It’s thrilling to watch common Baja dolphins from the bow on a Mexico Cruise as they are pushed along by the pressure wave of a small cruise ship as it plies the water’s of Baja California’s Sea of Cortez. Both at the bow and at the wake there can be excellent opportunities for photographs. This species of dolphin is exquisitely marked, with a light-colored, oblong patch on the lower front of their body and a saddle-like dark area below their curved dorsal fin. An exceptionally large one could be over 7 feet long and weigh up to 450 pounds, but most are much lighter. These animals are superb athletes that can jump over 21 feet, higher than any other kind of dolphin. They occur throughout the world, but Baja California’s Sea of Cortez is an especially convenient and scenic place to find them, whether taking a vacation on a small Baja Mexico cruise ship or traveling by ferry. One can watch dozens of leaping dolphins within the deep blue water against the rugged backdrop of the Baja Peninsula.
Generalizing about their life histories can be misleading, because they have been split into two species, the short-beaked and long-beaked common dolphin. There is another form in the Indian Ocean. Most of the Sea of Cortez dolphins are the long-beaked species. Their diets differ by season and location. They can dive to depths of over 600 feet where, in some parts of their range, they feed on squid, lantern fish, and deep-sea smelt. They are often found by the thousands in spring and summer in the Gulf of California when sardines and other schooling fish build to exceptionally high numbers. These feeding aggregations may be one of the most exciting occurrences in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. Hundreds of pelicans, boobies, and terns repeatedly plunge-dive into the moving schools of fish and dolphins. Bryde’s or fin whales may also be there taking a share as they weave through the churning mass. The long jaws of the Baja dolphins hold about 200 pointed teeth, more than any other toothed whale. These help them grab and bolt down small fish. Calving occurs in both January to February and again in May after a gestation period of 10 to11 months. Weaning takes place about 5 to 6 months later. Calves can often be seen swimming next to their mothers just behind the widest part of her body. Here they draft in the slipstream and can save 30-60% of their swimming energy. This must be very helpful when being chased by killer whales or other predators or when fleeing the nets of tuna boats in the open Pacific. Life expectancy has been estimated to be about 22 years.
None of this gives even a hint at the incredible beauty of these creatures. They can sometimes be seen gliding three to five abreast in the clear water of an oncoming sea as they head for a ship. When they swim alongside, their sleek, streamlined bodies sometimes break the surface, transcribe perfect arcs, pierce the water and disappear.