As a wildlife enthusiast, a trip to Baja California was like a dream come true. I travelled aboard the comfortable Seabird; a 62 passenger vessel, but I was one of just 50 passengers onboard. We voyaged deep into the Sea of Cortez in the Californian Gulf, departing from La Paz and heading north to the infrequently visited Midriff Islands.
Finding ourselves surrounded by 30 odd Sperm Whales has to be one of the major highlights of the trip, with the onboard hydrophone we could eavesdrop on their conversations as they swam within a few meters of our vessel. The largest male was around 20 metres, a third of its length attributed to the enormous head. With an offset blowhole, wrinkly skin and cranial bump – it is one of the oddest looking whales. It was fascinating to hear the males making a noise like a huge metal door being shut with a clang, and learn that they can dive up to 1200 meters, the deepest of any of the Cetaceans.
This spectacle was preceded by a similar number of Pilot whales and Common Dolphin, the latter rode our bow wave, leaping and spinning in front of us in what appeared to be just for the sheer joy of life. We also encountered rays, sharks and sea turtles during our sea crossings.
On Isla Rasa, we watched thousands of Heerman’s Gulls and Elegant Terns which, in the early morning light, appeared to fly off the island in waves. In fact around 95% of the world’s bird population breed on this tiny island so there is a huge amount to take in. Peregrine falcons patrolling the cliff edges, scattering the birds in their wake, with Osprey’s feeding their chicks in a scrappy clifftop nest; this is a twitcher’s heaven.
Anchoring in the lee of Isla Los Islotes we slipped into the turquoise waters to swim with the curious and playful sea lions. They came right up to our masks, blowing bubbles, rolling and twisting in the waters all around us. Some lay on their backs on the sea bed eyeing us curiously while another swivelled around our anchor chain, all making for beautiful photographs.
In contrast to the blue seas the islands themselves are stark deserts; towering cardon cactus, spiny staghorn, barrel and prickly pear cacti along with elephant trees and mesquite dot the hillsides, harbouring Chukawalas and spiny-tailed lizards along with the rattleless rattlesnake.
This is a destination of contrast, with a huge amount to offer, which if visited during January to March is likely to offer great whale watching encounters, particularly with the friendly Gray Whales.