Los Islotes and San Francisco

Feb 11, 2019 - National Geographic Venture

A pink and blossoming sunrise over the clement waters of the Cortez Sea this morning assured the best possible conditions for snorkeling with sea lions at Los Islotes. Several in the group said this was what they booked for—and not a single one of them left disappointed.

Los Islotes is one of three islands that comprise the Espiritu Santo Island-Complex Biosphere Reserve. Within a few minutes of entering the water the playful pups and curious adult females were dancing and darting around us from all directions.  What a humbling experience it is to be able to share the water with such an amicable species.

Grace is not the first thing that comes to mind when observing these specimens when ashore. They waddle, they loaf, they bark without rest. Beneath the water’s surface, however, they come alive. We found ourselves enveloped in the undersea buzz of sea lions coming at us from all angles. Soaring above it all were endemic yellow-footed gulls, blue-footed boobies, and brown pelicans. Words struggle to capture such experiences.

The pups were certainly the most spirited of the group. At times they would race at us, flying through the water, contorting effortlessly, making a beeline for our faces, only to take a quick nip at our masks and dart away just as quickly. Circles, backflips, twists, and glides are just a few of the maneuvers that these sea lions exhibit.

At one point a guest had lost the mouth piece to her snorkel, only to realize moments later that one of the pups had already made off with it. Staff took care to retrieve the piece once the pup lost interest, but only after the pup did his rounds showing off the acquisition to his playmates.

What a gift it is to be able to share this rich and diverse ecosystem with these magnificent creatures in such an intimate setting!

In the afternoon we enjoyed a variety of activities. After anchoring in the idyllic Half-Moon Bay, some of us got a second snorkel in for the day while others went ashore at Isla San Francisco. Some chose hiking over the ridge to get a view of the greater bay area. Others stayed near shore to explore the beaches and tide pools. We were all back aboard in time to take in a crimson sunset to close out our day.

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About the Author

Sean Neilson


The summer after Sean graduated from college, he waited tables in Yellowstone to delay entering “the real world”. It was there, in the unending beauty of such a special place, where he realized the natural world was the real world—and it had captured him.

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