Shark Diving on Baja California's Pacific Coast
Baja Underwater – a look at scuba diving around the Baja California peninsula
Mexico’s Baja peninsula is blessed with some of the best scuba diving in the world and yet it remains a relative unknown on the lists of major dive destinations. With the Pacific Ocean to its west and the Sea of Cortez (aka the Gulf of California) to its east, the peninsula offers more than 2,000 miles of coastline and dozens of off-shore islands to explore. And the variety of marine life that inhabits these waters is as diverse as the terrain itself. You’ll find everything from the Great Whites of Isla Guadalupe to the graceful Manta rays of the Socorro Islands to the huge Whale sharks of the Sea of Cortez. In this article, and those that follow, I’ll try to demonstrate why I think everyone who enjoys diving should visit Mexico’s Baja peninsula at least once. -R.J. Archer,
The Great Whites of Isla Guadalupe
For more than 100 years, scattered reports have told of Great White sharks up and down the Pacific coasts of North America. In the 1970s a rash of attacks on California surfers alerted the public to the presence of deadly predators that shared their precious surf. A few years later, researchers discovered that a large and stable population of adult Great Whites returned year after year to feed on Northern Elephant seals and tuna in the waters around Isla Guadalupe, 160 miles off the north-central coast of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. These sharks, sometimes reaching 19 feet in length, surged up from the depths and attacked the catches of long-range sport fishing boats who visited Isla Guadalupe in search of world-class tuna.
Today, a small number of companies provide divers with the adventure of a lifetime by offering 5- to 9-day live aboard trips to experience the Great Whites of Isla Guadalupe up close and personal! Carefully planned and safely executed cage diving interactions provide divers, researchers and film crews with an opportunity to observe Great White sharks in their natural habitat.
Free-lance writer Jenna Rose Robbins describes her experiences on an expedition led by Patric Douglas, the CEO of Shark Diver, in her own words:
“And then it appeared. Like a phantom shadow, the shark approached from below, slowly swishing its massive tail side to side as if it had all the time in the world. This was nothing like spotting a shark confined in an aquarium's tank. With our cage dangling over the side of the 88-foot MV Horizon, my cage-mates and I were well aware that we were but visitors in the shark's domain.
“As the behemoth approached, we determined it was a female, and as she glided past just inches from our cage, her length was so great it seemed forever before she passed. I'd heard that great whites could reach such lengths -- and longer -- and for better perspective, I'd told myself I'd be seeing creatures roughly the length of a VW bus. What I hadn't counted on was the girth. I'd joked to landlubber friends that I was going to ride a shark, but after seeing how wide a female could grow, there was no conceivable way I could have saddled one, even had I been suicidal enough to try such a ridiculous (and illegal) feat. The six-foot-wide creature slid past, her black eye so close we could see the pupil, which made the shark even eerier than when she appeared to have two black, unseeing orbs.”
Although companies such as Shark Diver offer extreme adventure dive trips to the public, they are also very involved in the conservation, protection and study of the Great Whites. Shark Diver, for example, provides both financial and practical aid to a number of shark conservation groups and all responsible shark dive operators realize that their continued success is dependent on the viability of the shark populations they view and study.
One such group, the Guadalupe Island Conservation Fund, was established in early 2006 by the International Community Foundation (ICF) in close collaboration with members of the scuba diving and eco-community to support and raise money to help the Government of Mexico protect the endangered shark population of Isla Guadalupe and to channel money from growing white shark tourism into local conservation-related projects on the island. This fund is managed by the International Community Foundation, a registered 501c3 not-for-profit organization which is dedicated to expanding charitable giving internationally with an emphasis in environment and conservation grant-making in Northwest Mexico.
While shark diving isn’t for everybody, it certainly provides marine enthusiasts with an opportunity shared by few others. Even non-divers can experience the thrill thanks to special onboard training and equipment offered by many operators. Shark “season” runs from September through November and Isla Guadalupe is well known for its warm waters and 100-foot visibilities. For more information and some incredible videos of shark diving, please visit the Web sites listed below.
R.J. Archer in a certified diver and the founder of BajaDivers.com, a Web site dedicated to providing information about diving along the 2,000-mile coastline of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.