Scuba Diving and Snorkeling with Sea Lions in Baja California Sur
By Laura Tyrrell, PADI IDC Staff instructor and dive guide at Cabo Trek
Down by the famous arch of Cabo San Lucas there lies a rocky sea lion colony home to a large handful of California sea lions. All are eager to pose for passing boats as they bellow out distinctive barks of territory to one another fighting for precious space on the rock.
There is an impressive dive site here. Beneath the surface at 40ft the colony has 3 sides split into two different oceans: the Pacific and the Sea of Cortes. The north west side, in the Sea of Cortes, has a sandy bottom and the sea lions often pass by playfully spinning and twisting into the group of excited divers. The south east side is one wall of a channel going from Cortes to Pacific. The channel is a passageway to the other side usually reserved for more experienced divers who can glide with the rise and fall of a gentle swell through the narrow walls where shadows cast an inviting hue onto the sea bed. This is the best place for a sea lion encounter. The south west side faces the Pacific Ocean. Here there is a huge shipwreck rumored to have gone down in a storm in the 1950´s after losing engine power. In 2014 Hurricane Odile finally uncovered the remaining rusty outlines. Looking up to the surface the silhouettes of sea lions resting on the surface can often be seen. The wreck makes for a hauntingly spectacular hunting ground and it is common to encounter them passing by.
California Sea Lions are found all the way up the North American coast as far as Alaska. They are one of 5 species of sea lions. Natural predators include Orcas and white sharks. However, I´m sad to report that I have seen more fatal injuries from fishing lines and nets strung tightly around their necks in what must be very painful and slow death. Human impact such as this is a very real threat to individual sea lions along the California coast. That said, sea lions as a population are not endangered and are increasing in number.
Mating season is from May to August where the larger males can be particularly territorial and vocal. An average adult male sea lion is 7.5 ft and an average female 5.9ft. They differ slightly in coloration where the male is darker and a large adult male will have a slight bump protruding from the head as well as a thicker neck. They hunt small fish and squid. One of the most spectacular dive´s here in the bay is when you find yourself amid a cloud of sardines being rounded up and hunted. Sea lions can dive down to 275m (900ft) and can hold their breath for up to 10 minutes. They can travel at speeds up to 7mph using their front flippers to propel and neck and head movements for direction.
Sea lions are intelligent animals and many divers have commented how their behavior is not too dissimilar to that of a dog: they are playful in much the same way and occasionally like to nibble at diver´s fins similarly to how a dog would chew down on your shoe! Their intelligence unfortunately means that they are often found performing in aquatic shows instead of out in the wild where they belong. We are fortunate here in San Lucas to be able to dive among these wild animals in their natural habitat after only a 10 minute boat ride.
In Baja California you have different location options if you’re looking for a close interaction with this animal: dive or snorkel with them either in the marine parks of Cabo San Lucas or Cabo Pulmo and/or in La paz at the beautiful Espiritu Santo island.
For best experience avoid the cattle tours and chose an operator that cares for the environment and for the animals.
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