DIVE | GUADALUPE ISLAND
Guadalupe Island or Isla Guadalupe is a volcanic island located 240km (150 miles) off the west coast of Mexico's Baja California Peninsula and some 400km (250 miles) south-west of the city of Ensenada, in the Pacific Ocean.
The island’s 40km (25 miles) of rugged coast is made up of steep cliffs dramatically rising out of the sea with dense forest and scrub at the top. There is a small community of abalone fishermen based on the west coast and an even smaller meteorological base on the south coast – the 2010 census had the population at 213 people.
It is one of the best places in the world to see great white sharks – its relative isolation limits the boats to liveaboards (it is an 18-hour crossing from Ensenada) and the clear, blue water can result in visibility of nearly 50m (150ft).
The great whites are the only show in town – this is not a diving destination, you only come to cage dive with this mighty predator. During one season a staggering 178 individuals were seen in the water at the same time. However, there are no guarantees with wild animals.
The sharks tend to start arriving around July and are gone by the end of November. Rowdy gangs of males arrive in July and August. The larger females start showing up in October and November.
Most trips are for five days with three full days in the water with the sharks. In the peak months, it is possible that you will encounter as many as ten sharks on each dive. More than 200 individual animals have been identified in the area – if you strike really lucky and encounter a great white that has yet to be identified you get naming rights!
Certified divers will able to get up to three dives a day in the submerged cages (20m) and can use the surface cage from dawn to dusk, as can non-divers.
The sharks are here to feed – this was one of the last refuges for the northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) and the Guadalupe fur seal (Arctocephalus townsendi) when both species were nearly hunted to extinction in the 19th century for oil, blubber and their fur. In fact, scientists thought the northern elephant seal was extinct until eight individuals were discovered on Guadalupe Island in 1892 by a Smithsonian expedition, which proceeded to kill most of them for the museum's collections. The elephant seals managed to survive, and were finally protected by the Mexican government in 1922. Today, all surviving northern elephant seals share the same male ancestor.
More than 10,000 Guadalupe fur seals now call the island home – it is the only place where they breed. And one of the few breeding colonies of northern elephant seals also mates and broods their young on the island each summer and autumn. The island has been a pinniped sanctuary since 1975.