Whale Sharks

Whale shark (Rhincodon typus), 0% whale and 100% shark, whale sharks are the largest fish in the world, reaching up to 18m (60 ft). Primarily pelagic, they can be found in both coastal and oceanic habitats. They lack proper teeth having only tiny ones and filter pads in their gills. They are filter feeders, one of only three known filter-feeding shark species (along with the basking shark and the megamouth shark). They feed on plankton and other small animals like baitfish and squid. They swallow water either by opening their mouth and swimming forward or by active suction, opening and closing their mouth. The water is then expelled through the gills, which filter the food. A juvenile whale shark is estimated to eat 21 kg (46 pounds) of plankton per day.

Whale sharks are found in tropical areas around the world, including the warm waters of Mexico from the Sea of Cortez to the eastern Mexican coast in the Caribbean. They are generally solitary animals but sometimes gather in large groups to take advantage of good feeding opportunities.

They are gray or gray-blue with a beautiful pattern of white lines and dots. This pattern is unique to each individual, like a fingerprint, and can be used for identification. In La Paz area they gather from November to April to feed in the plankton-rich waters of the Bay. Despite their enormous size, we still don´t know much about these animals, and their growth, longevity, and reproduction are poorly understood. They are classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Long-spine Porcupinefish

This smiley face, pokemon-looking fish is one of the porcupinefishes species we can find in our area. Called sometimes pufferfish, they are related but belong to a different family than the proper puffers. Both families are morphologically similar, but porcupine fish have spines that cover their bodies.

They are found in temperate and tropical seas worldwide, usually close to shore. If you have ever been snorkeling or even just walking on the beach in La Ventana, I am pretty sure you have seen one! They have big round eyes on the sides of their rounded head, with a wide frontal mouth typically left open. Their teeth are fused together, creating a strong, beak-like mouth capable of cracking the shells of snails, sea urchins, and hermit crabs that make their diet.

If they feel threatened, they can inflate their bodies by swallowing water, ballooning up to three times their normal size. The spines that cover their bodies radiate then outwards, giving them another defense mechanism. They only recur to this “puffing” ploy when desperate, as they lose mobility when inflated, they normally rather just hide from predators swimming into a crevice. When approached by snorkelers and divers they usually move slowly away looking for a hideout.

Some porcupinefishes are poisonous, having a substance called tetrodotoxin in their internal organs. This deadly neurotoxin is 1200 times more toxic than cyanide. As a result of all these defense mechanisms, porcupine fish don´t have many predators, but adults can be preyed upon by sharks and orcas. Sea lions and dolphins sometimes have been seen playing with an unfortunate inflated porcupine fish, as if it were a beach ball.

In some places, they are eaten as a delicacy and the South Sea islanders once used the spiked skins of porcupinefishes as helmets.

Sea Lions

California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) are found on the West Coast of North America, ranging all the way from southeast Alaska to central Mexico. In Baja California, they can be found in multiple locations along the Sea of Cortez and in the Pacific Coast. These charismatic animals congregate in rocky spots where they form colonies, there are about 13 identified colonies in the Sea of Cortez. 

California sea lions are sexually dimorphic: adult males are larger than females and have a thicker neck, they are dark brown and have a pronounced bump on the forehead called sagittal crest. Adult females are golden brown or blonde and way smaller. Juveniles of both sexes are brown as well, so it can be difficult to distinguish their sex.

Feedingmainly offshore in coastal areas, they eat squid and different fish species including anchovies, mackerel, and sardines. They are very social animals, and they use numerous vocalizations to communicate. Getting close to their area, you are always welcomed by an endless barking sound: a sea lion colony can be a very noisy place! Females and pups communicate using vocalizations that are unique to the female and pup. A female can locate her pup among hundreds of others by her pup’s vocalization.

In Espiritu Santo Archipelago, close to La Paz, located in a UNESCO Heritage Area, resides one of the biggest and healthiest colonies in this area. This colony had scientists puzzled for some time: while other nearby colonies were decreasing due to the reduction in local fish stocks, this one was thriving and growing! A scientific investigation discovered that these sea lions had learned to dive deeper and feed on deeper water fish than other sea lions. This means that at some point they adapted their feeding habits and their skills when their usual prey started to be scarce. 

Sea lions are intelligent and very charismatic animals, and it’s a privilege to see them wild and free at our doorstep. They can be curious and very playful with humans, interacting with them can be great fun, they are surely the puppies of the sea.


A pretty common sight when driving through Baja are the majestic ospreys, always looking out from their nests, usually on top of light poles or in poles especially placed for them. Ospreys are diurnal birds of prey, with a wide distribution: they are found in all continents but Antarctica. They are usually migratory birds, but not in Baja California, where our mild winter is comfortable enough for them to stay all year around.

Ospreys are found close to water bodies, such as estuaries, marshes, rivers, or by the seaside. Fish are their favorite prey, they actually eat barely anything else: fish make up to 99% of their diet! They hunt by diving to the water’s surface from some 30 to 100 feet first. Gripping pads on their feet help them grab fish from the water and carry them for great distances. They are very well adapted to the aquatic environment: an oily waterproof coating on their wings allows them to dive without sinking and they can close their nostrils when submerged in water.

Ospreys are usually monogamous and often mate for life. The male selects a suitable place and together with the female, they collect materials and build a large nest. The females lay 2 to 4 eggs and the pair incubates them. 

Watching ospreys fishing, protecting their nests, feeding their young, or just vigilant on top of a cardon is a great pleasure to enjoy all year round in Baja.

Manta Rays

Giant oceanic manta rays (Mobula birostris) are the largest species of rays in the world. Reaching a maximum disc width of 700cm (22ft) with an average of 400-500cm (13-16ft) and a weight of 2000kg (4400pounds), they are graceful and gentle giants.

They are cartilaginous fish, meaning their skeleton is made of cartilage instead of bone, they are related to sharks. Mantas are filter feeders: gliding gracefully through the water column with their mouth wide open, they gulp down large amounts of water, collecting with their gill plates the zooplankton and krill that make their diet.

With the largest brain-to-size ratio of any fish, they are highly intelligent animals. There have been studies showing that mantas may recognize themselves in the mirror, an ability that indicates a high cognitive function. 

A common sight in the past in La Paz and Cerralvo area, they suddenly disappeared for a while, the reason for their disappearance is unknown, though overfishing has been pointed out. In the past years locals and tourist have gladly witnessed their return to La Reina, close to Cerralvo island, with most sightings during the warm summer months.

Classified as endangered in the IUCN Red list, their main threat is overfishing, as bycatch or as a target for their meat, but specially for their gill plates, valuable in the Asian market for traditional medicine.

Seeing these animals effortlessly flying through the water like massive birds is surely magical and looking into a manta ray’s eyes is an unforgettable experience: their eyes are inquisitive and intelligent. Through that alien look we can connect to a different world: the wild and mysterious big blue. 

Olive Ridleys

Olive Ridleys are one of the five marine turtle species we can find in Baja California and one of the two species known to nest in the peninsula. Their nests are the most common in the region. Known as tortugas golfinas in Mexico, they are one of the smallest of all sea turtles. They grow to about 61cm (2ft) in carapace length and they get their name from their olive-colored and heart-shaped shell.

Between June and November, they migrate to their nesting grounds, going back to nest to the same beach they once were born. Females lay about a hundred eggs and may nest up to three times a year. If you are lucky, during these months you might see a turtle digging a hole at the beach, laying her eggs, carefully covering the nest with her fins, and then heading back to sea.

The eggs incubate in the sand and the sex of the turtles depends on its temperature: temperatures of 31-32 °C (88-89 F) produce only females, eggs incubated at 28 °C or less produce solely males, and incubation temperatures of 29-30 °C (84-86 F) produce a mixed-sex clutch. 

A bit over a month later, the hatchlings emerge, dark gray and measuring only around 38 mm long (1.5 inches). They’ll have to use all their energy to get to the water, trying to avoid all the perils that await them, both in land and sea. It’s estimated that only 1 in 1,000 turtles, will make it to adulthood.

This species is currently listed as Endangered in Mexico. Bycatch in fishing gear and direct harvest of turtles and eggs are their biggest threat. To avoid predation from dogs or coyotes, local organizations protect the nests, so if you see one, make sure you let them know. Driving on the beach affects the ability of the females and the hatchings to get to and from the water and can compact the sand, making it difficult for the babies to emerge. 

We are very lucky to have these creatures coming to our shores every year and seeing the babies heading to the water is one of the most amazing nature spectacles Baja has to offer. Let’s make sure this can happen for all generations to come!