Changing Planet

Hanging Out With Sea Lions at Los Islotes

Los Islotes, Gulf of California — “This is one of the few places where one can swim so easily with sea lions and enjoy them from their perspective,” said John Francis, sea lion expert and wildlife filmmaker, before we jumped into the water swirling around a set of rocky islets known as Los Islotes, on the southern end of the Sea of Cortez, Mexico. We were there with the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration (CRE), on a field inspection inspired by Francis, the committee’s deputy chairman. (National Geographic and the Gulf of California, a Legacy of Research and Conservation)

Francis had given us a lecture before our swim with the sea lions, warning us to keep our hands to ourselves as the curious mammals had been known to give a “playful nip” to people trying to touch them.

Field Inspection linkWe had been decanted from our cruise ship, National Geographic Sea Bird, into the much smaller “Zodiacs” that took us to within a few hundred feet of the rocks where sea lions were basking. Then, in pairs of “buddies”, we were allowed to snorkel to perhaps within 20 feet of the colony.

Photograph by David Braun
Photograph by David Braun

Our first close encounter with a sea lion was as it swam past, causing a frenzy of feeding by colorful fish in the cloud of feces it left in its wake. With sea lions and fish about us, and many more sea lions and birds on the rocks in front of us, pelicans dive-bombing occasionally alongside, the experience was certainly an immersion in nature.

Photograph by David Braun
Photograph by David Braun
Photograph by David Braun
Photograph by David Braun

Los Islotes is the southernmost “rookery” of the California sea lion, an abundant species that can be found as far north as Oregon and Washington state in summer. Here at Los Islotes, a few miles north of the town of La Paz on the Baja Cailfornia peninsula, the sea lions are accustomed to swimming with tourists and researchers. There have been several studies of the impact of day trippers from La Paz on the breeding colony, and the results have not always reflected favorably on the tourism.

Ordinarily about 400 sea lions may found on Los Islotes, John Francis said. But on this visit the numbers were lower than expected at the rookery, “likely a product of El Nino in addition to visiting in the non-breeding season,”he explained. Even so, it was always a delight to hang out with some of the most amazing creatures on the planet, Francis added.

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"National Geographic Sea Bird" at sunset, Los Islotes. Photograph by David Braun.
“National Geographic Sea Bird” at sunset, Los Islotes. Photograph by David Braun.

12418031_10153900711084116_8462971761216697621_nDavid Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.

He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.

Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship

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Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media.

Assignments in 80 countries/territories included visits to a secret rebel base in Angola, Sahrawi camps in Algeria, and Wayana villages in the remote Amazon. Braun traveled with Nelson Mandela on the liberation leader’s Freedom Tour of North America, accompanied President Clinton and Chelsea Clinton to their foundation’s projects in four African countries and Mexico, covered African peace talks chaired by Fidel Castro in Havana and Boutros Boutros-Ghali in Cairo, and collaborated with Angelina Jolie at World Refugee Day events in Washington, D.C. As a member of the National Geographic Expeditions Council, and media representative to the Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration, he joined researchers on field inspections in many parts of the world.

Braun has been a longtime member/executive of journalist guilds, press clubs, and professional groups, including the National Press Club (Washington) and editorial committee of the Online Publishers Association. He served as WMA Magazine of the Year Awards judge (2010-2012), advisory board member of Children’s Eyes On Earth International Youth Photography Contest (2012), and multimedia/communications affiliate of the International League of Conservation Photographers (2015-2017).

David Braun edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world.

He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience.

Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (dbraun@ngs.org)

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