Socorro 2019 Dive Report - Sharks and Manta Rays!

Socorro 2019 Dive Report - Sharks and Manta Rays!

BY SCOTT GIETLER

In March 2019 I embarked on my first dive trip to Socorro. And yes, the last 200 people I mentioned this to all said the same thing - "I can't believe you haven't been there!" Well - I made it, and the trip exceeded all of our expectations. Sharks were out in large numbers, and came closer than we ever thought possible. Manta Rays were in abundance, larger than life and some allowed repeated close encounters. We also had some exciting, yet quick, dolphin encounters. Read on to find out why it is part of our Bluewater Dive Travel Bucket List series of trips.

In terms of travel, this was the easiest dive trip I've done so far. Cabo was a quick 2-hour flight from LAX airport, and there were many excellent hotels on the water within 25 minutes of the airport. Cabo is a fun place to spend a night, and the boat was a quick 7-minute taxi ride from the hotel. Taxis do like to overcharge you in Cabo, so be sure to negotiate as much as you can, or use Uber.

The international airport is called the San Jose del Cabo Airport (airport code SJD), and is in the town of San Jose del Cabo, which is where we all stayed. Cabo San Lucas is the neighboring town, about 25 minutes away. Together, the two towns are called "Los Cabos", which translates to "the capes". Both towns have good nightlife, but Cabo San Lucas has the well-known reputation of being much more of a "partying" town.

We boarded the Rocio Del Mar liveaboard at 8AM, departed the dock at 10AM, and after 26 hours of a very smooth crossing we were getting ready for our first dive. 

 

Turtle | Socorro Scuba Diving & Underwater Photography
We saw mating turtles during the checkout dive - plus a Manta. A great start at San Benedicto Island! 

Turtle | Socorro Scuba Diving & Underwater Photography
Schooling hammerheads on dive #2. This is when we knew we were in for a good trip!

Turtle - Socorro underwater photography
Silvertips were everywhere at San Benedicto.

Dolphin - Socorro underwater photography
Half a second later, the dolphin got the fish. Almost the entire group got to enjoy this surprise early-morning dolphin hunting encounter.

Silvertip Shark - Socorro underwater photography
More Silvertips coming in close. On several dives on San Benedicto, Silvertips and Galapagos sharks were everywhere. We also saw a Tiger Shark on this dive.

 

PHOTO GEAR USED

Myself and the guests used lots of exciting new gear including the Nauticam D850 Housing, Nauticam A7R III Housing, YS-D2J Strobes and the Paralenz Action Camera. Besides the drone, no gear was donated to the ocean gods, and lots of fun was had.

Day #1 & #2 - San Benedicto Island

Shark action was much better on this than in other years, some sites seemed to always have Galapagos or silvertip sharks trying to get cleaned, often with a tiger or hammerhead off in the distance.

The highlights of the first two days were sharks and dolphins. Lots of sharks, everywhere, coming in close. Galapagos, silvertip, even some hammerheads, a few silkies, and a tiger shark. We couldn't get enough of the sharks, and it was great to see them in such large numbers. The hammerheads were extremely shy, but you could get close to the silvertips and the Galapagos sharks. A lot of the action centered around a cleaning station at 75-85ft depth, where there were plenty of rocky outcroppings to hide behind in an attempt to surprise the sharks.

One early morning dive, all 3 of our dive groups had an amazing dolphin encounter. A large bottlenose dolphin swam through all 3 groups repeatedly, chasing jacks and catching then eating one in front of our eyes. Suffice to say, we were hungry for more dolphin encounters after that!

 

Whitetip - Socorro underwater photography
Roca Partida was beautiful.

Jacks - Socorro Underwater Photography
Now I switched to my fisheye lens - my favorite lens for epic shots. School of jacks at Roca Partida

Whitetip reef sharks - Socorro underwater photography
Whitetips like to pile on top of each other at Roca Partida.

 

Day #3 - Roca Partida

We spent day #3 at Roca Partida. Roca Partida is not even an island, it is just a pinnacle that breaks the surface of the water. You can swim around the entire pinnacle in one dive. Conditions here can be fairly tough, but we had it fairly calm during our time there.

Whitetip reef sharks were one of the highlights of this site, and in some locations dozens of them were piled on top of each other. Truly a sight to be seen! There were also many schools of reef fish and jacks, but the real treat was seeing enormous bluefin tuna, even larger than the ones that I saw in the Galapagos. These tuna were much bigger than a person and we all watched them swim by in awe.

Whale sharks and humpback whales often make appearances at this dive site, but we did not see them that day. Our dive guide told us that the whale sharks are much more common in December and January.

 

Day #4 - Socorro Island

Day #4 was spent at Socorro Island. All boats must visit Socorro Island, as that is where the Mexican military boards and checks the boats. We did three dives at a lovely site called Cabo Pearce, known for its friendly dolphin encounters. We did have some dolphins swim by, but it was not the extended encounter that we had hoped for. There were also some sharks, a couple of manta rays, and plenty of trumpetfish and other reef fish. The site had nice visibility and incredible structure.

 

Manta Ray - Socorro underwater photography
The manta ray interactions with the divers were incredible and were the highlight of the trip.

Manta ray underwater photo
Manta Ray Silhouette - F14, ISO 200, 1/250th.

 

Day #5 & 6 - San Benedicto

Day #5 and #6 were spent back at San Benedicto, where our focus was manta rays. On these days, I had the best manta ray encounters that I have ever had in my life. These friendly manta rays allow you to swim inches away from them, for several minutes at a time. Even though I was so close, at no time ever did a manta ray touch me with its wing, that is how much control that they have. 

The manta rays have an entire eco-system of jacks, trevally, and remoras swimming around with them. It is quite a sight to see. At one point, I had 4 manta rays swimming around me, performing various moves, turns, and ballets. These dives alone are worth the trip to Socorro - they are not easily forgotten, and you will always cherish your moments with the most intelligent fish in the ocean.

 

A Smooth Ride Home

After 20 dives in Socorro, we had a smooth 26-hour ride back to Cabo. The Rocio Del Mar was a well-run operation with a great chef, a very good dive operation and a well-trained crew. Being able to get my tank on easily, and getting on/off the panga easily are important criteria for myself, and the Rocio scored an "A" in both of these categories.

Cameras and domes were treated with care, and I felt like we were always brought to the best areas of the dive sites.

 

More Photos

Here are some amazing underwater photos taken by one of the guests, David Sancho with the Nauticam Nikon Z7 Housing and Nikon 16-35mm lens.

Socorro underwater photography by David Sancho Socorro underwater photography by David Sancho

Socorro underwater photography by David Sancho Socorro underwater photography by David Sancho

 

ABOUT THE ROCIO DEL MAR

The Rocio Del Mar was a great choice for our Socorro trip. The boat has stabilizers on each of its sides, which helps prevent it from swaying left and right with the waves. The beds were comfortable, and I had some of best sleep ever at night between the hours of 10PM and 6 AM. On the top deck, there is a spacious outdoor area where we were served not one, but two delicious meals under the stars along with great wine, beer, and margaritas. 

Food on the Rocio del Mar was terrific. In addition, our guests had every diet under the planet covered - some were vegan, some vegetarian, some pescetarian, and others gluten-free. The kitchen took care of everyone, although exactly how they accomplished that so well I still don't know to this day. In addition to 3 meals a day served to our tables, the crew put out prolific amounts of deliciously prepared food during long dive intervals to serve as meals that we eat between meals.

The dive operation was excellent. Tanks always had good fills, nitrox was at 32%, getting on and off the pangas was very easy, even on a day in which we had rougher weather.  The ladders on the pangas extended deep into the water, making it easier to get onto the pangas than other skiffs that I've been on. The crew was very well-trained on how to handle camera gear and we always felt that the gear and divers were well taken care of. Rinse tanks for camera and dive gear were large, always filled with fresh water and clearly labeled.

We dived in 3 groups of 6 or 7 divers each, each group with its own divemaster. Groups entered the water 15-20 minutes apart in an attempt to give them some separation underwater. The Rocio coordinates with other boats so that we enter the water when other divers are not in the water. We rarely saw divers from other boats in the water, perhaps only once or twice during the trip. During our trip, we only had a couple of days where there was more than one other boat on a dive site, but now that there are a few new boats in Socorro, the boats will need to make even more of an effort to coordinate among themselves.

Talks and presentations were given in a comfortable TV room on a 2nd deck, which is also where 2 of the 10 cabins were (cabins 9 and 10), and where the food was served in-between dives.

Cabins 1-8 were on the same deck as the dive deck/camera table, which I liked as it made it quick and easy to go between your cabin, your tank station, and your camera. We always felt we had plenty of room on the boat as we were spread out among the TV room, 2nd deck outside area, and the top deck lounging area.

The crew was friendly and hard-working, and they got to know the names and preferences of the guests. By the end of the trip, they felt like family and we all looked forward to our next trip on the boat.

 

SOCORRO Trip Stats

  • Total # of dives: 20 dives
  • Dives per day: 2 dives the first day, 3-4 dives a day after that
  • Water temp: 75 degrees on most dives
  • # of manta ray photos taken by Scott: 1,048!
  • # of drones lost to the ocean gods: One
  • # of cameras flooded: Zero
  • Favorite snack on the trip: Snickers
  • # of tiger sharks spotted: Two
  • # of short fills: Zero!
  • Winner of best dive deck dancer award: Axel (Dive Guide)

 

Socorro photo workshop BY erik lukas

I had been looking forward to getting back to Socorro as it had been nearly 3 years since my last visit; I wondered how much it had changed. A quick flight to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico was followed by a short drive to the marina where I would meet the guests waiting to board the Nautilus Undersea Hunter which would be our home for the next 8 days. I was the last to arrive and was greeted by a room full of excited adventurers ready to go and explore the Revillagigedo Islands.

 

Socorro 2019

 

We boarded the ship at 7:00 pm, stowed our gear and settled in for the 26-hour open sea crossing, hoping for calm seas. It turns out we were blessed with amazingly calm conditions; my last trip to Socorro was not quite as easy. During the voyage, the group was given a thorough safety briefing and a tour of the ship. We had plenty of time to get dive and camera gear set up, and begin planning the events of the week and our target of 19 dives at the three islands we planned to visit.

The ship arrived early in the morning on the 10th of December at San Benedicto Island at a site called El Canyon. We would spend the day here and have a chance to see the numerous sharks present here throughout the day during our four dives. As is typical of the site, we were treated to close up views of several species of sharks, among them Silver Tip, Galapagos, Hammerhead and of course many White Tip sharks.

 

Socorro 2019 Socorro 2019

Amazing photos captured by Ryan Kissick and Eric Knaff.

 

After a night heading further out to sea, we arrived at the highlight destination of the Revillagigedo Islands, Roca Partida. For those unfamiliar with Roca Partida, it is a remote, deep water pinnacle in the middle of a vast ocean with no land in sight. On a rough day, it is easy to imagine how one could easily miss seeing the two tips of the pinnacle at all. The size of the rock that protrudes above the water hardly gives a clue to what lies beneath. Sheer walls of bare rock that drop several hundred feet to the seafloor. It is a site that has the potential to deliver incredible encounters with many large pelagic animals. Highlights in years past have included dolphins, humpbacks, manta rays, whale sharks, tuna, massive schools of jacks, and healthy populations of several species of sharks.

Our group spent the day, diving Roca Partida four times. All of the dives were very good yes, there were large schools of fish, massive tuna, plenty of sharks, but we were all hoping for encounters with the high-value targets like mantas and whale sharks.

Evenings on the Nautilus Undersea Hunter were dedicated to workshop sessions and image reviews, followed by dinner and socializing. Rodolpho, one of the crew members and divemasters on the trip, who is also a marine biologist, gave multiple presentations throughout the week that focused on sharks, manta rays, and conservation efforts being implemented in the area. Both entertaining and educational, having a chance to learn about the locations and more importantly the animals we see, add so much the workshops.

 

Socorro 2019 Socorro 2019

Briefings aboard the Nautilus Undersea Hunter.

 

The group's wishes came true early on the first dive of our second day at Roca Partida when out of the deep blue clear water appeared the outline of a massive whale shark. She was enormous, and many speculated that she must have been pregnant. As calmly and slowly as she swam it was still over in what felt like an instant. Myself and fellow diver Eric Knaff stayed back and waited in the blue hoping the shark would circle Roca Partida and provide us with one more pass. The rest of the group now out of sight, we waited, scanning the blue water and hoping to see the shark again. Our patience paid off and after just under 20 minutes there was the familiar and unmistakable outline that can only be a whale shark, the same massive shark from earlier in the dive.

 

Socorro 2019 Socorro 2019

Up-close encounter with this massive whale shark.

 

The final two days were spent back at San Benedicto and Socorro Islands. San Benedicto is home to the well-known site El Boiler, where the highlight is the typically close encounters with Manta Rays. Our first dives there delivered both manta and dolphins as well as several species of sharks. We had the site to ourselves for the entire day and made four great dives there, each providing a slightly different experience, all fantastic.

The final dive day would be spent at Socorro Island where we had to fulfill our mandatory check-in at the Mexican Naval base. The group completed three dives at Cabo Pearce where we had multiple manta encounters and a short but very entertaining encounter with a small pod of dolphins. The third and final dive included multiple manta rays, that stayed with the group for nearly the full hour; a great way to end the diving on a very high note.

 

Socorro 2019 Socorro 2019

We encountered dolphins (LEFT) & majestic manta rays (RIGHT) on the final day.

 

On the final night, and before the long cruise back to port in Cabo San Lucas, myself and the four dive masters spent some time judging submissions from the group for the customary workshop photo competition. The two categories for this trip were Best Shark and Best Manta Ray. Many great images were submitted by several of the guests. After much debate among the five judges, two winning images were chosen...not an easy task. Congratulations to Eric Knaff, who submitted the first place images in both categories.

Socorro 2019 Socorro 2019

Best Shark and Best Manta Ray Photos by Eric Knaff.

From my perspective, this trip to Socorro was all I had hoped it would be. We had an amazing crew and a very comfortable ship. Our safety and comfort was always their top priority, and they went out of their way to meet our every need. Excellent weather, great photo subjects and an amazing group of enthusiastic photographers make for a memorable workshop for everyone.

 

Socorro 2019

Meet the team from the December Socorro Trip

 

MORE PHOTOS

Here are some amazing underwater photos taken during the December trip.

Socorro 2019 Socorro 2019

Socorro 2019 Socorro 2019 

 

About Socorro

The Socorro Island and the Revillagigedos Archipelago can be found 250 miles south of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico - at the tip of the Baja peninsula. Sometimes referred to as the Mexican Galapagos, this remote archipelago is a magnet for a large assortment of oceanic giants - ranging from manta rays to whale sharks to humpback whales to hammerhead sharks to dolphins and more!

 

BLUE SHARKS, MAKOS, BULLS AND SEA LIONS

Near Cabo San Lucas, there is excellent diving with blue sharks, mako sharks, bull sharks, whale sharks, and sea lions. These are done as day trips out of Los Cabos or out of La Paz. These animals are very seasonal and weather dependent - contact Bluewater Travel for the latest information on when and where to go. Some of our guests had some nice encounters with blue and mako sharks before and after our March Socorro trip.

 

TOP TEN THINGS WE LOVED ABOUT SOCORRO

  • #1 – Ridiculously easy to get to from the USA. Simply take the short flight to San Jose del Cabo, Mexico.
  • #2 – Friendliest giant manta rays in the world – need I say more?
  • #3 – Water temps stay in the 70's, which means you never have to freeze your butt off
  • #4 – Wide selection of liveaboard boats
  • #5 – Photo/video opportunities lend themselves well to beginner and advanced shooters alike, with basic or advanced gear.
  • #6 – Sharks, dolphins, whale sharks, whales, baitballs, oversized yellowfin tuna, and the manta rays. Yes, all in one place.
  • #7 – Cabo San Lucas is a great place to spend a night or two before or after the trip
  • #8 – Given the Socorro Islands are in the middle of nowhere, the crossings are generally gentle
  • #9 – The islands are patrolled so they are relatively free of fishing boats
  • #10 – Mexican food is delicious!

 

Join us on one of our Socorro trips!

Fly into San José Del Cabo, Mexico for amazing liveaboard diving in the beautiful Socorro Islands. Dive with giant mantas, sharks, dolphins, humpbacks, and more! 

 


March 18 - 27, 2020

Group Trip | Led by Katie Yonker | Rocio Del Mar

9 nights for $3,895 

Click here for more info

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