We are super excited to bring you the first in a new series of exclusive blogs for Scubaverse from Jay Clue, Founder of Dive Ninja Expeditions… Welcome Jay!
It’s dawn on the Sea of Cortez and the sun has just lifted above the horizon igniting the Baja sky and surrounding desert mountains with neon orange hues. As I scan the horizon, the silence on the water is almost deafening. Then it happens… A slap echoes across the sea. Then in quick succession another. And another. And another. It sounds like popcorn. Within seconds there are so many mobula rays leaping clean from the ocean’s surface that we struggle to even count them. We quickly grab our fins, masks and cameras, and get ready to jump in.
What comes next is something I struggle to put into words – no matter how many times I’ve seen it or try to speak about it. Imagine looking below the surface and your entire view is filled with a gigantic school of devil rays. Stretching from the ocean surface down to as far below as you can see. While white beams of light dance through the water the school swims in unison. It’s as if Mother Nature had choreographed thousands of beautiful underwater birds soaring together along a deep blue ocean backdrop. I’ve never seen anything else remotely close to it in the world. This is the annual mobula ray aggregation of Baja California Sur, Mexico.
The mobula rays of Baja California, or more specifically, Munk’s Devil Rays (Mobula munkiana, also known as Pygmy devil rays) live here year-round, but can also be found throughout the tropical eastern Pacific from Mexico to Peru. Usually they are found alone or in small groups. But every spring they begin to congregate in certain areas in southern Baja, creating what are considered to be the largest schools of any ray species on earth – and one of our planet’s most incredible natural spectacles. It is believed they gather here following the changing water temperatures to find mates and gorge on blooms of mysid shrimp and other zooplankton.
Although they create these gigantic schools every year not much is actually known about them. For example, we do not know how long they live for, or what their migration patterns are, or even why they love to jump from the water so much.
What we do know is that the IUCN has classified the Munk’s Devil Ray as Near Threatened since 2006. They also have one of the lowest fecundity rates (chance of reproducing) of any marine species due to them being estimated to only give birth to 1 pup every 2-3 years. This tied with them frequently being caught as bycatch in commercial fishing, gillnets, and by trawlers means their populations could easily take a sudden turn for the worse and diminish quite quickly. Scientists like Marta are working hard to better understand them so that more protections can be put in place to help preserve these elegant creatures and the natural wonder they create.
They are the smallest ray in the mobula family measuring about 1.1 meters from wing tip to wing tip – making them a fraction of the size of their huge cousins – the Oceanic Manta Ray. But what these little ninjas lack in physical size they make up for in acrobatic stunts. They are often seen flying from the water performing incredible flips and vertical jumps to heights of almost 3 meters above the surface – making for awesome encounters both above and under the water. Seeing the schools they create is an experience you will never forget. Diving alongside a school towering 20 meters tall and what seems like endless in length is jaw dropping. It is a stunning reminder of how remarkable our oceans truly are.
How to Experience it
The best time of year to see them is from late April until around mid July. Water temperatures this time of year can be a bit chilly around Baja, so you’ll def want to pack a wetsuit. But since all the action is within the first few meters of water, and the rays tend to stay away from bubbles, you can leave all the scuba gear at home and just pack your fins, mask, snorkel, and wetsuit. Flights are pretty straight forward with direct flights from many US cities, as well as Mexico City, into the Los Cabos International Airport (SJD).
There a few tour operators offering short half day tours to see them in La Paz and Cabo San Lucas. But for the best way to experience the magic of this event I would recommend planning for a few days with them because the action changes every day. Dive Ninja Expeditions runs specialized 5 and 8 day ‘Mobula Ray Expeditions’ to their ‘secret spots’ far away from the big cities and hoards of tourists. The expeditions are well thought out and include pretty much everything — oceanfront accommodation in a beautiful little beach town, round trip transfers from Cabo, educational talks & presentations, specialized Team Ninja guides, meals, and a lot more.
Additionally they offer citizen science style trips where the guests get to learn more about the rays and can take part in critical mobula ray research activities alongside marine scientist & mobula ray expert, Marta Palacios. Plus in proper eco-ninja fashion, a portion of your ticket purchase is donated by Dive Ninjas to help fund Marta’s research and local conservation efforts to protect these incredible creatures.
Interested in checking out this extraordinary adventure yourself? Visit the Dive Ninja Expeditions website, they’ve just released their 2020 Mobula Ray Expedition dates!
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