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.

Additional Information


"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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Meet the Author
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max 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. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed 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. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn