Sea of Cortez, Mexico & Isla Santa Catalina
After a bouncy night, we awoke to a beautiful morning in the “golden triangle,” the area between Islas Carmen, Danzante, and Monserrate, which is known to us as a great location for marine mammals. However, our first mammal of the morning turned out to be a land species...the desert bighorn sheep.
Sheep were introduced to Isla Carmen originally to provide hunters with the opportunity to hunt a major, rare game species. But now, the sheep have reproduced to the point that some are being transplanted back to the Baja Peninsula.
Then cetaceans appeared. Not too far away, long-beaked dolphins were leaping and milling around. We cruised toward them and soon where among the feeding dolphins. The sound of camera motor drives filled the air as thousands of pixels were recorded. Some of the photographers were lucky to capture the head end of the dolphins but many of us only got tails or lovely blue water.
The dolphins were eventually joined by endemic yellow-footed gulls, magnificent frigatebirds, and brown pelicans to enjoy the feeding frenzy.
Later on in the morning, we listened to Stewart Aitchison's talk about the geologic history of Baja and the Sea of Cortez. Someday millions of years in the future the 800-mile-long peninsula will probably be an island off the California coast.
After lunch we arrived at Isla Santa Catalina, an oceanic island, which means it was never connected to either mainland Mexico or the peninsula. Yet it contains a wide diversity of plants and animals, including the giant barrel cactus and rattleless rattlesnake. Some folks went snorkeling while others enjoyed a Zodiac cruise along the cliffs. Afterwards, we went ashore for a short nature walk before setting up for capturing the killer sunset photograph.
A few of the photographers stayed late to try their hand at “light painting,” which is the technique of using a flashlight to “paint” objects, in this case cactus and other desert objects, after dark. Even the National Geographic Sea Bird got into the act by using their bright searchlight to illuminate the Elephant Rock and the adjacent cliffs.
We finally returned to the ship for another delicious dinner, which was followed by a panel question and answer program starring our wonderful and entertaining photography team—Ralph Lee Hopkins, Bob Krist, Michael Melford, Gabriel Biderman, and David Brommer. A long but enjoyable day was had by all.