MARINE LIFE PHOTO GALLERY

 

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Have you ever wondered why this area of the Eastern Pacific is home to so much marine life? I had a chance to talk recently with a marine biologist from our state university in La Paz. He explained that the amount of life in this area can be directly attributed to the influences of several different oceanic currents. Here at the tip of Baja, the California current, the Panamic current and the North Equatorial Countercurrent swirl together to bring us incredible amounts of plankton – the basic building block of life in the ocean. That rich plankton broth creates an environment that is favorable for all kinds of marine animals. Divers travel from all over the world to experience the Sea of Cortez and to enjoy the heart pounding excitement and high energy of encounters with whale sharks, hammerhead sharks and giant manta rays. There is probably nowhere else on earth where one is more likely to encounter big marine life. That is what we are known for. We have, however, a wealth of smaller, more sublime animals to capture our interest on dives. Jacques Cousteau didn’t call this “The World’s Richest Sea” in jest. Here are a few of our more interesting close encounters of the aquatic kind.

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WHALE SHARK – TIBURON BALLENA

Rhincodon typus

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Whalesharks

 

Whale Sharks – Rhincodon typus, (Tiberion Ballena en Espanol) are the largest fish in the world and so, of course also the largest of the family of Sharks. They are reported to reach a length of 60 feet and weigh over 6 tons!! In spite of their massive size, they eat only plankton, this animal literally cruses around with its mouth open, eating all the time.

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GIANT PACIFIC MANTA – MANTA RAYA 

Manta hamiltoni

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Giant Pacific Mantas

 

These impressive animals are very curious about divers. They will usually swim closely by just to look at us or cruise just above our heads to let our bubbles tickle their tummies. La Reyna in La Paz, Gordo Banks, and the “Across The Bay” sites are the spots to see them.

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SCALLOPED HAMMERHEAD SHARK – TIBURON MARTILLO 

Sphyrna lewini

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Hammerhead Sharks

Photo by Hector Peredo

These interesting sharks tend to form huge schools whose function is believed to be, among other things, feeding and reproduction. Groups of scalloped hammerheads are usually found in areas that have pinnacles or seamounts. These sharks feed mostly on small fish such as sardines, herring and mackerels. They also hunt the various stingray species that live on the bottom of the Sea of Cortez.

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DIAMOND STINGRAY – RAYA DE ESPINA 

Dasyitas

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Diamond Stingray

Photo by Kevin Colter

The diamond stingray is the largest of the bottom dwelling rays in the Sea of Cortez. They often attain a size of over five feet in diameter. We find them pretty often “Across The Bay” at Barco Varado and Twin Dolphins Reef.

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WHITETIP REEF SHARK – TIBURON DE ARRECIFE PUNTA BLANCA 

Triaenodon obesus

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Whitetip Reef Shark

Photo by Kevin Colter

The whitetip reef shark is a bottom dwelling shark commonly found throughout the Sea of Cortez. It is capable of resting motionless on the bottom for long periods of time. This shark is adept in capturing bottom prey in the crevices of the reef. It feeds primarily on octopus, spiny lobsters and crabs.

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THE MORAY EELS

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Moray Eels

Argus Moray   Hourglass Moray

Photos by Mark Holman

Morays, Morena in Espanol, are classified under the family name Muraenidae. They are probably the most diverse and widely distributed of eels. They are found in all tropical seas, usually in shallow waters. The Sea of Cortez is home to eight different genuses of morays (and several varieties of snake eels, family Ophichthidae).

A moray must keep its jaws working constantly to take in water so that it can breathe. By continually opening and closing its mouth, the eel is able to pump water over it’s gills. The first time you peer under a rock ledge and see a big moray eel opening and closing his mouth, revealing a set of pointy, threatening teeth, it can send a little shiver down your spine. Don’t worry he’s only breathing! Settle down on the seabed for a few minutes and watch. It is a cool display. We’ve got lots of Morays here in Cabo. So many that on some sites we’ll actually tell you “If you don’t see more Moray’s on this dive than you’ve ever seen on any other dive, the dive is free!” Check out the pictures below of a couple of our more unique and beautiful Morays.

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PANAMIC GREEN MORAY – MORENA VERDE 

Gymnothorax castaneus

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Green Moray Eel

 

The largest of the Morays found here is the Panamic Green Moray. In the Sea of Cortez these guys can get big!! Ely, a Green Moray who lives at “The Point” is almost 10 feet in length and weighs over 100 pounds.

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JEWELED MORAY – MORENA PINTA 

Muraena lentiginosa

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Jewelled Moray Eel

Photo by Kevin Colter

The Jewel Moray is tan or cream colored with brilliant yellow spots, ringed by dark brown halos, arranged in rows around its body. It is a striking animal. All Morays have a great sense of smell. These guys take it a step further. They have four nostrils in two places; two above their mouths and two above their eyes. We see this Moray at all our divesites.

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PACIFIC SEAHORSE – CABALLO DE MAR 

Hippocampus ingens

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Pacific Sea Horse

Photo by Kevin Colter

The Pacific seahorse (Hippocampus ingens), amongst the largest of the seahorses found in the world, is reported to reach a length of 14 inches. The only Seahorse found in the Sea Of Cortez, this animal is closely related to pipe fishes and belongs to the scientific family Syngnathidae. It ranges in color from bright orange to yellow to dark brown. You have to look carefully for these guys as they can be well camouflaged. Here is an interesting seahorse fact for you; It’s the male seahorse that actually gets pregnant, he a 90’s sort of guy. He carries the fertilized eggs in a small pouch until they hatch. You will often find them curling their prehensile tail around sea fans and small coral heads.

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OCTOPUS – PULPO 

Octopus bimaculatus

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Octopus

Photo by Kevin Colter

Octopuses are cephalopods, a family which includes the squids and cuttlefish. It has the most advanced brain of any invertebrate. We have nine reported species of octopus in the Sea of Cortez. Octopus usually remain inside their dens unless they are searching for food. Divers can locate an octopus lair by looking for a pile of empty shells. They pile the shells over the opening of their dens to camouflage them. They are not very accessible in their dens. When we do find them out and about, moving slowly across the reef, we get to observe and sometimes play with a really unique animal. He can make the color of his body change to match the surroundings. Special color cells called chromatophores expand and contract to control the pigments inside. The octopus may appear brown, yellow, orange, blue, green, white or any
combination of these colors. The colors of the octopus, and even the texture of his skin, change almost instantly as he moves to different areas of the reef. When disturbed the octopus can release a cloud of black ink. The ink hides the animal and confuses predators. Before the ink clears, it can shoot water out of its siphon and make a quick jet-propelled getaway. We see them most commonly on Twin Dolphins Reef, an “Across The Bay” trip.

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BANDED GUITARFISH – PEZ GUITARRA 

Zapteryx exasperata

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Guitarfish

Photo by Betty Taylor

Perhaps the oldest of the rays, Guitarfishes are thought to have evolved more than 150 million years ago during the Jurassic Period. They have changed little since that time. Guitarfish have mouths that are well adapted to capturing their prey of small crabs and crustaceans. We find many of them on Middle Wall, a deep dive along the canyon.

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NUDIBRANCHS

Hypselodoris agassizii

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Nudibranch

Photo by Iain Hackett

Nudibranch means “exposed lung” (some folks tell me it means naked snail). The feather like appendages on the body of these animals are actually their gills. Among the smallest animals we see on dives, these are certainly among the most beautiful. These animals are very colorful. Depending on the species their coloration can range from deep navy blue to yellow, orange even to white. They are often marked with dots or patterns of brilliant yellow, orange, pink or red. We have many varieties here in the Sea of Cortez. They range in size from about 1/2 inch to over 6 inches long. We find lots of nudibranchs “Across The Bay”, particularly at Twin Dolphins Reef.

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Glossodoris sedna

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Nudibranch

Photo by Kevin Colter

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Hypselodoris ghiselini

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Nudibranch

Photo by Kevin Colter

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Unknown Nudibranch

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Nudibranch

Photo by Christian Loutrel

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MOORISH IDOL – IDOLO MORO 

Zanclus canescens

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Moorish Idol

Photo by Laura & Marc Della Torre

Can you have a favorite Tropical Fish? If you can this is mine. When the Moorish Idol is swimming, it’s long dorsal fin flows in the current like a flag. The plume-like effect reminded folks of the plumes that the Moorish knights wore on their helmets during the Crusades. Thus the name Moorish Idol.

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LONGNOSE BUTTERFLYFISH – MARIPOSA HOCICONA 

Forcipiger flavissimus

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Butterfly Fish

Photo by Steve Rendell

A brightly colored visitor seen on most of our dives. They are a fairly common fish found on all our reefs.

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STONE SCORPIONFISH – LAPON

Scorpaena mystes

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Scorpion Fish

Photo by Kevin Colter

So, there you are, diving along, enjoying the always captivating underwater scenery. You reach down to steady yourself as you observe a moray eel or a nudibranch . . . when suddenly the ” big rock” you were about to rest your hand on jets away. That’s a good thing. You almost put your hand on a Scorpionfish which is named for their venomous dorsal, anal, and pelvic spines. The color patterns of their body blend well with the surroundings, providing camouflage that enables them to remain undetected by their prey. Scorpion fish lurk on the bottom and use their camouflage to pretend to be part of the reef. They remain perfectly still until a snack, in the form of a small fish or even an octopus swims by, (or until you almost touch them) and faster than your eye can see they jump. We find these interesting predators on all our divesites.

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PANAMIC PORKFISH 

Anisotremus taeniatus

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Porkfish

Photo by Kevin Colter

A beautiful fish with yellow and gold stripes that commonly schools above the reefs “Across The Bay” and at Cabo Pulmo.

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CORAL HAWKFISH – HALCON de CORAL 

Cirrhitichthys oxycephalus

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Hawkfish

Photo by Kevin Colter

This cute little fish hides among the spines of the Branching Stony Coral that makes up much of the reef at Cabo Pulmo.

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BLUE SPINY LOBSTER 

Panulirus inflatus

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Spiny Lbster

Photo by Kevin Colter

We find these colorful lobsters deep in cracks and crevices on the local dives. Often we see them out and walking around on our “Across The Bay” trips and at Cabo Pulmo.

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CROWN of THORNS 

Acanthaster ellisii

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Crown of Thorns

Photo by Kevin Colter

A sinister red and green starfish that’s implicated in the destruction of Coral reefs all over the Pacific region.

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BULLSEYE STINGRAY – RAYA MANCHADA 

Urolophus maculatus

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Stingray

Photo by Kevin Colter

These friendly bottom rays live on the sandy flats and are commonly found on all our divesites.

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CALIFORNIA SEA LION – EL LOBO MARINO 

Zalophus califonianus

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Sea Lion

 

Just my opinion, I don’t think there are many things you can do in the water that are more fun than diving with Sealions. We have a small rookery located just at “The Point.” When the sealions of this rookery decide to come off their rocks and play with us as we dive, we know we are in for some major entertainment. They are playful, noisy and exuberant as they swim with us, blowing bubbles in our faces and sometimes tugging on our fin tips. They are among the ocean’s most graceful animals. Every movement they make while swimming is like an underwater ballet. We dive with Sealions when they are in the mood at “The Point” at Cabo Pulmo and on our La Paz trips.

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Photo Credits

I hope you enjoyed the many new photos in the Amigos Del Mar Marine Life Photo Gallery. First and foremost, I want to thank everyone who emailed me the photos I used to illustrate this edition of the newsletter. I’ve tried to give proper credit to the folks who sent me photos. If I made a mistake and credited the wrong person or didn’t know who sent me the photo, the fault is totally mine. Let me know. As always, I would like to offer a free two-tank dive, on your next trip to Cabo, to anyone whose photo I used.

Many photos were taken by me with my Olympus Digital Camera in an Olympus housing, using Inon wide-angle and macro lenses. If you are interested in getting into digital photography underwater, communicate with a great guy – Matt Endo at this link – www.marscuba.com. You will find lots of good information and his email there.

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LINKS TO OUR FAVORITE WEB SITES

Web pages for information and pictures of the Marine Life found in the Sea Of Cortez.

The Slug Site – www.slugsite.tierranet.com – Pictures of nudibranchs from all over the world.

Sea of Cortez Photos – Great photographs of this Sea.

The Ocean Oasis – www.oceanoasis.org – The website of an IMAX production on the Sea Of Cortez with an excellent Field Guide.

David Wiess Underwater Photos – www.dataprobe.com/dw_uw Some good photos here of Socorro and the Sea of Cortez.

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