Cruising Off Magdalena Bay

Feb 01, 2019 - National Geographic Venture


After sailing north overnight from Land’s End in Cabo San Lucas, we woke up in front of Santa Margarita Island. This is one of several islands that comprise, together with the peninsula of Baja California, the very large Magdalena Bay. Geologically speaking, it is distinct from the rest of the peninsula. It originated thousands of miles off west some 50 million years before the volcanic eruptions that formed the mountainous backbone of Baja California began. In addition, as it traveled east, riding on the Pacific (tectonic) Plate, it collided with the North American Plate and was “stuck,” forming what geologists today call an exotic terrane. Portions of its northern neighbor Magdalena Island are exotic terranes as well, eventually forming to create Magdalena Bay as we know it today.

The waters off Magdalena Bay are very productive and abundant in marine life. We watched several humpback whales, groups of California sea lion, and numerous birds shortly after sunrise. However, sailing the open ocean is like traveling through an immense desert, with huge areas seemingly devoid of life. But just as you start thinking that you are alone in such moments, an oasis reveals itself—big time.

We encountered an enormous group of long-beaked common dolphins, followed by sea birds, including magnificent frigate birds, boobies, pink-footed shearwaters, brown pelicans, and an assortment of gulls. We enjoyed watching and photographing for a good while as the dolphins completely surrounded us! Many of these dolphins went out of their way to ride the pressure wave off the bow, and many more followed us along the port and starboard sides of our ship. A good number of them had foot-long remoras attached to them, and one could only speculate as to the true number of pictures taken over it!

More photographs were shot of several masked and Nazca boobies, which repeatedly flew very close to our bow, sometimes just a few feet from our heads. What a great show! We later had time to attend to some lectures in the lounge about National Geographic’s Crittercam. There was Mexican food, talks on the local geology, and even a mezcal tasting! Finally, the first gray whales of the trip were spotted, and we got to watch them trail closely beside our ship.

All in all, a perfect end for a great day at sea!

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About the Author

Carlos Navarro

Undersea Specialist

Carlos J. Navarro is a biochemist specializing in marine biology, a M. Sc. in Environmental Management and a freelance wildlife photographer/author. Carlos has spent most of the last 30 years living along the shores of the Sea of Cortez and participating in numerous scientific, conservation and environmental education projects on the vaquita, marine invertebrates, sea birds, great white sharks, baleen whales, jaguars and crocodiles. Carlos’ six years of jaguar research provided the basis of ONCA MAYA, a non-profit organization dedicated to jaguar conservation based in Cancun, of which he is a founding member and still serves as a scientific advisor. He loves being underwater, either free-diving or using SCUBA gear and have had the chance to explore the underwater realms of Alaska, Mexico, Svalbard, the trans-Atlantic ridge islands, the Caribbean and both coasts of South America from Panama to Chile and Brazil to Argentina. 

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