The Sea Lions at Los Islotes

December 2, 2012

Snorkeling with Sea Lions

Snorkeling with Sea Lions

From Bahia San Gabriel, it was a smooth run up to the north end of Isla Partida and a tiny anchorage in El Embudo, a v-shaped cove with barely swinging room for the two of us – but protected enough in the wind and swell for us to overnight.

It was a short dinghy ride out to Los Islotes, a dramatic rocky outcropping consisting of two islets connected by an exposed reef, and home to a rookery for California Sea Lions. The Mexican Park Service has mooring balls set just offshore for pangas and dinghies, so we tied up and Colin, Margy, and I jumped in and snorkeled toward the reef.

We were soon joined by sea lions – large and small – who circled and glided around us, seemingly just as curious about us as we were about them. The young ones were playing like puppies up on the rocks…then they’d all slide in at once and chase each other around, pausing to investigate us before gliding off.

They seem to almost fly through the water, their flippers like wings, and they are as graceful in the water as they are clumsy on land. Even so, we were amazed to see mothers with their pups perched high up on the rocks, making us wonder at the drive for privacy that would make them struggle so to get up the cliff.

Apparently, tour boats and visiting cruisers have stopped there so often that they don’t seem to mind at all when snorklers poke around their habitat. And while the sea lions seem to have laid claim to the exposed reef and shelf, the sea birds have dominion over the tops of the islets. From a distance, Los Islotes look like they are frosted with snow, with pelicans, gulls, terns, and cormorants sharing the upper spaces.

The fish life was also incredible, with angelfish and butterfly fish as big as dinner plates, two or three kinds of parrot fish, trigger fish, and damselfish, and swarms of bait fish that move in the water like autumn leaves in a stiff breeze, drifting and swirling in the current.

When one of the currents of bait fish swirled by, perhaps the most fascinating thing to me besides being stared in the face by a 6-foot, 200-pound sea lion in its own habitat was watching a cormorant dive and swim under water, passing 20 feet under me to feed! Amazingly, they use their wings the same way underwater as they use them in the air, quite literally flying in the depths.

Words fail me at describing the power of the experience – I recognized that I was a visitor in the sea lions’ home, so was respectful and kept my distance from the shelf. But when a particularly large one came within three feet of me and rolled over on its side to give me a good long look, every hair on the back of my neck stood up. It wasn’t fear so much as it was the feeling of being recognized and accepted as a stranger.

When we got back to the boat, we zipped in to the beach to explore a bit, and decided that dinner would be hot dogs on the beach, grilled on a charcoal grill Dale and Linda left aboard. So Colin and Margy joined us for grilled dogs, salad, and gin and tonics on the beach while the sun set. Then it dawned on us – none of us had brought any kind of light, and boy, out here in the wilds of true desert islands, there is no ambient light!

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