Swimming With the Sea Lions of Los Islotes
At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, with journey restrictions in place worldwide, we launched a brand new collection — The World Through a Lens — wherein photojournalists assist transport you, just about, to some of our planet’s most lovely and intriguing locations. This week, Benjamin Lowy shares a set of photographs from an underwater shoot off the coast of Baja.
Nestled off the coast of Baja California Sur, close to La Paz, lies a string of islands in the Sea of Cortez — together with Isla Espíritu Santo and Isla Partida. Part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and one of Mexico’s main eco-tourism locations, these islands, together with their surrounding reefs and outcrops, are dwelling to numerous kinds of marine life.
At the northern tip of the chain, simply past Isla Partida, is a small craggy outcrop — roughly 1 / 4 mile lengthy — known as Los Islotes, or Isla Lobos. Here, the place few individuals have entry, lives a big colony of sea lions.
I visited the space on one of my first underwater assignments, after years spent masking conflict, politics and sports activities. Diving there was a transformational expertise. Alone, floating in the open water, I discovered peace amongst these playful animals, generally known as “dogs of the sea.”
Sea lions actually do seem to be canine: They play fetch with rocks, starfish and the occasional bone, they usually typically appear enamored by the few people who swim with them. They continuously nibbled at my fins, or stared at their reflection in the dome of my underwater digital camera housing.
Swimming round the circumference of Los Islotes is feasible, although the water in some areas is sort of shallow, and entry is usually restricted by tour guides. Young adolescent sea lions might be seen enjoying in the surf and sunbathing on rocks. The bark of dominant males echoes above and under the water as they patrol the sea for threats to the colony and to their rule. Above the water, the animals populate each rocky outcropping, mendacity prostrate in the solar.
Each facet of Los Islotes provides a unique have a look at the sea lions’ habits. Massive rocks jut from the seabed on the northern facet, having eroded off the island way back. The sea lions frolic forwards and backwards in these underwater obstacles, chasing one another via the rocky crevices.
The southern facet of the island is the place the males sit and sunbathe. Territorial and ferocious, these gigantic males might be harmful and must be given a large berth.
Near the jap tip of the island is a huge arch that rises from the sea. There, divers can drop all the way down to 50 ft, stare up and watch the silhouettes of sea lions as they swim from one facet of the island to the different.
Perhaps most charming of all: Hidden on the southern facet of the islands, inside a small but simply accessible underwater cave, is a sea lion “nursery.” Small juveniles dart forwards and backwards underneath the watchful eye of older females.
Unfortunately, even these protected sea lions can’t keep away from the encroachment of people; they will sometimes be seen with fishing line wrapped round their necks, which may result in an infection and dying. And therein lies half of the problem for native marine park rangers and scientists: easy methods to strike the proper steadiness between conservation, schooling and eco-tourism.
In a approach, it’s much like the steadiness I attempt to strike myself: My mission as a photographer is to speak what I see and expertise to an viewers. My mission as a father is to teach my youngsters about the world round them, and about the conservation of the surroundings.
Many of these images had been made with my spouse and boys by my facet. (These waters, in spite of everything, are the place my son realized easy methods to scuba dive underneath the tutelage of a lifelong buddy.) And I’ve but to discover a photographic topic that has introduced me extra peace and tranquillity than swimming with the sea lions of Los Islotes.