After having sailed north over the course of the night, we woke this morning inside Loreto Bay National Park. On board National Geographic Venture before that morning’s sunrise, we saw a small group of bottlenose dolphins coursing in the open waters between Carmen and Montserrat Islands. The cloudless sky and the light breeze made for yet another superb day exploring the Sea of Cortez.
In search of wildlife, we sailed off the eastern shore of Carmen Island, the largest of the five islands comprising the conservation zone that was established by the Mexican government more than 20 years earlier. Carmen Island serves also as a game reserve. We spotted a few desert bighorn sheep up in the hills, from which we had a clear view of several males and a females. The sheep are not native to the island. However, a small population was introduced in the ‘90s, and without a check from predators in place, this population has grown substantially over time. Several hundred individuals occupy Carmen Island today. To mitigate over-population, hunters are permitted to take them as game at certain times of year, making a small dent on the flourishing population.
A few miles offshore, we found a huge number of brown pelicans and other sea birds busying themselves over a feeding frenzy. The dolphins in the area seemed to be driving the small schooling fish—most likely sardines—to the surface, where the birds were then able to scoop them up from the sea surface. It was a pure maelstrom of wings, beaks, and splashes out there, which made for excellent photography.
Several hundreds of pelicans waited their turn in a tight group, while many of their colleagues plunged into the middle of the cluster in seemingly suicidal dives. Dolphins swam all around and periodically approached to check us out. What a fantastic display of marine life, and all before today’s brunch!
We spent the afternoon at the park’s Danzante Island. There we started out with water-led activities of snorkeling, kayaking, and stand-up paddle boarding. Snorkelers saw quite a variety of sea stars, including the Bradley’s, Panamic cushion, tan, pyramid, crown-of-thorns, Gulf’s sun as well as the appropriately named chocolate-chip star. Hikers scaled their way to admire a terrific view of the park from the highest peaks, thus concluding a truly enjoyable day of exploration in the Sea of Cortez