anything like it. It was an amazing sight:

We sheltered for the night at Socorro, thanking our lucky stars that we weren’t unprotected in the middle of the ocean like some of the other dive boats. The next day the storm was over, the skies had cleared, so we went diving on the other side of the island, away from all the mud. Whether it was the change in the salinity of the sea or because of the supermoon, it appeared that all the large marine life had vanished. We were left to entertain ourselves with a little aqua aerobics class:

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The odd manta ray and hammerhead shark were spotted but off in the distance. We focused instead on smaller creatures on the reef and Pash found this lovely peacock flounder:

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Next up was a trip to Roca Partida, famous for large gatherings of white-tip reef sharks, mantas and schools of hammerhead sharks. We were really in remote territory. It took 10 hours to get to the “island” which was about 50 metres by 20 metres and covered in “Mexican snow” courtesy of the Brown Boobies that used it as a day perch.

No mantas, no hammerheads. Lots of white-tip reef sharks and a few tuna, big schools of snapper and tuna but frustratingly short of the really large pelagics that the Revillagigedos are famous for.

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So with no humpback whales and a couple of quiet days, we all had our fingers and toes crossed for the final day at San Benedicto’s famous site – El Boiler. We were rewarded with a fabulous display from 4 or 5 great oceanic manta rays that seem to love playing with divers’ bubbles. These gentle giants can reach up to 7 metres across, but they soar like birds – so beautiful to watch. They each have unique markings on their underside like a fingerprint, which scientists use to identify them and track their movements. Most of them are black and white, with varying amounts of each colour. One was almost completely black and strangely had an all white remora clinging to him. The remora keep the mantas clean by removing their parasites and loose flakes of skin.

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And that’s me on the right:

The return to San Jose del Cabo was a calm, flat 26 hours with a few seabirds and lots of dolphins accompanying us at times. One red-footed booby hitched an overnight ride for part of the trip – when it left us it probably had quite a long flight home!

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