Swimming With the Sea Lions of Los Islotes

On the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, with journey restrictions in place worldwide, we launched a brand new collection — The World Through a Lens — wherein photojournalists assist transport you, nearly, to a few of our planet’s most stunning and intriguing locations. This week, Benjamin Lowy shares a set of images from an underwater shoot off the coast of Baja.

Nestled off the coast of Baja California Sur, close to La Paz, lies a string of islands within the Sea of Cortez — together with Isla Espíritu Santo and Isla Partida. A part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and considered one of Mexico’s main eco-tourism locations, these islands, together with their surrounding reefs and outcrops, are residence to numerous types of marine life.

On the northern tip of the chain, simply past Isla Partida, is a small craggy outcrop — roughly 1 / 4 mile lengthy — known as Los Islotes, or Isla Lobos. Right here, the place few individuals have entry, lives a big colony of sea lions.

I visited the world on considered one of my first underwater assignments, after years spent protecting conflict, politics and sports activities. Diving there was a transformational expertise. Alone, floating within the open water, I discovered peace amongst these playful animals, generally known as “canine of the ocean.”

Sea lions actually do appear to be canine: They play fetch with rocks, starfish and the occasional bone, and so they usually appear enamored by the few people who swim with them. They continually nibbled at my fins, or stared at their reflection within the dome of my underwater digicam housing.

Swimming across the circumference of Los Islotes is feasible, although the water in some areas is kind of shallow, and entry is usually restricted by tour guides. Younger adolescent sea lions may be seen taking part in within the surf and sunbathing on rocks. The bark of dominant males echoes above and under the water as they patrol the ocean for threats to the colony and to their rule. Above the water, the animals populate each rocky outcropping, mendacity prostrate within the solar.

Either side of Los Islotes affords a special take a look at the ocean lions’ habits. Large rocks jut from the seabed on the northern facet, having eroded off the island way back. The ocean lions frolic forwards and backwards in these underwater obstacles, chasing one another by means of the rocky crevices.

The southern facet of the island is the place the males sit and sunbathe. Territorial and ferocious, these gigantic males may be harmful and ought to be given a large berth.

Close to the japanese tip of the island is a big arch that rises from the ocean. There, divers can drop all the way down to 50 ft, stare up and watch the silhouettes of sea lions as they swim from one facet of the island to the opposite.

Maybe most charming of all: Hidden on the southern facet of the islands, inside a small but simply accessible underwater cave, is a sea lion “nursery.” Small juveniles dart forwards and backwards below the watchful eye of older females.

Sadly, even these protected sea lions can’t keep away from the encroachment of people; they’ll sometimes be seen with fishing line wrapped round their necks, which may result in an infection and dying. And therein lies a part of the problem for native marine park rangers and scientists: tips on how to strike the appropriate steadiness between conservation, schooling and eco-tourism.

In a means, it’s much like the steadiness I attempt to strike myself: My mission as a photographer is to speak what I see and expertise to an viewers. My mission as a father is to educate my children about the world around them, and concerning the conservation of the setting.

Many of those images had been made with my spouse and boys by my facet. (These waters, in spite of everything, are the place my son realized tips on how to scuba dive below the tutelage of a lifelong buddy.) And I’ve but to discover a photographic topic that has introduced me extra peace and tranquillity than swimming with the ocean lions of Los Islotes.

Benjamin Lowy is an American photojournalist based mostly in New York Metropolis. You may comply with his work on Instagram and Twitter.

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