I first met Dení Ramírez on a scuba diving trip in the Sea of Cortez. She gave a presentation about whale sharks to the dive group, and on the last day of the trip we snorkeled with the sharks trying to help Dení gather data about them. This event created a shift within me; an urge to do what I love, travel, but with a purpose bloomed. Within a week of arriving back home I had signed up to spend over two months in La Paz, Mexico helping Dení with her research. This was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
I lived in a fun Mexican house with two other volunteers. We pedaled about La Paz on the bikes provided, and chatted with locals on our way to and from the office. My Spanish improved greatly from these interactions, and I definitely made a few people chuckle with my earliest attempts. Well, to be honest even with some of my later attempts. We met so many amazing and inspiring people through this program.
Our weekdays were spent either with the sharks or in the office. We swam up to four days a week with these magnificent creatures, and occasionally had specialty guests drop in such as dolphins, humpback whales, mobula rays and cow nosed rays. In the office we would run the photos we had gathered from swimming with the sharks through a database to see if there were any matches, and update each shark’s files with the behavioral data and documentation of injuries that we had gathered during the day.
Some of our weekends were spent doing trips to places like Todos Santos or participating in environmental events. The other two volunteers completed diving certifications. And we did two amazing camping trips. The first was to the island Espirito Santo, where I woke up to find wild rabbits hopping about me early in the morning, and we got to swim and cavort with young sea lions. The second was possibly my most amazing weekend, which is saying a lot as I have been blessed in life with many amazing and wonderful events. We camped on an island in Magdalena Bay. As we boated to the island we saw a mass migration of gray whales coming into the bay for shelter for the night. We watched bioluminescence froth about our ankles as we stood in the rolling waves and gazed at the sun give way to the starry night. While sleeping on sandy bluffs near the beach I awoke at some early hour to walk down to the water and watch dolphins feeding, beneath the glow of the moon, less than five feet from shore. In the morning, I was awakened by the sounds of a mother gray whale and her calf exhaling as they drifted languidly near shore. And finally, the most memorable of moments was when we interacted with gray whales on our way back to shore. A mother and calf came and played about our boat. At one point the mother swam beneath her calf and lifted it up to our boat, presenting her greatest treasure to us. I like to think, entrusting us to safe guard her child’s future, and showing us what there is to lose if we don’t change the way we treat and view our oceans.
This was an amazing opportunity to explore the Sea of Cortez, Southern Baja, and get up close to amazing wildlife. But not only that, this program is also a chance to help our oceans. Dení’s research helps push marine conservation forward and support protection for whale sharks and other marine species.