Mobula Rays Don't Play Nice.   Leave a comment

We have just left the sleepy village of Cabo Pulmo which is at the end of a very bumpy ‘washboard’ dirt track in Baja California Sur.

We were there to shoot mobula rays but unfortunately mobulas do not like to be photographed. There were certainly plenty there to shoot (they were schooling in their thousands) but as soon as we slipped into the water they would descend as deep as they could and stop breaching until we were so exhausted from chasing them that we had to get back on the panga. Then, they would start jumping again a few hundred meters away. It was fantastic to be in the water with such an enormous biomass of animals moving below us in formation but utterly frustrating to not have the chance to get close enough to record the encounter. If I was a better free-diver I might have been able to swim around at 40 or 50 ft and nail the shot but breath hold diving is not one of my strong points. If anyone out there wants to try the same thing next season I have one piece of advice; bring a rebreather. I believe that it is the only tool that can really do the job. We did manage to take a few snap shots of them both breaching and some murky shots of them gliding by in the darkness but none that are print worthy.

While we were out on the panga we tracked a humpback for a while and shot some pretty tail pics and then swum with sea lions and played with a giant school of big eye jacks but all told it was meager pickings for jaded shark divers.

The highlight and most productive session in Cabo Pulmo came right on our door step. While snorkeling off the beach where we were camping we came across a very accommodating banded guitarfish. It picked up and swam a little at first but eventually it got used to the flashes and let me shoot frame after frame. The pics are some of the best I have of this ray.

Camping on the beach outside town was a great way to start this adventure. There were no ‘facilities’ so it was a big change from crewing and living on a megayacht! All went well until I drove a little too close to the sea and my VW camper van got bogged down. After much wheel spinning things went from bad to worse. I’ve played this game on ice and snow but I’ve never been stuck in sand before. Unlike snow, sand just gets deeper. We started digging and thought we were making progress but the wheels continued to spin and then I realized that the wheels were no longer touching. We had sunk so low that the floor pan of the van was sitting on the sand! After about an hour more digging and a push from some passers by we finally managed to reverse back onto the hard pack. It was a tense couple of hours!

Claire digging us out (I helped too)

A VW shaped hole in Los Frailles beach!

North of Cabo Pulmo we tried navigating another dirt road and almost exactly the same thing happened but this time we were able to get a tow from a passing truck. Kimberley currency (cold beer) got us out of that fix.

I don’t think that VW had this kind of off roading in mind when they came up with the Eurovan! Fortunately, what goes around comes around and we were able to squeeze a family of six onto the bed in the back of the van to give them a lift into Cabo Pulmo when their rental car broke down. My van (which is missing a bushing on the front axle) groaned and clanked most of the way but we finally arrived in the village in one piece.

Next stop will be the artesanal shark fishing camps north of La Paz (along another dirt road). We’re not sure what reception we will get or how much we’ll be able to communicate with the fishermen in our rudimentary Spanish. Hopefully they will let us accompany them on their fishing trips but more about this in the next update.

Since we posted this blog about the trip we have had many emails from friends old and new asking when we will be in each area. It’s great to know that we will have the chance to catch up with so many people and we’re looking forward to every encounter. Unfortunately it is really tricky to estimate exactly when we’ll get to the next town let alone when we’ll be in Miami or Massachusetts! But, don’t let that put you off if you want to catch up with us. we’re going to cram as much diving and socializing into this tour as we physically can.

It now looks like we will get a chance to go out with a Mexican researcher on the Pacific coast of Baja that works with smoothhound sharks. We also got an invite to socialize with shark tagging veteran Walter Heim and maybe hunt for sevengills in San Diego. That would be amazing if we can pull it off.

Sean Van Sommeran of PSRF up in Elkhorn Slough also agreed to give us the skinny on Gray Smoothhounds where he conducts his research so our west coast agenda is looking fantastic.

A quick thank you to our friends in Cabo Pulmo: Muchas Gracias Javier and Juan for trying everything they could think of to help us get the mobula shots. If anyone wants to take up the gauntlet and carry on where we left off, these brothers will get you to the mobulas. The rest is up to you. You can contact Javier at: he says Fidel is his uncle but I didn’t notice a resemblance.

For the sharks,

Andy Murch

Shark Pictures

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