Mobula Rays and Humpback Whales: East Cape and the Cycle of Life
by Dawn Pier
Earlier this month, as I snuggled into bed one night and stillness settled over me, a series of rhythmic sounds came sharp and distinct out of the darkness. It sounded like a horse trotting down the stone pathway that runs next to the house, to the beach. I pictured him then: brown coat shining under the light of the waxing moon, searching for a way out of the fenced property, ears twitching this way and that at the noise of dogs stirring. The clop-clop-clop stopped then, briefly. When it started again, the percussive sounds came quickly, too quickly to be a horse. No, it was more like popcorn popping. I smiled at the sound as I realized what it was. The mobula rays (Rhinoptera sp.) had returned to the Sea of Cortez and their flat bodies were smacking the water’s surface as they leaped several feet every meter or so of their journey north.
The rays we see jumping in the Sea of Cortez are likely four different species belonging to the Sting Ray Family Rhinopteridae, just like the massive Pacific Eagle ray. Unlike the solitary eagle ray, they arrive every winter in schools so massive that they block out the sun as they pass over the surface and through the upper 100 meters of the water column.
Like their cousins, they are diamond-shaped, but only grow to about three feet wide and weighing between 20 and 30 pounds at maturity. They arrive around the same time as the Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) begin to appear en mass, and we are treated to displays of the comparatively small rays jumping alongside these massive sea mammals flinging their hulk skyward. As is the case with the rays, I often hear the thud of the Humpback’s 30-ton belly flop before I see it.
Due to distance and the slow rate at which sound travels it takes several seconds for the sound of hundreds of gallons of water being displaced to reach my ears and by the time I look up, all I see is last of the white foam subsiding. Fortunately, the breach is usually the first of many. If I keep a look out, I am treated to subsequent displays or to that of a second whale joining in as he tries to outdo his or her companion.
In late March, I’ll be heading north to El Cardonal to document Dr. Urmas Kaldveer’s whale identification research. Together, we’ll travel by kayak into the Whale Zone and hopefully get photographs of the tail flukes of a whale to add to his collection. And maybe, if the stars are aligned and the whale spirits in agreement, we might just get to have a close up whale encounter. Stay tuned for my report.
How about you? What unusual displays have you been treated to while visiting or living in Baja? We’d love to hear your experiences and hope you’ll share them here! And if you do, why not think about an East Cape Vacation Rental?
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