Early dawn found National Geographic Venture off the coast of the Cabo Pulmo region. The reefs of this area were our snorkeling destination for the morning. We were in for a bit of a surprise when the panga captain and our guide shouted, “Ballena con cria,” and a mother humpback and her calf surfaced just outside the reef. We watched the calf breaching with what can only be called the exuberance of youth for the next half hour.

We dropped on our first dive spot and drifted over the reef system with the current. Soft corals flexed their colored branches in the current, whereas the stony corals stood fast. This area is a conservation success story about how an ecosystem can rebound when given a chance. Overfishing of the area had disrupted nutrient flow and energy production in the reef system. With protection initiated by the local community, reserve boundaries were established. Fish populations rebounded, and the health of the reef slowly improved. Today we saw what a healthy reef system looks like with a diversity of fish, corals and invertebrates.

Gorda Banks put on a full display of the behavior of humpback whales: breaching, tail-lobbing and fluke-slapping were observed. A hammerhead shark graced us with its presence. Just below the surface, it swam across the bow of National Geographic Venture.

The softening light caused the color palette of the land and seascape to shift, signaling the coming of dusk and the closing of a special day.