Photo of Panamic Green Moray Eel, Gymnothorax castaneus
While I was in Mexico’s beautiful Sea of Cortez doing some diving last November, I spent time photographing the Panamic Green Moray eels (Gymnothorax castaneus). These eels are quite common, often found underneath large boulders and overhangs. They are typically content to remain in their holes, extending just their heads outside, but once in a while they will swim freely across the reef and only then is their large size easily seen. These are big eels!
Los Islotes is a small island at the northern end of Isla Espiritu Santo, near La Paz in the Sea of Cortez. Espiritu Santo Island and Partida Island are two beautiful desert islands, scalloped with gorgeous white sand beaches. Bird nest on their rugged slopes, and cardon cacti grow in abundance. All three of these islands are part of the Espiritu Santo Biosphere Reserve, named a UNESCO Biosphere due to the area’s biodiversity and beauty. I have had the good fortune to cruise along both shores of Espiritu Santo and Partida but most of my time has been spent at Isla Los Islotes, diving and relaxing. These waters are full of many Sea of Cortez fishes, and Los Islotes itself is home to a renowned colony of California Sea Lions (Zalophus californianus). I am a real lover of sea lions and fur seals, and spend as much time diving with them as I can, so when I am at Los Islotes I basically ignore all else and just enjoy my time with these gregarious and charming animals. Here are a few recent photos of Los Islotes, the sea lions, Isla Partida and Isla Espiritu Santo. Thanks for looking!
Of the few people who actually dive at Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe) (sorry, cage dives don’t count!) only a fraction will dive on the rugged, exposed, weather side of the island. There, not far from the “west anchorage”, lies a secret complex of arches and large underwater caves. The arches we have named Los Arcos del Diablo although the Mexicans at the island probably have another name for them. Rising 40′ or more out of the water, they are formed on the leading edge of a long extinct lava flow that juts out from the island and abruptly drops into the ocean. The underwater terrain below the arches is even more dramatic with at least one large cavern having a 40′ vertical opening and extending several times that laterally into the heart of the lava flow. We named our find El Secreto Del Vicki in honor of a member of our discovery team and the only known distaff diver intrepid enough to brave the white sharks and crazy water of Guadalupe to explore this particular underwater marvel. Here is a shot of Vicki hovering in the entrance to her namesake cave:
I had an interesting conversation with Nicole Nasby Lucas of the Pfleger Institute of Environmental Research yesterday. Ms. Lucas and PIER co-founder Michael Domeier PhD have been conducting a capture/recapture study on great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) at Guadalupe Island, Mexico, building a database of identification photos and video of white sharks that inhabit the island. To date PIER has 73 individual sharks in their database, and the count increases each season. PIER also places a small number of satellite tags on Guadalupe white sharks to learn where they are going once they leave the island. Interestingly, some of the sharks tagged at Guadalupe Island swim all the way to the Hawaiian islands, including two of the sharks tagged during the most recent season. By observing the white sharks in this way, the PIER researchers are able to collect evidence about how the sharks utilize the island habitat and their migrations to and from the island.
I have had the good fortune of naming five of the PIER sharks by virtue of being the first photographer to capture each of them on film. The three females are named after my two daughters and my mother (you don’t think I am stupid enough to name one after my wife do you?). The two males are named after the notorious bachelors on Sex in the City: Big and The Russian.
In this case Ms. Lucas was able to link the right side and left side photographs by finding a common element between them: a notched tip on the left side ventral fin. Here she is, Guadalupe Island great white shark #57, “Leslie”:
For more information about PIER’s white shark research at Guadalupe Island, how the identification process works and what scientific publications have resulted from the study, visit the PIER website and see the online catalog.
Finally, an authoritative book has been published about Guadalupe Island, our favorite eastern Pacific island and one of Mexico’s finest ecological wonders. Published in December 2005 by Instituto Nacional de Ecologia (INE-SEMARNAT) and compiled by editors Karina Santos del Prado and Eduardo Peters, Isla Guadalupe, Restauracion Y Conservacion describes the geology, flora and fauna of this unique island. Particular attention is paid to the spectacular geology with satellite photos and topographic maps, descriptions of the bird species with photographs from atop Afuera and Adentro islands, and coverage of the Guadalupe fur seals, elephant seals and great white sharks. I am proud to have provided many of the images appearing in the book including the cover. An English-language edition is planned for later this year.
Wildlife of Guadalupe Island
Underwater Guadalupe Island
Above water coastline and geology of Guadalupe Island
Guadalupe Island great white sharks and Carcharodon carcharias
Guadalupe fur seals and Arctocephalus townsendi
Our complete collection of still photographs at Guadalupe Island
Each winter California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) gather in the hundreds on the rock slopes of North Coronado Island, just south of the US/Mexico border. The bottom diving is unremarkable here the remainder of the year, but when the sea lions are gathered in such numbers it is worth making the short boat trip for a dive with them.
The evening anchorage at the south end of Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe) is Melpomene Bay. Early in the morning we raise anchor and move to take a look at the water conditions at nearby Isla Adentro, Isla Afuera and Church Rock. On this morning, none of those spots offered us what we were looking for, so we motored around the southeastern corner of the island to dive at Abalone Point. As we passed by the morro and cliffs above Butterfly Cove, the sun cleared the horizon and hit the island with a rich golden light.
One great white shark photo on our website that is viewed more than almost all others is this one:
A great white shark underwater. A large great white shark cruises the clear oceanic waters of Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe).
Image ID: 10119
Species: Great white shark, Carcharodon carcharias
Location: Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe), Baja California, Mexico
It appears that the great white shark in this photo is smiling at the cameraman, or is perhaps preparing to chomp the guy. In fact, this great white shark had just taken a mouthful of bait and was opening and closing its mouth in order to free bits of the bait from its teeth or gill slits. The exposure was made just as the shark happened to have both an open mouth and a gaze directed at the divers in the cage. Isla Guadalupe, Mexico.
Keywords: great white shark photo, Carcharodon carcharias, Guadalupe Island.