As the baby sea lions zoom past me, banking, rolling, diving, swimming in loop de loops like Hotwheels on a track, I am sure of one thing, even if this UnCruise adventure sucked (which it doesn’t), the trip would be worth it for this one hour.
We are at the base of Los Islotes, a huge guano-streaked rock formation near Isla Espiritu Santo in the Sea of Cortez (most know the area as the strip of ocean between Baja California Sur and the Mexican mainland), and as far as I’m concerned it’s a little slice of heaven.
While others see a grown woman stuffed into a wetsuit, inside, I’ve transformed into a giddy preschooler utterly captivated by the delightful marine life frolicking in front of me.
Baby sea lions are often called puppies in wetsuits and the nickname couldn’t be more apropos. They radiate excitement, curiosity, and so much playful energy being near them is like being struck by a bolt of joyous lightning.
We arrived 30 minutes ago aboard our skiff from the Safari Endeavor, the small expedition cruise ship sailing us around the Sea of Cortez.
Sarah, our guide, told us we’d have an hour to swim with the babies. More than that and the chilly water (even though we were wearing wetsuits) would likely drive us back to the skiff anyway.
She warned us that when swimming with sea lions, juveniles might nip. Or more accurately, they might nip at our flippers, cameras or other dangly things. Think of them as playful mouthy puppies, she explained.
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We heard the splashes of our eager playmates entering the water as soon as we finished our boat ride and the captain turned off the motor. Whiskered muzzles and large round eyes breached the surface to check us out and then submerged with a plop. Over and over again they did this as if to say “Hurry up! Come and play!”
I could hardly wait. As soon as Sarah gave us the go-ahead, I jumped into the deep. On the sea floor, were hundreds of boulders of varying size topped with a thin carpet of feathery seaweed swaying in the current, and nothing else. It was a wide-open playground waiting for a few takers.
My shipboard compadres followed me in and for a moment I couldn’t see anything but black neoprene butts and bright yellow flippers, then a sea lion whizzed past me with the speed of a torpedo. Again, and again, another zoomed by.
Swimming with Baby Sea Lions
Legs together, swimming mermaid style, I see Sarah playing Pied Piper to a couple of youngsters who copy her every twist and turn.
Wallace J. Nichols, a guest marine biologist on the boat and author of Blue Mind, has worked these waters for decades.
This is not the first time he’s had this kind of encounter, nor the team of the UnCruise, and I’m jealous. How I’d love to do this regularly. And I’m not the only one bewitched, the other passengers are equally besotted.
Two Species One Goal: Fun
The sea lions are so frisky we need only to float and watch as they frolic but it’s more fun to spin and dive for they mimic our movements and for that brief moment, we’re connected. Two species, coming together to play.
A juvenile encircles me, first swimming right side up and then with complete abandon finishes his circumnavigation on his back. Then, pushing with his long flippers, he rockets toward the surface snatching a quick breath of air before circling me again in the opposite direction.
He brazenly nips at my GoPro. The move is so cute I squeal with excitement and the snorkel drops from my mouth. A rush of seawater slides down my throat and I quickly right myself, choking like a smoker with consumption.
My head above the water, I can hear the gruff barking of the adult sea lions echoing off the stone. The elders are sunning themselves on the rocks. Unlike their adventurous offspring, they have no interest in taking part.
It’s such a shame. This adult is loving her play date with her new friends. Could anything be more enjoyable?
I seriously doubt it.
Interesting Facts About Sea Lions
Difference between sea lions and seals
- Unlike seals, sea lions have long front flippers with which they propel themselves through the water while seals use their hind flippers.
- Sea lions have small ear flaps (seals don’t) and use both sets of flippers to move on land while seals bounce along on their stomachs.
- Males are called bulls, females are cows, babies are pups.
- They can dive up to 600 feet and travel at nearly 25 miles per hour if they choose.
- Some researchers believe they are near-sighted and see better in the water than out.
- The gestation period for a sea lion is eight to eleven months and they are born on land. Pups can weigh 50 lbs at birth. In a year’s time, they can weigh nearly 200 lbs and be six feet long.
- Males can weigh 1,500 lbs and be as long as 11 feet. Females are smaller. They weigh around 700 lbs an average of nine feet in length.
How You Can Swim with the Baby Sea Lions of Los Islotes
My sea lion adventure was one of many during my week-long exploration of the Sea of Cortez with UnCruise. I also hiked, kayaked, snorkeled, and swam with a whale shark 20 feet long. But if you’re not interested in a cruise a variety of boat tours based in nearby La Paz. Fun Baja, an outfitter that partnered with UnCruise for our whale shark expedition also offers Los Islotes trips. However, unlike UnCruise they don’t provide wetsuits.
Don’t forget to wear sunblock (you get extra points for brands that are environmentally safe) the sun is wicked strong. If you don’t have a wetsuit I highly recommend wearing a long-sleeve rash guard and tights with sun protection. Yeah, you look a little silly but when everyone else is sunburn and looks like a lobster you’ll thank me.
I was an invited guest of UnCruise but sentiments in this post are my own. This article was neither seen nor approved before publishing.
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