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Sea Lions of Los Islotes

It is 2 in the morning. Clunking sounds on the hull wake us. I volunteer to check – in our not-especially-roomy quarter berth I have to get out of bed to let Bjarne out anyway. From the deck in the starlit night I can hear snorts and catch glimpses of a couple of sea lions. It seems they are interested in our swim ladder, perhaps hoping to climb aboard. Figuring they aren't house-broken, I pull our ladder from the water. A pause to enjoy the night sky, so clear and vivid here in the Sea, shows the entire Big Dipper. It's a treat to see the whole thing as it hasn't been visible for some months in the early hours of the night. Perhaps this sounds strange but there is something comforting in seeing familiar groupings of stars – they kind of seem like old friends. Yawning, I report back and return to bed. Well, we did pick this anchorage for its proximity to a sea lion colony.

We had arrived at the small Ensenada El Embudo the previous afternoon from Isla San Francisco. On the way there, near Los Islotes the aforementioned sea lion colony, we were treated to the view of two very active whales. Whale breaching off Los Islotes Happily we were under sail at the time – we always figure they dislike engine noise even more than we do. The humpbacks were slapping fins and breaching, providing a great show, albeit a little far away for ideal viewing. Although the light winds had given us a slow sail, they made watching these awesome creatures easier and worked perfectly with our intentions for where to anchor. This most northern cove of Isla Partida is not ideal in strong winds but is nicely situated for a dinghy ride to Los Islotes in the right conditions. El Embudo is a pretty cove with a small sandy beach at the head. We cooled off with a snorkel along the south wall. The boulders were not very exciting and the water was chilly but we did find some critters we hadn't seen before. The neatest was the Panamic Fanged Blenny, about 6 or 8 inches long (we sure are enjoying our Reef Fish Identification: Baja to Panama book). That was all well and good but we were especially looking forward to our big trip to swim with the sea lions the next day.

View of El Embudo Anchorage from Beach Sea Lion leaping out of water High walls surrounding the cove delayed our sunrise, but the sky was a gentle pinky orange when we got up. Lo and behold! We still had company, and very active company it was! The sea lions were actually leaping out of the water. Bjarne grabbed his mask and snorkel and joined them. Not that he could imitate their airborne flips, but he did dive and play with them. Since we were going out to the colony that morning I decided I could wait until I was more awake before immersing myself in the cool water. It was pretty fun watching the show from the deck – and warmer! What a great way to start the day. Sea lion approaching Bjarne in water Two sea lions circling Bjarne

Approaching Los Islotes in dinghy After breakfast we embarked on the mile and a half ride to Los Islotes. We don't go especially fast with Stealth, our lovely electric engine, so that is a far distance for us to travel especially if sea conditions are rough. We brought the backup battery and other safety related items as we had to cross some open water, but weather and seas remained calm. Stealth did just fine.

Sea lion pulling a tight circleThere were fewer sea lions in the water than we had seen when we visited here aboard Nyon, but several did come by and play. It was incredible and sometimes breathtaking to have these sleek creatures swimming circles around us, very obviously taking notice and interacting. As with any wild animal, one needs to be cautious. We were especially wary of the large males who can be quite territorial and dangerous - the only ones we saw stayed plonked on the rocks. Sea lion with sun rays streaming downThe young ones could doubtless do some harm but seemed to be more curious and playful. We also found they were more interested in us if we dove and swam about rather than simply bobbing around like flotsam. They especially liked Bjarne because he can dive deeper and hold his breath longer than I can. Additionally, I suspect he doesn't flinch as much as I do when they come zooming in toward us, sometimes snapping their mouths shut in front of our faces before veering off at the last second. Those fish-snatching teeth look rather sharp. Bjarne has also had them blow bubbles in his face. The whole experience is very exciting; what a treat and privilege to interact with these delightful beings.

Sea lion face on close up Barb eyeing distant Sea lion Click here for a short video
...and the same thing, in slow-motion.

Barb immersed in school of fish Floating eggs Although sea lions are the main attraction in this marine park, we were surprised at how good the overall snorkelling was. The islets are in a protected area where fishing is not allowed and so compared to everywhere else we've been in the Sea so far, the fish were more abundant and larger. We have been hearing from long-time cruisers in this area that there is a great reduction in the amount of fish in the Sea of Cortez. Some conservation efforts are being made to improve this situation. For example, we have learned of a proposal to create artificial reefs by sinking boats (presumably ones nobody wants anymore!) on sea mounts. These areas attract and foster sea life, as well as appealing to divers. Even when the sea lions were ignoring us we had plenty to see here. Barberfish, Blue and Gold Snapper Barb and Bjarne floating in front of Los Islotes Yellowtail Surgeonfish Orange Coral Orange-bumped seastar

After a full morning of play, we dinghied back to Hoku Pa'a, smiling ear-to-ear and feeling uplifted by this wonderful experience.

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