Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Killer Whales in the Sea of Cortez

by Scott    
Our first night in Los Barriles, we were kept awake by a muffled popping sound. We couldn't figure out what it was. At first, we thought it was some piece of wet gear hanging outside that was slapping in the wind. We thought maybe it was waves against the rocks, but then we remembered that there aren't any waves on the Sea of Cortez. We eventually decided it must be fireworks carrying across the water from the nearby town of La Ribera.

It took us a week to figure out that it wasn't fireworks, but the belly-flops of the smooth-tailed mobula. Mobula look like manta rays, but unlike manta rays, mobula seem to think they can fly through the air if they flap their wings hard enough. It works for a little bit, but then they slap back down on the water.

No need for television when you can watch this all day

It's fun to watch them. They swim/fly around in schools. Sometimes we'll see several in the air at once. Biologists aren't sure exactly why they do this, but the mobula seem to be enjoying themselves. Perhaps they should keep a lower profile. Yesterday, we saw a school of mobula joined by what I thought were small whales, but what Heather thought were dolphins. Everyone in camp did what we always do when whales or dolphins arrive.We grabbed our kayaks or paddle boards and went out for a closer look. Leonard and Solomon were first on the scene. They started back paddling their 2-man kayak when they reached the pool of blood, and were herded out of the area. These were not dolphins or the usual humpbacks or grey whales. It was a pod of orca (i.e. killer whales) feeding on mobula!

Father and son, first to the scene.  Heather screamed "Shamu!!!" as they jumped out of the water near us.

Orca have never attacked humans in the wild (in captivity at Seaworld is another story). We kept that in mind, but still kept a respectful distance as the orca feasted on the helpless school of mobula. It was an amazing experience. We never expected to see orca in the Sea of Cortez. People who've been coming here for 20 years have never seen them, and here they were, right off the beach, in water that wasn't much more than 6 feet deep!

Heather telling Scott to keep his fishing pole on his back

Our neighbor and fellow SUP'er put together this video with footage from his GoPro camera and still pictures our friends took from the beach.  Sorry about the Free Willy, Michael Jackson music.