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Destination Portfolio: Josh Schellenburg, Baja, Mexico
By Josh Schellenburg, March 26, 2024 @ 10:00 AM (EST)

A smooth hammerhead, the second-largest hammerhead species, is a seasonal visitor to the waters off Baja
 

While the list of marine megafauna destinations is long, with places like Tonga, The Bahamas, or Dominica coming to mind, perhaps no destination has rocketed into the spotlight quite like the Baja Peninsula. Seemingly just about every big marine animal on Earth either lives in the waters around Baja full time or passes through.

Sought-after species like blue sharks and shortfin makos are regulars to the deep, pelagic waters while the ocean’s biggest apex predators, the sperm whale and orca, are more transient and less frequently seen. Not only does the open ocean on the Pacific side of the peninsula lend itself to just about any pelagic animal potentially cruising up or down the coast, but the “inside” in the Sea of Cortez itself attracts the biggest of the big, including blue whales.

I have traveled to Baja countless times now to photograph the charismatic marine life there. I hope this portfolio showcases well the diversity of big animals to be found in the region, but I know I have only just scratched the surface. From smooth hammerheads and blue sharks to olive ridley turtles and humpback whales, here’s a taster of what Baja has to offer.
 

An iconic open ocean species, the blue shark is a superstar of the Baja underwater scene
 

Hand in hand with the blue shark is the shortfin mako. Generally the ones seen off Baja are relatively small individuals, but 10+ footers have been seen
 

Every fall, huge shoals of sardines move down the Baja coast, followed by countless predators, like this California sea lion
 

While the Caribbean coast of Mexico might be more well known for whale sharks, Baja is home to a healthy population as well
 

A beautiful blue shark cruising through the late afternoon sun rays. An unfortunate reality these days is that many sharks, blues being no exception, sport injuries from encounters with fishing gear. This one has a deformed jaw
 

A brown pelican crashing (un-gracefully) into the water after food
 

While they have likely plied these waters for generations, it seems only in the last few years have the orcas around Baja become a star attraction. On a long list of marine megafauna to be found around Baja, the orca is king
 

A striped marlin, cutting through sun rays while chasing a handful of doomed sardines
 

Humpback whales are a frequent visitor to the coast of Baja and sometimes while in the water photographing sharks, these big guys come through to investigate
 

An olive ridley turtle, not a common sight in many places but they are quite frequently seen along the coast of Baja
 

A classic portrait of a young blue shark in the last light of the day
 

Mobula rays, the small cousin of the manta and a frequent prey item for orcas, gather in massive numbers during certain times of year
 

During the fall sardine run, striped marlin and California sea lions often work in concert to gather and then demolish schools of baitfish
 

To view more of Josh’s stunning big-animal work from Baja and around the globe, please give him a follow on Instagram.

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