Whale cut from net in Sea of Cortez

While rescuers search for the seven missing people who were aboard a boat that capsized in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez over the weekend, these waters are filled with more than tragedy. I stumbled upon this video of a whale being cut from a hunting net and set free and I couldn’t help but share. Members of the Great Whale Conservatory happened upon this trapped humpback whale in the Sea of Cortez. The whale-lovers cut the net off of the whale on the spot. Although it took some time, they came out of the experience with a happy and healthy whale as well as some excellent footage.

I visited the Sea of Cortez myself in March of 2009. I spent the day lounging with Sea Lions and watching dolphins follow our boat. I thought the sea was beautiful, serene and unmistakable. Watching this video of this whale rescue has completely made my day.

Los Cabos’ famed Arch experiences infrequent natural phenomenon

Every four to seven years, the tide surrounding the iconic Arch of Los Cabos (El Arco) recedes to reveal a pristine, white sand beach. This natural phenomenon is happening today in Los Cabos. If you’re in the area, stop by and check it out!

Located in the region deemed “Lands End,” the southernmost tip of the Baja California peninsula, this arch is a popular destination for travelers looking to take scenic photographs. The swirling mix of blue and green waters mark the junction between the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez.

Photo Courtesy of Ale Delao

Finding the Holy Spirit in Baja: A park is born

Roughly twenty miles off the coast from the Baja town of La Paz lies a desert island no more than ten miles long and four miles wide. For centuries the locals have fished the bountiful waters surrounding Isla Espiritu Santo, or Island of the Holy Spirit. Scores of grouper, snapper, and a variety of fish in the jack family are snagged by locals and visitors daily. However, in recent years, tourists have been flocking to the island not just to fish but to kayak, snorkel, and photograph the diverse array of wildlife that it contains. Up until 2003, there was little regulation for any of the activities taking place on Espiritu Santo and it’s surrounding islands and islets. The tourists that visit, and those that fish the waters, are still trying to come to grips with the island’s new found fame.

According to The Nature Conservancy the island was purchased from the Ejido Bonfil community and then turned over to Mexico. It was designated as a protected area in 1978; the Mexican government acquired the island in 2003. Although all the islands making up this archipelago are now a national park, management resources are scarce.

Spending a week camped out in a sandy bay, I had the opportunity to meet someone with a passion for what happens to this beautiful place, a local guide named Miguel. According to him, as of last year, only two rangers were patrolling the coastline of this 23,383 acre island. As we paddled together throughout the week, I learned more on why the island is struggling.

Large scale commercial fishing is not allowed. Long netting, a form of dredging, is now strictly prohibited as well. Local fishermen have had a tough time coping with the new regulations being passed down to them. As hard as it may be to believe many of these people have no experience with a fishing pole and are using the arduous method of hand-lining to maintain a living. Hand-lining involves dropping a baited hook overboard and pulling a fish in on the line with no rod or reel. After trying this method I can vouch that hand-lining is a tough chore on the hands to say the least.

According to Miguel, the lack of information from authorities initially led to misunderstandings. The fishing community was not exactly pleased with the changes being made when the island went under the wing of the government. Rules included restrictions on certain popular species such as parrot fish. Although dropping explosives in the water or “dynamiting” is outlawed and a thing of the past, fishermen can still be found pushing the limits of the law. Fish are encircled by boats to create a bait ball which makes them easier targets.
Fishermen are allowed to stay overnight on the island in designated spots called “fisherman shacks.” They can use nets to catch bait fish only. Since most fishing boats are equipped with nets and regulation is slim, it is uncertain how many stick to the strictly “bait only” rule for netting.

Although fishing regulations were the main management issue at first, the new threat to Espirtu’s land and waters is unchecked tourism. On Los Islotes, an islet resting just off the rocky shores of Isla Partida, Espiritu’s northern neighbor, the sea lions sun bathe most of the day, awaiting their nocturnal hunt. Snorkeling with these graceful swimmers is a treat for visitors. These dog-like sea mammals dart in and out of underwater grottos, play with starfish and shells, and encircle the odd looking human insurgents to get a better look. While visiting this islet, our snorkel group was not alone. Another tourist boat anchored nearby and within minutes a few of the passengers were on the shore, ignoring the rule that tourists must stay 50 feet away at all times.
In summer, when La Paz receives its annual influx of Mexican and European tourists, the island’s shores become overrun. “There have been times when it was so crowded we couldn’t find a place to anchor when we pulled up to see the sea lions,” Miguel told me. Despite these growing pains park attendance continues to soar, and for good reason. The island’s shores are home to one of the most biologically diverse bodies of water on our planet.

Next: Darwin would be proud (Part 2)

A new twist on Spring Break at Las Animas

Trade those tequila body-shots for a more serene scene at the Las Animas Wilderness Retreat. This is the only boat-in lodge on the Sea of Cortez in Baja, Mexico, and it is getting ready to redefine “spring break.” Keg-standing coeds are in short supply, but regular wildlife is not. Hiking and snorkeling are among the activities that will bring you back to nature in a relaxing environment.

If you’re interested in nature, you’ll find three orders of marine birds – arctic, temperate and tropical in the Las Animas area, as well as more than 50 species, including Blue Footed Boobies, Brown Pelicans, Royal Terns, Frigate Birds, Cormorants, Turkey Vultures and Osprey. While the animals are plenty, people are not. The remote, eco-friendly resort accommodates no more than 16 guests in eight beachside yurts. Each has a solar shower, covered patio and hammock.

Fishermen witness dolphin “stampede”

Fishing is one of those activities that’s tailor-made for relaxing. Sure, there’s some action involved when you finally hook a fish on the line, but until then there’s pretty much nothing to do except sit back and relax. That was not the case however for a group of fishermen on a recent expedition in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. The group was out cruising when they came across a pod of dolphins and somebody pulled out a camera to record the scene.

The video clip starts with a few playful dolphins lunging out of the water. Around :35 or so into the clip the anglers are witness to an incredible sight as literally hundreds of dolphins begin lunging themselves out of the water at a frenzied pace. It’s a surprisingly beautiful and amazing sight. Even if these guys never ended up catching anything on this particular trip, I think they probably went home quite happy.