Whale Shark Research and Natural History Expedition

Bring the whole family to the Sea of Cortez to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime research project. With a spotter plane to help locate the whale sharks, you'll observe and assist visiting guide and researcher Dení Ramírez during each encounter. All you need are snorkel and fins, though scuba divers will find plenty of other fish in the Sea at greater depths.

Aboard the Mechudo, you don’t need to be a diver to be wowed by wildlife in the rich waters of the Sea of Cortez. Bring the whole family for a cruise in this magical “world’s aquarium” (as Jacques Cousteau described it).

You can hike, kayak, swim, and explore nature in between whale shark sightings, or if you’re a scuba diver, jump in!

A spotter plane will help marine biologists Dení Ramírez and James Ketchum locate the enormous, spotted plankton feeders, who migrate here to feed and give birth. Like sharks everywhere, these animals are threatened worldwide, and their research – with your help – contributes to the knowledge base necessary to their preservation.

During each encounter, you'll observe and assist our visiting guides and researchers obtain DNA samples, takes photographic IDs and records behaviors. Data on feeding zones, biology, genetics and migratory patterns will be gathered and analyzed to promote global conservation of this threatened species.

The thrills of this expedition don't end with big fish sightings. We'll stop at some of the best dive sites in the area that have earned the Sea of Cortez its world-famous reputation for diving excellence and non-divers (ages 8 and up) can learn the necessary skills to safely try scuba diving!

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are freshly prepared by our onboard cooks. Each evening, you'll also enjoy our famous happy hour as you watch the sun and moon change guard.

Sample Trip Itinerary

Expedition Day 1

Arrive in La Paz, Mexico

Take a taxi to the Marina where you will be met by the dive master. The night will be spent dockside on board the Mechudo. Time at leisure to explore the colorful city of La Paz, with its charming promenade and many fine restaurants. (No meals)

Expedition Information

Trip rating:

Appropriate for all ages

Trip dates:

• May 14th -21st (w/ Dr. James Ketchum)

• May 28-June 4th (w/ Dr. Dení Ramírez) (FULL!)

• June 4th- June 11th (w/ Dr. Dení Ramírez)

Trip length:

8 days 7 nights, departures Sunday to Sunday.

*Price does not include the park conservation fee @ $25pp or gratuities.

Expedition Days 2 to 6

Cruising the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California)

Early in the morning of Day 2 our search for the whale sharks begins, as we head out to the Sea of Cortez, also called the Gulf of California.

The periodic aid of a spotter airplane will direct us to any animals found in the area. Our visiting guides/researchers will be on hand to help you learn more about this magnificent fish. So little is known about the whale sharks that the research she is conducting is vital to understanding and protecting this threatened species. Obtaining DNA samples, taking photographic IDs and observing whale sharks to obtain sex ratios and sizes has allowed them to begin the process of defining the population. Participants will have a chance to assist Deni as she works with the sharks and learn more about the global effort to protect them through talks, discussions, and demonstrations.

Not only will we encounter whale sharks, but we will visit some of the best dive sites in the area, explore these legendary islands, snorkel with playful sea lions and investigate odd and mysterious plants that somehow thrive in the rocky desert. The daily itinerary depends on the groups' experience level, location of the whale sharks, weather conditions, and other variables. (B/L/D daily)

Expedition Days 7

Sea of Cortez to La Paz

After a morning dive to savor the last moments of this incredible getaway, it's time to say goodbye. We return to La Paz, having lunch en route, and transfer to your hotel. The remainder of the day is at leisure. (B/L)

Expedition Day 8

Departure

There are taxis available 24 hours a day in front of the hotel for service to the La Paz airport. The cost is approximately $20. (No meals)

Conditions

A non-refundable 20% deposit is required to reserve space on the boat. Final balance is due at 60 days prior to departure date. A charter agreement will be sent to you upon confirmation of your charter date.

Price Includes

  • Deluxe shipboard accommodations on days 1 to 6.
  • Hotel on night 7.
  • Dinner on day 1 when arriving in Loreto, B/L/D on Days 2 to 6; B/L on Day 7.
  • Beer, soda and wine while shipboard.
  • Spotter plane to search for whale sharks (Limited time).
  • Snorkeling gear, dive tanks, weights and belts.
  • Services of knowledgeable guides and caring crew members.
  • Detailed pre-departure information to help you plan your trip.

Our Researchers

Deni Ramirez

Our Visiting Guide and Researcher

Dení Ramírez, began her research in the Gulf of California in 2002, and now studies whale shark population genetics around the world. So little is known about the sharks in her study area that the research she is conducting is vital to understanding and protecting this threatened species.

In her master’s degree work in the Gulf of California, Dení obtained DNA samples, photographic identifications, and observed whale shark behavior to obtain sex ratios and sizes. Using photographs, she has already identified over 80 individual whale sharks. This data will help to determine their population size and structure.

Her newest challenge has been tagging whale sharks with satellites and taking their tissue samples in the Bay of La Paz and comparing them with larger populations found around Holbox Island, near Cancun in the Gulf of Mexico. The results show that the two populations are genetically different from each other

Photographing the whale sharks, whose patterns of spots on their backs are unique to each individual, also helps scientists identify the animals to learn more about their movement and habits. "We know for example that 30 percent of the sharks return each year to the Bay of La Paz," Ramirez says. "We see juveniles aggregating in the coastal waters here, and we also see pregnant females."

"We think that the southern waters of the Gulf of California is like a nursery or feeding area for juveniles … and therefore we have to make a big effort to protect and conserve this critical habitat for the whale sharks," she added. As a Baja Expeditions visiting guide, Dení will share her research and knowledge about marine biology through talks, discussions, and demonstrations as participants actively collaborate in this important study of whale sharks—the world's largest fish.

James Ketchum

Our Visiting Guide and Researcher

James has studied sharks and migratory pelagic species since 1996, particularly whale sharks, hammerhead sharks and dolphinfish in the Gulf of California and Eastern Tropical Pacific. James holds a Ph.D. in Ecology from UC Davis, where he studied the movement patterns and habitat use of scalloped hammerhead sharks in the Galapagos Islands. His publications about hammerheads and whale sharks constitute pioneering work in Mexico and Ecuador. He participated in the first telemetric studies of sharks in Cocos, Malpelo, Galapagos and Revillagigedo islands, collaborating in the establishment of an array of 100 acoustic receivers in the region. James is co-founder of Migramar, an international network of research and conservation institutions that jointly study the dynamics of sharks and other pelagics in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.

James is also co-founder of Pelagios Kakunjá, a Mexican non-profit organization that seeks to conserve sharks and pelagic species by understanding their movements, migratory patterns and population dynamics in the Mexican Pacific. He works closely with the Mexican Commission for Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) and other agencies to improve the effectiveness of marine reserves for the conservation of sharks in Mexico. More recently, James has been leading studies on different shark species at Cabo Pulmo Marine Park and the Revillagigedo Biosphere Reserve, where he is assessing the relevance of no-take zones for the conservation of sharks and the effects of scuba diving on the abundance and behavior of these marine top predators.

Pelagios-Kakunjá is a non-profit organization based in La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico, that seeks to understand movements and migratory patterns of marine top predators. Pelagios aims to generate baseline information for the regional management and implementation of conservation strategies for sharks and other top marine predators in the Gulf of California and Mexican Pacific.

All our trips can be customized to your needs

Contact us to find out more and plan your trip of a lifetime. Contact