Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Mantas Sharks and Boobies at the Revillagegidos

                                                            Giant Pacific Manta Ray

I have just returned from an amazing trip on the Solmar V to the Revillagegidos Islands.
We spent 9 days navigating and exploring the very special archipelago consisting of Isla San Benidicto, Isla Socorro and Roca Pardida.
 Being in the best place in the world to dive with giant Manta Rays we were definitely not disappointed.
Conditions were good with 70 to 80 feet of visibility and clear sunny skies.

                                                                 Isla San Benidicto

These volcanic islands not only provide very dramatic vistas above the surface but even more incredible bottom topography with bizarre rock formations, boulder fields and deep canyons. Being located in open pelagic waters these islands are surrounded by strong currents that attract a very rich and diverse ecosystem.

   Like a pile of puppies, these White tip Reef sharks sleep on ledges in the walls of Roca Partida

Many species of sharks are found here such as Hammerheads, Silky, Black tip, White Tip, Galapagos,
Whale sharks and the occasional Tiger shark.
However the main attraction for most divers are the friendly Manta Rays.

There is a huge population of these very social and intelligent creatures with the highest concentration found at Isla San Benidicto.

Manta Rays actually seem to enjoy the company of most divers. They will approach divers and pose for photos. They are also known to enjoy a divers bubbles and position themselves right above the diver to get a belly bubble massage. It is quite common to have several Mantas soaring around and through the entire group of divers. If you are really lucky you can be in the right place to watch them feed. They will find a cloud of plankton and begin to loop around and around with their mouths wide open scooping up thousands of microscopic critters. These beautiful creatures are hands down one of the most graceful animals on this planet. They normally seem to just soar like giant birds in the sky but they can also attain great speeds in short bursts. This speed and maneuverability is there only defense against predators.

                              Manta Ray with a school of Big Eyed Jacks in tight formation.

The Revillagegidos archipelago is also a very important sea bird nesting area. The dominant bird species being the Brown Boobie. These Boobies are also very social and seem to be genuinely interested in all the "goings on" the boat and below the surface. They will line the handrails all around the boat watching all the activities topside and then they will also be floating on the surface of the water holding there heads underwater looking down at all of the subsea action. It is really funny to look up at the surface and see all of these eyes and beaks looking down at you. At one point during a safety stop I had 15 little faces looking down and intently watching me decompressing. You just have to laugh, it is really funny to be under such intense scrutiny from these expert flying/divers.

Brown Boobie

The only low point of the trip was finding an illegal fishing vessel laying out 6 miles of long line only 4 miles from Isla San Benidicto. The Solmar V owner Jose Luis Sanchez and the captain decided that we should go out and try to stop or at least document the poaching infraction. We sent the pangas out with the passenger/divers to continue normal operations and then set out to intercept the poacher vessel. We located the marker out at one end of the long line and followed all the way to the fishing vessel. When we got within a mile of the vessel the poachers dropped the line and sped away. We gave chase and caught up them after a 45 minute pursuit. Eventually we were able to contact the captain of the poacher vessel and explained to him that he was fishing in protected waters and that we were going to report his activities to the authorities (Mexican Navy). The offending captain gave us some BS story that he as hungover and had passed out and was not under command of his ship and that his crew had mistakingly set the line within the boundaries of the reserve. He then stated that he would remove the line and leave the protected area.
We decided to document the event with video and photos and allow him to remove the gear and depart.
However he refused to remove the gear until we left the area. He did not want us to film him catching any sharks apparently. We decided that it would be better to get the line out of the water than to stay there and argue with this sorry excuse for a captain.
Besides it was getting dark and we had divers still out on the pangas. So we left him to recover the gear unobserved. We could see that indeed he followed the line all the way back to the first bouy and then disappeared over the horizon. The protected area extends out only 12 miles from the islands. However this vessel was only 4 miles from the island. We have sent our photos and video of the incident to the Mexican Navy command in Cabo San Lucas. However I doubt that there will be much follow up regarding this case. But if I hear any news I will pass it along.


Battle for survival at South East Farallon Island

The Ultimate Shark Dive