Socorro Trip Report - February 2022 - Bluewater Dive Travel
Socorro Trip Report - February 2022

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022

Socorro, Mexico (Revillagigedo Archipelago) Trip Report

February 15th to 24th, 2022

An Underwater Photo workshop

Trip Leader: Nirupam Nigam   |   Photos by Nirupam Nigam & Group

The Revillagigedo Archipelago lies in the heart of the North Pacific Ocean, 285 miles (458 km) southwest of the arid deserts of Baja California. Known by scuba divers as "Socorro", the chain consists of four volcanic islands that stand resolute against the temperamental, azure backdrop of the greater Pacific. Gentle ocean breezes lift fresh ash from young volcanic mounds to form an ethereal haze over the rugged seascape. Inquisitive seabirds perch on passing vessels while the distant splash of breaching fish and whales percolates through the continuous whisper of wind. But the true heart of Socorro is the perennial presence of ocean giants. Unseen by terrestrial hominids, giant oceanic manta rays, numerous species of requiem shark, and cetaceans of all sizes traverse the blue void caressed by the legato composition of passing humpbacks. 

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022

The Canyon at San Benedicto Island in the Revillagigedo Archipelago

It was amidst this habitat that 19 Bluewater explorers, photographers, and videographers attended our Socorro Underwater Photo Workshop - in search of those fleeting moments of wonder that only an ocean giant can bring. Not only did the group have the opportunity to encounter some incredible creatures, but their dedication to learning the art form of underwater photography & video yielded incredible results. Never before have I been so impressed with the dedication and skill of my students (or teachers, depending on how you look at it). Within a week we had all witnessed the grace of a manta, the power of a whale, and the shyness of a shark. It's comforting to know that there are still truly wild places left on this planet, and we were all grateful to be in the middle of it. 

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022

 Our Home for the Week - the Rocio Del Mar Liveaboard

Photo Workshop, Cameras, and Lens Choices for Socorro

At its core, this trip was an underwater photo & video workshop. But even though things could get a little technical, we didn't let that ever stop us from having fun! Everyone in the group had a wide range of photographic and video experience as well as a wide range of equipment. This allowed us to learn from each other, whether it was technical settings or photographic techniques. Over the course of the trip, we covered everything from using Adobe Lightroom for photo editing to underwater photography basics to quick action photography & advanced wide-angle photography techniques. Our guests brought a very wide range of photosystems aboard the ship including an iPhone in a smartphone housing, a couple of Nauticam Sony RX100 VA systems, a few Sony A6400 and A6600 systems, a Nauticam Sony A7R IV system, a Nauticam Sony A1 system, an Isotta Canon EOS R5 system a few GoPro Hero9s, a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K, a SeaLife DC 2000, a Nauticam Canon T5i system, and the classic Olympus TG-6. I personally brought the new Sony A7 IV camera in an Ikelite A7 IV housing, the new Kraken 15,000 video lights, and the new Ikelite DS 230 strobes as part of my Sony A7 IV underwater camera review which you can read here. One of the most important points that I teach in any photo workshop is that any modern camera can produce amazing results. The gear you have matters much less than what you do with it. Our attendees proved this with their incredible content regardless of the camera system. I was particularly impressed with the smartphone in the smartphone housing. Our smartphone shooter downloaded Lightroom directly onto her phone so that she never once needed a computer during the trip - more proof that smartphones could be the future of underwater photography. If you're ever looking for a great smartphone housing, check out brands like SeaLife and AquaTech.

 Socorro Trip Report - February 2022

A rectilinear wide-angle lens will help you get close to hard-to-reach subjects like this humpback whale and calf. Photographed by Christina Ricafort and her Nauticam Sony A1 system. 

I often get asked the question "what lens should I use for Socorro?" Although Socorro is mostly a wide-angle destination, it doesn't make choosing lenses any easier. There are two choices when it comes to wide-angle lenses - rectilinear (minimal distortion) and fisheye (barrel distortion). If you have both types of lenses, bring both! Rectilinear wide lenses are better options for situations where subjects aren't coming very close (e.g., shy sharks). Fisheye lenses are better for situations where large animals get really close which produces a more dramatic, detailed, and colorful image. Our trip was so eventful that I left my rectilinear wide lens on the boat after the first dive and just shot the fisheye. There are some great macro subjects in Socorro, but the wide-angle action is unpredictable yet always present - so I would stick to wide-angle for the whole trip unless you're really into macro. 

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022

Fisheye lenses are great for getting close to your subject. Photographed with the Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens and the Sony A7 IV in an Ikelite A7 IV housing by Nirupam Nigam.


Traveling to Socorro During Covid-19

Traveling during Covid-19 can be unpredictable, but it has become much more normalized as cases have started to decline. Getting into Mexico is simple as it does not require any more additional documentation than signing up to their covid reporting service on a webpage. However, it's important to know that the Rocio Del Mar liveaboard does require proof of a negative covid test taken within 72 hours of departure. Those with a positive test can rebook to a future date, and there is certainly peace of mind knowing that everyone on board has tested negative. When it was time to leave Mexico, we made sure to organize a covid test for everyone on board before going to the airport, as a covid test is required for anyone flying into the US. 

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022

The Crossing


Day 1: The Crossing

The Rocio Del Mar, our liveaboard to Socorro, was designed for diving and is located in Cabo San Lucas - a short flight away from much of the US. Traversing the 285 miles to Revillagigeo takes approximately 30 hours and conditions can range from glassy to ugly. Fortunately for us, the Rocio is equipped with stabilizers that make the crossing a little less noticeable and the swells peaked at no more than three feet. But the highlight of any trip on the Rocio Del Mar is the crew and the food - both of which are legendary. The food is plentiful, gourmet, and so filling that I had to ask to be served half portions for the remainder of the trip! The crew is some of the kindest and most knowledgeable to be found in the Pacific.

The free day gave us time to unpack, unwind, and enjoy the sea breeze. The Rocio del Mar has plenty of lounge space on the top and middle decks as well as a TV/snack room with indoor air conditioning and couches. The TV room is the perfect place to give workshop presentations, so we got started right away. I was happy to see how enthusiastic the group was to learn about the art form and it was great to have so many return customers to catch up with. On this trip, there were enough video shooters where we were able to add some classes specific to underwater video and video editing. We split the workshop into three dive groups that included one video and two photos groups. Keeping the video group separate allowed them to take video free of annoying flashes from strobes.

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022

Cooking up Tacos on the Top Deck of the Rocio del Mar

Day 2: El Cañón - Sharks, Sharks, and More Sharks!

El Canon or "The Canyon" is a protected cove at the foot of an active volcano devoid of vegetation due to relatively recent eruptions. Its rugged topography and occasional currents produce the perfect conditions for a shark "infested" rendezvous. As we awoke for the first day of diving, photographers closed their camera housings with excitement, and dive gear was loaded into the inflatable pangas. Diving on the Rocio Del Mar is like clockwork. Divers are split into three groups, leaving the dive deck open to a few divers at a time and giving people ample space and time to gear up. As one group leaves for an adventure, the next to get ready, with a panga available onsite at all times. 

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022 

 Silvertip sharks hanging out at the shark cleaning station at the Canyon by Nirupam Nigam

The Canyon is a submarine ridge that slopes into the abyss. Colder, murkier currents wash up along the deeper edge bringing in schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks. A small rocky pinnacle along the slope, at 90 fsw, serves as a cleaning station where schools of barberfish loiter for sharks of all make and model. The sharks stop for a "bath" where barberfish feast on a buffet of shark parasites. Before we entered the water, I taught each group the "trick" to shark photography. As strange as it sounds, sharks are much more afraid of people than other fish in the sea. For sharks to feel comfortable enough to approach, it's important to avoid eye contact and to get low to the bottom without touching the reef. I also recommend hiding behind a boulder or rock that a shark might be likely to swim over in order to "surprise" them with a photo as they swim by. At the Canyon, it's important to form a circle with other divers so as not to get in other people's shots and to not intrude onto the pinnacle itself where the sharks feel safe. I was happy to see that each group picked up the technique fairly quickly. 

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022 

 A silvertip shark photographed by Daniel Pio with a Nauticam Sony A7R IV system

But shark is a very broad term. To be specific, on all three dives at the Canon we had the pleasure of seeing numerous silvertip sharks, whitetip reef sharks, Galapagos sharks, and silky sharks. Hammerheads passed by anytime the water got colder and murkier - typically below 90 feet of depth. We even had a few curious giant oceanic manta rays cruise through the site, keeping an eye on us ungainly divers.

Conditions varied through the dives. Due to the full moon, the currents would pick up periodically as the tides changed. Often higher current meant colder and darker water. But generally, the water was calm and clear with visibility up to 60 ft.

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022

Lots and lots of sharks

Day 3: The Boiler - Home of the Manta Ray

The Boiler is just a short ride from the Canyon around San Benedicto Island. It is a beautiful, striated rocky pinnacle that stretches from just below the surface of the Pacific Ocean to 140 feet of depth. The pinnacle is relatively small and can be circumnavigated 2-3 times during a dive. It is a stopping point for giant oceanic manta rays as they traverse between the islands of Revillagigedo.

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022 

A curious giant oceanic manta ray at the Boiler

Giant oceanic manta rays (Mobula birostris) are the centerpiece of Revillagigedo. Weighing up to 6,600 lbs with a disc size of up to 23 ft, they are true ocean giants. They swim with grace and intent, well aware of their surroundings. But the reason they are so incredible to witness is not their size, it's their intelligence. With the largest brain-to-body size ratio of any fish, mantas are some of the most intelligent creatures on the planet. They have been known to recognize their own reflection in a mirror and exhibit self-awareness. Anyone who has spent time with a manta ray can agree that they have distinct personalities and moods.   

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022

Another view of a manta ray

Rolling back from our pangas for the first dive of the day, we were almost instantly greeted by looming, shadowy figures in the distance. As we descended, the shadows turned into manta rays looming up from the depths. They slowly passed by, eyeing our movements. Manta rays tend to approach divers only when they feel comfortable. As with sharks, it's important to dive with calm, slow movements - without chasing the manta. But unlike sharks, mantas are very curious. Throughout the day, we had 3-4 manta rays that circled through the water and occasionally approached divers in their curiosity, at times passing quite close. When the mantas decided to keep their distance we occupied ourselves with watching large Galapagos sharks circling below us beyond diveable depths. Large spiny lobsters frequently crawled around in the open at the boiler - seemingly unaware of the large predators swimming above.

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022 

  A spiny lobster on the boiler photographed with the Sony A7 IV by Nirupam Nigam

As with the day before, the currents occasionally picked up, but overall the visibility was quite good - around 80 to 100 ft. 


Day 4: Roca Partida - A Humpback Whale Nursery

There are those days when the stars align and everything that can be seen, is seen. This was one of those days. 

Roca Partida is the smallest of the four Revillagigedo Islands. From the boat, it looks like a small, guano-covered rock that barely breaks the surface of an expansive ocean - with no other landmasses insight. But underneath the waves is a sheer, bottomless pinnacle surrounded by curtains of schooling fish and circling sharks. 

Our arrival to Roca Partida began with a bang. Humpback whales, large and small, were seen spouting at the surface and leaping through the air in playful breaches. As we suited up for the first dive, we were treated to a show of acrobatics, captured skillfully by Christina, below:

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022

A humpback whale breaching before our dives at Roca Partida captured by Christina Ricafort

It seemed almost too good to be true. The whales were so close to the dive site and rumors circulated the boat of close encounters the week before. How could we not see them? I was jittery with anticipation and I've never seen a group so eager to get into their gear. 

For my group, the first dive proved to be a classic Roca dive - lots and lots of whitetip reef sharks! The sharks would pile on top of each other on rocky ledges, fighting for space on an otherwise verticle wall. Swimming next to the wall is a minor lesson in vertigo. The rock face is so sheer and the visibility is so clear that you truly get a sense of how small and deep you are in the ocean. Schools of jacks and other fish swam around the pinnacle, emulating a heavy rain of fish. Unlike the previous days, the currents at Roca Partida were nonexistent and the swell was minimal. With 100 ft viz, it was the perfect day to dive.

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022 

  Whitetip reef sharks photographed with an Olympus TG-6 and Kraken 15,000 video light by Natasha Overbo

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022 Socorro Trip Report - February 2022

More whitetip reef sharks

As we got back to the boat the first reports came in - a mother humpback and calf had swum past our video group! They came back with some incredible video of the moment, and stories of impressive feats of swimming. With prospects looking good, we hopped back into the water. The second dive proved to be much of the same....until our air reserves began to run low, of course. Towards the end of the dive, I saw a large silver streak among the jacks. I realized that it was a large yellowfin tuna. After watching it swim casually back and forth for several minutes, I saw the disposition of three nearby silvertip sharks change in an instant. Their pectoral fins lowered, and their eyes narrowed into an intense focus. Forming a v-shape swimming pattern they darted towards the large tuna with an intent to kill. The tuna flashed its scales and instantly turned to evade the predators. It swam straight towards me and Daniel and the sharks followed - coming within a few inches of crashing into me. With my heart thumping, I didn't have time to even raise my camera.

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022

  A school of jacks is used for protection by a tuna at Roca Partida

With that, our group began our ascent. But as I turned to swim up, I saw our dive guide, Axel pointing frantically at open blue water. The group that was remaining below swam quickly in the direction of Axel's finger and sure enough, a dark shape began it materialize in the distance. It was big. And as we came closer, it became very, very big. I frantically started taking photos of my hand to make sure my camera was working and swam hard. But then I stopped....we all did. We realized that this big shape was actually swimming towards us too. Out of the blue, the shape materialized into a mother humpback whale and her calf. Never have I seen and been seen by such a large animal. My calves cramped from the adrenaline, and I could no longer swim if I tried. For a moment, the whales and divers stared at each other, only 10 feet away. It was as if a building had come to life and began to stare at me. The mother nudged the calf towards the surface, and the calf swam up to greet the rest of our group - who were already beginning their entry into the panga. As it dropped back down to the mother for protection, the pair continued onward back to the rock of Roca Partida. I followed and watched them curiously approach another group of divers in the distance - clearly surprised to see whales passing overhead. As I turned around I motioned to Axel that my heart was pounding. Of course, that looked quite like the low on air symbol and Axel quickly rushed over to me with his octo as a good dive guide would. After clearing up the miscommunication, we all surfaced and took it in. In all my time diving, that was my favorite moment. 

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022

A mother humpback and calf photographed with the Sony A7R IV and Sony 16-35mm lens in a Nauticam housing by Daniel Pio

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022

A mother humpback and calf photographed with the Sony A7 IV and Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens in an Ikelite housing by Nirupam Nigam

But let's not leave out the last group. For it seems that whales save the best for last. After two groups had experienced the whales, the final group was antsy, to say the least. And I was antsy - it can be a sour boat if one group doesn't see the whales. For my group, the third dive was much like the first. But when we surfaced, we came back to the beaming faces of the final group that had yet to see the whales. They didn't just see the whales. They spent ten minutes swimming with them, taking photos & videos at their leisure. It would seem that humpbacks love having their picture taken. 

 A video of a humpback whale mother and calf captured by Christina Ricafort

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022

A mother and calf photographed by Dmitry Berkun with a Sony A6400 camera in a Fantasea housing

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022

Another view of the mother and calf photographed by Bill Santner with a SeaLife DC2000

Seeing whales in Socorro underwater is a rare thing. But to have each dive group have an experience with them is a gift.


Day 5: Cabo Pierce - Intermission

With the word getting around that there were humpbacks at Roca Partida, every boat seemed to be planning on going to Roca the following day. As ocean conditions seemed to be getting worse and the site seemed to be getting crowded, we decided to make our way to Socorro Island. Cabo Pierce is a protected site, with a rocky finger jutting out into the water much like the Canyon. 

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022

A cleaning station at Cabo Pierce

Day 5 was truly an intermission. The overcast weather began to clear with a little sunshine, and after our experience with whales, many on the boat were feeling quite content to skip a dive or two and enjoy the sun. Underwater, there was not as much to see, but there was a lot to hear. Whalesong traveled throughout the site and throughout the day. It was a beautiful yet somewhat mournful series of moans, chirps, and clicks. While we decided to look for more whales during the dives, alas they were not to be found. One whale did pass over a dive group - but the group didn't notice; only the panga driver that was floating above them! A few people in the group did have the opportunity to briefly snorkel with a humpback as well, but the whales weren't keen on sticking around. 

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022

A large green moray eel among the reef with a white tip reef shark swimming in the background

The rest of the day was spent enjoying the little reef creatures. Cabo Pierce is full of colorful fish, peacock founders, cleaning stations, and massive moray eels. It was the perfect opportunity for the group to practice close focus wide-angle photography. A couple of manta rays passed one group briefly as well. As with the Canyon, visibility and currents were somewhat variable. At times viz could be as low as 30ft or as high as 60ft. 


Day 6: Punta Tosca - Dolphins, Mantas, and More!

After Cabo Pierce, we decided to traverse to Punta Tosca on the other side of Socorro to see what we could find. It was a good decision. Punta Tosca is a large site that features many rocky pinnacles and reefs of different shapes and sizes. It's impossible to know what one might see there. The early morning sunshine illuminated the lush green vegetation on the Island of Socorro as we dropped into water saturated with the characteristic clicks of dolphins. Two of our groups spent the morning playing with them, and many of the dolphins approached quite close to the divers.

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022

 Friendly dolphins captured in the morning by Randy McGrath with a Sony A6600 in a Nauticam Housing

Later in the afternoon, two whales that were passing were spotted underwater, in the distance. But it was the third dive that took the cake. Many divers on our boat got to witness the true intelligence and curiosity of manta rays. A group of manta rays circled the divers for the greater part of 45 minutes, giving each person the chance to take their fill of photos and videos. As with Cabo Pierce, currents and visibility were variable throughout the day, but it's hard to notice conditions when you're having so much fun taking photos. 

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022

 A curious manta ray photographed by Linda Zath with a Canon EOS R5 in an Isotta Housing

Day 7: El Cañón - A Little Chilly with a Dash of Hammerheads

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022

 A large Galapagos shark photographed by Bill Santner with a SeaLife DC2000

The Canyon was a classic site to finish off the trip. It was a great way for the group to get more practice with their shark photography, and I was proud to see so many people nailing shark shots. Ocean conditions began to deteriorate - as they always seem to at the end of a trip. As the wind picked up, ash was blown into the water and visibility decreased to about 30-40ft. The currents picked up and brought in cold, murky, green water. The water temperature - normally 72-75F, dropped to 67F! But as with everything, there was a bright side to the conditions - it brought in hammerheads. Hammerheads love cooler, darker water. And with visibility a little closer than usual, the hammerheads didn't see us as soon as they normally would. This meant that we had a few very close encounters with what is normally a very skittish species of shark. Having such a wonderful experience with hammerheads was a great way to end the trip.

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022

An octopus at the Canyon

Socorro Trip Report - February 2022

A happy group!


Final Socorro Tips

1. Bring a 5mm wetsuit - the temperature was about 72 to 75F (and as cold as 67F at times!)

2. Bring a rectilinear wide lens if you want to take photos of hammerhead sharks - they don't like to get close.

3. Bring a fisheye lens to the boiler (for manta rays) and Roca Partida (for half and half shots and whitetip reef sharks)

4. Be prepared to dive where the conditions allow for it. Socorro is in the open ocean so conditions are unpredictable and things can get windy. It can also be difficult to get to Roca Partida at times due to conditions.

5. When taking photos of sharks - get low, hide your head behind your camera, and don't make eye contact. Eye contact can scare sharks.  


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