Scuba Diving in Mexico’s Revillagigedo Islands, Part 2: Hammerheads, Rays and Humpbacks

San Benedicto Island is one of four islands that make up the Revillagigedo archipelago (Credit: Eric Lai)

San Benedicto Island is one of four islands that make up the Revillagigedo archipelago (Credit: Eric Lai)

This is the second part of Marcela Swenson’s three-part series on her diving adventure in Mexico’s Revillagigedo Islands. Check out Part 1 here and stay tuned for Part 3 tomorrow.

Diving, day one
Our first two days of diving were at San Benedicto Island, a vegetation-less island with an eerie beauty straight out of Interstellar. We spent our first day diving “El Cañon,” which hammerhead sharks are known to frequent. The members of our group varied in experience from one dive to over 200 dives, so the mission of our first outing was to get used to our equipment and dust off the cobwebs. Almost immediately after descending below the surface, a giant manta ray emerged from the blue and passed over us. Soon, three more joined it and we stared in awe while they glided majestically like kites through the air. As we ascended, sure enough, we saw two hammerhead sharks below us. Not bad for a first dive!

Two hammerhead sharks swim above the ocean floor (Credit: Eric Lai)

Two hammerhead sharks swim above the ocean floor (Credit: Eric Lai)

However, our varied experience was evident, as many of us consumed our air much too quickly and then forgot to do the all-important three-minute safety stop at 15 feet beneath the surface. There was certainly a lot of room for improvement!

Fellow diver Kate swims alongside three dolphins (Credit: Eric Lai)

Fellow diver Kate swims alongside three dolphins (Credit: Eric Lai)

Diving, day two
The wake-up call on our first full day of diving came at 6 am sharp, and it was well worth it as the day proved to hold one of the best dives of the trip. Upon descending at “The Boiler,” as dive site #2 was called, we found a small school of dolphins awaiting us. Curious and playful, the dolphins transfixed our entire group. I was close enough to see scratches and bite marks on some of the more seasoned dolphins. In a scene straight out of the pages of National Geographic, a giant manta appeared and swam amongst us and the dolphins for a few surreal moments. I was shocked to look at my dive computer and realize we had seen all of this just four minutes into our dive.

The drone, just before its first and last flight of our trip (Credit: Noah Bleicher)

The drone, just before its first and last flight of our trip (Credit: Noah Bleicher)

Drone down!
Knowing that humpback whales come to these islands to give birth, one member of our group—“Frosty”—brought a drone in hopes of capturing aerial photos of them. On the drone’s maiden flight, we learned an important lesson about drones and boats: If a drone flies out of the range of its remote, it will automatically return to the exact spot it was in when it was turned on. This is a wonderful feature on land, but on a boat that’s constantly moving, this is a recipe for disaster—a very, very slow disaster. We watched in horror as the drone slowly descended from the sky and into the water a mere 20 feet from our boat. There would be no aerial photos of whales with their calves, but we did capture a funny and suspenseful video of the drone’s descent and near-rescue.

Socorro Island is the largest of the Revillagigedo Islands (Credit: Noah Bleicher)

Socorro Island is the largest of the Revillagigedo Islands (Credit: Noah Bleicher)

Diving, day three
On day three we awoke to find ourselves anchored at an emerald green island that would have seemed more at home in Ireland. This, we learned, was Socorro Island. Beneath the water we encountered two natural rock arches and brightly colored reefs that made me feel like I was swimming in an aquarium. While the site itself was quite stunning and there were plenty of tropical fish to be seen, the largest animals we saw were a giant lobster and an impressive striped eel.

For a moment, we swam with three humpback whales (Credit: Eric Lai)

For a moment, we swam with three humpback whales (Credit: Eric Lai)

The time I swam alongside humpback whales
We ended our day in two separate motorboats with our wetsuits, snorkels and one mission: to get up close and personal with some whales. A little background on Revi and humpback whales: Approximately every two years, females come to these islands alone to give birth to their young. They stay near the islands long enough for their calves to get big and strong enough to survive longer journeys. In the meantime, male humpbacks compete in hopes of eventually mating with a female. Calves later leave their mothers after a year, and once the mothers becomes pregnant again, they return to the Revillagigedo Islands and the cycle starts anew.

We knew the whales were all around us; we were constantly seeing their slick backs breaking through the water, the spray from their blow holes in the distance, and occasionally males slapping their tails or fins on the water’s surface, vying for the favor of the females. We only needed to be patient to get close to them, but we needed a lot of luck if we were to snorkel with them as the mothers want to protect their young and dive deep in the water when approached.

After diving into the water several times in vain, we finally had a stroke of luck when we came upon a mother, calf and escort swimming toward Socorro. They tried to escape our boat but the water was too shallow for them to dive so they had no choice but to swim along the coast of the island. This was our chance! In a spectacular display of chaos we belly-flopped into the water—some of us losing goggles and breaking fins in the process—and swam as fast as our (busted) fins could take us. I was dubious that we’d be able to see them, but it was only a few seconds before I made out the distinct underbelly, then the eye, then the white edge of the fin, and finally the body and tail of a humpback whale. For a few mind-blowing seconds I was swimming with a humpback whale! The adrenaline rush and euphoria that comes from being in the presence of such a gargantuan creature is truly indescribable. Suffice it to say, it was the highlight of my trip.

Fortunately my friend Eric was able to capture the experience on his GoPro so I can relive the moment over and over, and so can you:

 

Marcela Swenson’s dive trip through Mexico’s Revillagigedo Islands continues tomorrow with Part 3.

Marcela Swenson

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