Last January, my girlfriend and I traversed a large part of Mexico’s Baja California Sur in search of aquatic encounters in the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean. In the Sea of Cortez we hoped for encounters with whale sharks, sea lions and mobula rays. On the Pacific side, we aimed for gray whales in the lagoons and a trip to the Socorros. In the end, Baja was all that we hoped for… and more.
I captured the now-viral images of mobula rays near the island of Espiritu Santo close to La Paz. Tourists commonly visit the island to enjoy the beaches, the scenery, and the sea lions of Los Islotes. We were interested in all of the above, but were hunting for images of (jumping) mobulas as well.
A mobula ray leaps out of the water in Baja, Mexico. It’s a sure sign of an exciting encounter to come
We rented our boat from El Tecolote beach, where a former fisherman offered to take us out for the day for a decent price. It was a good deal, but even more so when taking into account that we had our own private boat and we had the flexibility to stay out on the water for the larger part of the day. As we rounded the island, we soon saw our first group of mobulas. Unfortunately, they didn’t stay with us, and were long gone as soon as I entered the water.
Close to the rocky outcrops of Los Islotes, we snorkeled with the resident sea lions and also ran into a big pod of bottlenose dolphins, which also treated us to a nice bow-riding session. Having had our fill of photographing dolphins, we made our way to the other side of the island and cruised towards a beach to have lunch. But before we could reach the beach, we noticed new movement on the surface.
Bottlenose dolphins cruise with the boat as we follow the trail of mobula rays
The mobulas frolic near the surface, creating choppy, white water, helping the boat captain follow the giant group of rays beneath the surface
Mobbed by Mobulas
Little white tips broke the surface, and now and then a mobula jumped high into the air to perform acrobatic flips. It turned out to be a huge school of mobulas—exactly what we had been hoping for. I quickly grabbed my fins and mask and urged the captain to drop us close to the rays.
Entering the greenish water made me realize that the visibility was not that great, until the big school came in sight from the mist. What an awesome spectacle: There must have been 400 of them schooling together close to the surface. My girlfriend, Sandy, entered the water as well, so I incorporated her into the images as a freediving model.
When finally in the water, Joost encountered a group of mobula rays more than 400 strong
Being advanced freedivers helped Joost capture these images, and even add his girlfriend as a model for an extra compositional element
Don’t be fooled: Mobula rays are surprisingly quick and hard to keep up with. A higher ISO was needed to compensate for quick shutter speeds to freeze the rays’ movement
I captured the images using my Nikon D7000 with Tokina 10–17mm lens in an Aquatica housing. Despite being close to the surface, I had to bump the ISO to 400 to compensate for the fast shutter speeds I was using to capture the mobulas in natural light. Mobulas can be incredibly fast! Being advanced freedivers really helped a lot getting these shots, since the school of rays moved around quite a bit. We could keep close to the rays for about five minutes and then they were off into the deep.
As if that wasn’t enough, we encountered some more bottlenose dolphins in the shallows, which happily accompanied the boat to a deserted beach. That is where we finally sat down for lunch. Baja is such a wild place and I would strongly recommend a visit to anybody with an adventurous mind and a love for the sea.
To see more of Joost’s work, visit www.joostvanuffelen.com.