Getting up close with marine life in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez

Mar 15, 2018

Our writer sets sail for Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, which is home to some of the greatest biodiversity in the Pacific.

“Keep your eyes peeled,” says our guide as we skim across mirror-like waters under a blazing sun, the air laced with salt, and the warm rubber of the zodiac. “You never know what you’re going to come across out here; the water’s alive.” I’m a tiny bit skeptical and looking around, I think most of my fellow passengers are thinking more about lunch than wildlife. That is until a ripple on the water catches the guide’s attention. He changes course slightly and begins to slow. Suddenly, a grey whale calf leaps from the cobalt blue waters, leaving its mother’s side for a fleeting moment to rise to the surface and heaving into the air like a great breaching submarine, the golden sunshine shimmering off its gleaming flanks as it collapses back into the water with a roar of applause from the zodiac. Thoughts of lunch are quickly replaced by the passion and exhilaration that has inspired travellers to the Sea of Cortez for centuries.

The Sea of Cortez, a wedge of deep water between the Mexican mainland and the Baja Peninsula, is the kind of place where one should expect the unexpected. With a dizzying array of marine life and a multitude of fragile, interconnected ecosystems, the Sea of Cortez is fed by great rivers such as the Colorado, the Sinaloa, the Sonora and the Yaqui. Known for its upwellings of nutrients from the ocean floor, the Sea of Cortez is one of the most diverse bodies of water on the planet, with over 900 types of fish, fevers of graceful manta and devil rays, myriad seabird species and colonies of grinning sea lions. It’s quite possibly the most amazing place you’ve never heard of.

In fact, the Sea of Cortez is better known for the resort towns that line the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, a desert landscape wreathed by the Pacific on one side and the Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California, on the other. But to really experience the Sea of Cortez, which famed French marine explorer Jacques Cousteau dubbed ‘the world’s aquarium’, you need to set sail and leave the Peninsula in your wake.


I’ve done exactly that, setting sail aboard the National Geographic Sea Bird (above), part of the fleet of sturdy expedition vessels operated in a partnership between Lindblad Expeditions, one of the world’s oldest expedition companies, and the famed natural sciences magazine. The seasonal eight-day Whales & Wildness: Spring in the Sea of Cortez expedition starts from US$6,190 per person (twin-share), and sets sail every March and April.