We were at Los Islotes, Sea of Cortez, where the National Geographic Sea Lion had dropped anchor for the chance to snorkel with its namesakes. It was mostly the youngsters who slipped into the water to check out their new playmates while the females and a few big bulls stayed on the rocks. (Los Islotes is a rookery, and thus protected, so no landfall is permitted.)
Like dogs, sea lions explore with their mouths, so there were plenty of nips on flippers and underwater cameras. Several snorkelers got “up close and personal” shots of the inside of the sea lions’ mouths with their Go Pros. I wasn’t one of those because all though I was armed with a Go Pro, I was still learning to use it and, admittedly, I wasn’t doing a good job at conquering my fear of the water. Putting my face in the water freaks me out, so it took several minutes for me to let go of the zodiac and only then because Jack Swenson (naturalist and photographer), who was manning the safety boat, distracted me with “Look, there’s a sea lion right there!”
That’s definitely what I needed. Plunge the face in, and be rewarded with a playful creature twisting its body around the rope which anchored the zodiac to a buoy, as he (or she?) alternated between chewing on the rope and poking its inquisitive nose toward my cabin mate Judy. (How appropriate is it that me, crazy cat lady, get assigned a cabin mate who’s a veterinarian?)
I spent several minutes, floating there, watching, marveling at this creature’s ease in the water, wishing that I was the same. After the sea lion grew bored with its game and swam away, I followed and found myself in the middle of a circus. Snorkelers and sea lions diving and twisting around one another in an underwater dance…or maybe an underwater fashion show where the sea lions are the models and the snorkelers the paparazzi.
Unfortunately, the Sea of Cortez is not as warm as you think it might be. Even with a shortie wetsuit on, I couldn’t spend much more time in the water before I was freezing, and had to retreat to a hot shower on board ship. (Thank you to Mary and Grace who made a “Janet sandwich” on the zodiac upon seeing how violently I was shivering during the ride back to the Sea Lion.)
We had many more encounters with playful sea lions during our two weeks in Baja – they loved to chase and dive under our zodiacs. I hope to play…to really dance…with them again in the future. I just hope I won’t see many more of them with fishing line tangled around their necks.