A Mexican sea lion colony defies dwindling numbers.
The number of California sea lions has declined substantially as a result of climate change, but they are thriving in one natural refuge region off the coast of northwest Mexico, where tourists who dare to swim with them are rewarded.
According to Hiram Rosales Nanduca of the Autonomous University of Southern Baja California, the number of this species of sea lion in Los Islotes, located in the Gulf of California — a finger-shaped body of turquoise water between the Baja California peninsula and the Mexican mainland — has increased from 500 to 700 in ten years.
It’s one of 13 colonies of this species of sea lion found in the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez.
“Los Islotes is the only colony that has not only remained steady but has risen slightly,” Rosales told AFP.
Otherwise, between 1991 and 2019, the population of Zalophus californianus (their scientific name) in the Gulf of California has decreased by 65 percent. The number of creatures decreased from 45,000 to 15,000 as the water temperature rose, according to the Ensenada Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education in Baja California.
At Los Islotes, the trick is to limit human activity like fishing and tourism. According to Rosales, the sea lions have a safe haven where they may rest and spawn.
Indeed, tours are halted during the mating season to avoid disturbing the animals.
Human tourists can take a tour boat outside of that season and even swim with the grayish-brown sea lions, who have long moustaches and can swim as well on their backs and tummies.
“It was a little terrifying at first, but once I got used to it, it was really cool,” said Esmeralda Fonseca, a US tourist who swam with the sea lions with a group of 20-something companions.
Adult California sea lions are territorial and prefer to keep their distance from humans, but young ones enjoy getting near to people.
Depending on the season, tourists can also witness rock formations, marine birds, and, with luck, dolphins, orcas, and whales.
According to Ojeda, the population of California sea lions has increased “and I think it’s excellent, but it might be better. We need to be more responsible when it comes to their care.” Los Islotes is part of a protected area in the Gulf of California that has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Washington Newsday Brief News is a daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C.