A BIG FISH EXPEDITIONS TRIP
I'm going to do my best to talk a while about our sailfish
encounters but in my mind, the first three days of this
year's sailfish expedition were a lead up to the amazing and
unexpected event that occurred on our fourth day at sea...
The expedition started rather slowly. On day one, we saw many
circling frigate birds. Frigates and pelicans are the best
indicators of bait ball and sailfish activity.
We motored from one group of birds to another only to find
that they were all chasing pods of bottlenose dolphins
hunting flying fish. It
was an impressive sight but dolphins were not our goal!
On day two I managed to jump in with a small bait ball and
took a couple of snapshots of hunting sailfish but by the
end of the day we had little to show for our efforts.
As trip leader I was growing concerned that in my eagerness to
dodge Mexico's notorious winter storms, I had arrived a
little late this year. Fortunately I had a great group of
seasoned guests that were equally patient and enthusiastic.
At least the weather part of the gamble was paying off.
Day three dawned calm and clear yet again and we motored out
to sea to try our luck. After a quick run north towards the
Gulf of Mexico, we saw a large flock of birds in the
distance, swooping at the water and plucking fish from the
top of a boiling bait ball. Slipping into the warm Caribbean
water, we found ourselves surrounded by sailfish and spent
the rest of the day happily photographing scores of jet-propelled predators as they decimated one bait ball after
It was not easy to keep up with the sailfish as
they pursued the panicked sardines. The photography was
extremely challenging too because (perhaps in an effort to give their
pursuers the slip) the sardines always seemed to swim into the
By midafternoon we were all too exhausted to continue diving so the captain
steered us into the lea of Isla Contoy and we slowly threaded
our way back to Cancun.
then came Day Four... In almost lake like conditions we
headed north towards the area where we had encountered so
many sailfish the day before. But as we passed Contoy Island
we could see dorsal fins breaking the surface. The sea was alive with Caribbean Manta
Rays (Manta c.f. birostris) so of course we dallied a
while to take some pictures of these beautiful creatures.
encounter would probably have been the icing on the cake for some of our guests but
we continued north and stumbled upon more bird activity.
This time some of the sailfish acted quite timidly; backing
off from the sardines when we entered the water. This gave
us a great opportunity to get really close to a swirling
Swarms of distant birds here and there indicated that there
were probably quite a few sailfish hunting in the area but word came
over the radio that another boat had found a large pod of
killer whales. Dubiously, we sped as fast as we could to the
coordinates to find not orcas but an immense pod of false
Expecting a fleeting encounter, we leapt into the water but
the 3 to 5m long dolphins were as curious about us as we were
For the next two hours or more, the false orcas tolerated
our clumsy approaches. Occasionally one or two would swim
just below us or rocket by nerve-wrackingly close on the
As if meant to be, we found ourselves in the best visibility
since the trip started and I did my best to photograph as
many angles of these beautiful animals as I could.
In retrospect, this was one of the most memorable cetacean
encounters of my career. I very much hope that we see them
again next year and we may because they have a history of showing up
around this time (if only briefly).
We were all a little dazed on the boat ride back to Cancun.
As we passed Contoy, the wind and rain began in earnest.
Huddled under the canopy of Solo Buceo's chase boat, I
snapped a few images of our intrepid group. The grins show
how insignificant a rain storm is to a group of divers that
have just dove with mantas, sailfish and false ki