Whale Sharks and Great White Sharks - Tom Liles

Whale Sharks and Great White Sharks in Mexico!  Big animal action at it's best.  We did a combo dive, snorkeling and cage diving trip in October 2018 to Baja California with the Nautilus Liveaboards company.  The diving and snorkeling part was on the Sea of Cortez side at Bahia de Los Angeles, while the cage diving was at Guadalupe Island on the Pacific side.  I had been wanting to do the cage diving for years.  Stephanie?  Not so enthused!   Thus the combo trip to get in some "regular" diving.

Much easier air travel compared to our more exotic destinations!  We flew into San Diego and the tour transported the group across the border to Ensenada on the Pacific coast by bus, where we spent the night.  It was fun wandering around the town, lots of activity and restaurants/shops open since it is a cruise ship port.

The next day was an all day minibus ride across the peninsula to the Sea of Cortez (or Gulf of California) side at Bahia de Los Angeles.  Our hotel, Los Vientos, was right on the beach and nice.  The restaurant food was good and plentiful.  Rooms were huge though sparsely furnished.

Ricardo's dive operation was very basic!  The boat was launched each day at the community boat ramp (we rode in the boat as it was trailered from the dive shop to the ramp).  He and his staff were very friendly but spoke little or no English.  Communication and dive briefings were thus non-existent.  We did get VERY close to the sea lions snorkeling.  And the huge Fin Whale up close on the surface was another highlight.

Pelicans, Fin Whale, Jumping Fish, Ensenada Fountain

The water clarity was not ideal, lots of "stuff" in the water and a bit green.  Of course that is the reason the filter feeding Whale Sharks like the bay!  The snorkeling with the sea lions was fun, with the big males occasionally charging at us blowing bubbles to scare us off!  There was definitely colorful life to be found, but you had to get close.  The Whale Sharks could sneak up on you due to the visibility!  Many times we did not see them until they were very close.  And they are huge!

Snorkeling with Whale Sharks

Sea Lions, Bait Schools, etc

We of course saw a lot more of the Baja desert on the drive back to Ensenada.  We stopped for a walk up a hill to a cave with ancient pictographs, very nice.  Then the Santo Tomas Winery for a wine tasting, buying one bottle of course.  Arrived in Ensenada about sunset and had a nice time walking around the very active harbor area and watching a fountain show.

Guadalupe Island Great White Sharks

Now for the main event:  3 days of Cage diving with Great Whites!  What a hoot!  The Nautilus Explorer is a very nice boat.  24 passengers and lots of room, plus a hot tub on the top deck.  This was our 5th trip on the Explorer, two earlier trips up in Alaska and British Columbia before they moved the operation to Mexico, and another two trips to the Socorro Islands off of Cabo San Lucas.

Guadalupe Island is a full day sail from Ensenada, all alone out in the Pacific ocean.  The sea lion and elephant seal season draws the Great Whites.  Needless to say, there was no snorkeling or diving at Guadalupe!  There are 4 cages:  2 submerged cages that are winched up and down to 25 feet or so and two surface cages directly off the stern.  There was a rotating schedule for the submerged cages with each person getting 3 sessions a day.  The surface cages had no schedule, first come first served.

The water temperature was in the 72-73F range, so we wore 5mm full suits along with 3mm hooded vests.  DUI weight harnesses were provided.  You needed a lot of weight to keep steady on the bottom of the cage.  Air was surface supplied, so no regulator or buoyancy compensator.  Quite nice actually!

After the first cage dive, Stephanie was hooked!  We would get out of our scheduled submerged cage dive and immediately enter one of the surface cages!  The only down times were due to the cold water and meals!

The Great White Sharks wandered around looking very mellow!  Except when going for the bait!  Chumming is not allowed but the sharks can be "baited" to come closer to the cages.  "Wranglers" tied big chunks of fish to rope lines and tried to pull the bait away when the sharks came in.  The sharks got the snacks occasionally, but did not seemed perturbed when they missed.

As you can see below, the water was blue and very clear. We saw multiple Great Whites on every cage dive, sometimes 5 at a time.  You had to keep your head on a swivel to find one coming close.  The females are bigger than the males and show the scars to prove the mating process is very rough.  "Lucy" was the biggest shark we saw, in the 14 foot range, with a nice school of Pilot fish always in attendance.  Most sharks were in the 8-10 foot range.  We would try to estimate the length using the cages at about 8.5 feet wide.

One comment about all the videos on this page.  All were shot in the high quality HD format and can be quite large in file size.  SmugMug (my website provider) downgrades the video when uploaded to the site due to that large file size.  Also, when viewing the video, SmugMug tests your internet speed and may downgrade the quality even further if it determines your speed is not good enough to play the video seemlessly.  In any case, you will get a good feel for what Great White Shark cage diving is like!

Great Whites from the Cages

Great White Shark Cage Diving Action

Back Deck Action

Great White Shark with an Attitude

Goodbye to Guadalupe Island

It was a relaxing ride back to Ensenada, dreaming about sharks.  The seas were pretty good at the island and during the crossings.  After saying goodbyes to the crew, we were bused back to San Diego.

We spent a few extra days visiting San Diego after the Mexico portion of the trip.  Cabrillo Point, USS Midway aircraft carrier (excellent tour), Old Town, the San Diego Zoo.  But this was a dive trip, not a sight seeing trip!

The Great White Shark cage diving was exceptional and the boat and crew were excellent.  We are already thinking about our next trip to Guadalape Island.

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