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 — through which 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 pictures 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 one among 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 folks have entry, lives a big colony of sea lions.

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

Sea lions actually do seem to be canine: They play fetch with rocks, starfish and the occasional bone, they usually typically 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 digital camera housing.

Swimming across the circumference of Los Islotes is feasible, although the water in some areas is kind of shallow, and entry is commonly restricted by tour guides. Younger adolescent sea lions might be seen enjoying 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.

Both sides of Los Islotes affords a special have a look at the ocean lions’ habits. Huge rocks jut from the seabed on the northern aspect, having eroded off the island way back. The ocean lions frolic backwards and forwards in these underwater obstacles, chasing one another by the rocky crevices.

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

Close to the japanese tip of the island is a huge arch that rises from the ocean. There, divers can drop right down to 50 toes, stare up and watch the silhouettes of sea lions as they swim from one aspect of the island to the opposite.

Maybe most charming of all: Hidden on the southern aspect of the islands, inside a small but simply accessible underwater cave, is a sea lion “nursery.” Small juveniles dart backwards and forwards underneath 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 demise. And therein lies a part of the problem for native marine park rangers and scientists: easy methods to strike the correct stability between conservation, schooling and eco-tourism.

In a means, it’s much like the stability 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 teach my youngsters concerning the world round them, and concerning the conservation of the setting.

Many of those pictures have been made with my spouse and boys by my aspect. (These waters, in spite of everything, are the place my son realized easy methods to scuba dive underneath the tutelage of a lifelong pal.) 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’ll be able to comply with his work on Instagram and Twitter.

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