Adventure and exploratory expedition to Clarion Island (4th of the "Socorro" islands) – 11 FEB 2011

It’s been 6 years since we last visited Clarion Island.   We made 2 trips that year out to the 4th of the “socorro” islands and to be honest, we were disappointed with the diving.   We thoroughly explored the perimeter of the island and splashed on every pinnacle we could find.  The diving just didn’t pan out.  BUT that was 6 years ago when we were having problems with illegal fishermen sneaking into the biosphere reserve.  With great thanks to the Mexican navy and working together with the Solmar V and Cantamar on conservation efforts, there has been very good luck in keeping the bad guys – the illegal fishermen 0 out of the biosphere in the last couple of years.   So…   with 2 new boats at Socorro  –  the Rocio del Mar and the Baja Aggressor  –  dogging our every step and sticking like glue to us, we decided to leave them in our wake and head back to Clarion Island to see if the diving had improved.  The Nautilus Explorer is like a greyhound in open ocean and we soon left the new guys far behind on the 17 hour crossing from Roca Partida to Clarion.  Following is a series of reports filed by Captain Gordon during their 3 day expedition.   Captain Mike

08 FEB 2011
We are just a little over halfway through this special 12 day expedition diving the Socorro Islands, and are currently on our way to explore Clarion Island.  We have spent the last two days at Roca Partida, enjoying the best of our humpback whale season here. Small groups of humpbacks can be seen throughout the day, in almost any direction you look. Fully grown adult humpbacks breaching, tail slapping, spy-hopping, or simply resting near the surface together with their calves are a common sight all day long. Throughout the humpback season here we take every chance we get to snorkel with these beautiful animals, and the last two days at Roca Partida we have had some amazing encounters with several groups of whales.
Today a mother with her calf and male escort swam close by the Nautilus, and we had some very close viewings.  These three whales were luckily very tolerant of us and allowed us to spend a little quality time simply floating above them, while they hovered almost motionless a short distance below. The calf appearing playful, a little curious, and seemingly carefree as it swam close by it’s protective mother, who never let it get too far away while we were in the vicinity. The male escort hovering a little bit below appeared a little more curious and not entirely pleased with our presence, although still tolerating us. The thing that strikes me the most is how big these animals are, when you get to see their full length underwater, and particularly the size of their pectoral fins and tails. There is no mistake that this meeting between whale and human is on their terms, and that is the only way it can be. That is absolutely the most satisfying encounter a person can have with a wild animal, on their terms. They are allowing us to be there with them, and that is a feeling that is hard to describe. This particular humpback encounter was only one of several we had over the last couple of days, and hopefully not our last of the trip. We will be arriving at Isla Clarion around 0900 tomorrow morning and are looking forward to some great exploration diving to this rarely visited island.
More whale tales to come, so stay tuned!
Captain Gordon Kipp
Surface conditions: Winds light, air temp 20-25C during the day and cooling to around 16C at night, skies mostly clear
Diving conditions: Water temp 22-23C, visibility 60-80ft, current mild to moderate

10 FEB 2011
After a beautiful and very comfortable 17 hr transit from the already remote Roca Partida, we arrived at the very rarely dived island of Clarion.  Our first stop on arrival here was the Navy Sector based at the south side of the island, for a routine inspection to ensure all our paperwork was in order. It was obvious by the “uniforms” the navy wears here that they don’t get a lot of visitors; board shorts, tank tops covered by bullet proof vests, and of course the obligatory machine gun. Despite the non-formal dress the officers were friendly, courteous and brief, and without much delay we were on our way for our first exploratory dive of the day.
The consensus on this dive was, “OK”, with below average visibility and not a lot in the way of big animals. A few turtles were spotted, several octopus, and a white-tipped reef shark. After lunch it was off to explore a new site!
Enroute from the Navy base in the morning prior to dive 1 I had noted on the depth sounder a very promising looking pinnacle. A big rock formation that came up from 140ft to a peak of 50ft before dropping back down again. So, after lunch we dropped anchor here and spent the afternoon exploring this quite large rocky formation. Despite the still low visibility, we enjoyed two good dives here. The underwater topography of the site included a big arch-like structure providing an impressive 30-40 ft swim-thru near the top of the pinnacle, as well as a couple others down along the edge of the structure.
The fish life here was very impressive, with huge schools of amber jacks and horse- eyed jacks, who seemed very curious about the divers, almost swarming around them as they tried to figure out what exactly we were. Lots of big leather sea bass, octopus, sting rays, and a lone silver-tip shark were also spotted. Topside the action was even more exciting, with many humpback whales all around the boat, putting on a great show as we saw repeated full breaches by adult and young humpbacks only a couple hundred feet off the stern of the vessel. Weather conditions were very nice, with mostly clear skies and light winds.
Underwater visibility was around 30ft (9m) with water temps around 22C (73F).
More exploration happening today with updates to follow.
Captain Gordon Kipp

For our second day at Clarion we moved to a different  side of the island.
Watching the sonar closely we found the spot that we were looking for, saw some dolphins in the area and so dropped the anchor and crossed our fingers!  We have just finished our second dive at the chosen location and the results have been “incredible” and “amazing” to quote our divers. Lots of bottlenose dolphins with the divers for the entire first dive, one great story of a hammerhead approaching the divers and being chased off by a dolphin, a big tiger shark spotted, some beautiful schools of grunts and goat fish,  octopus, stingrays, and several silver-tip sharks.
Divemaster Pedro discovered a beautiful pinnacle coming up from 80 ft to within 5 ft of the surface, with some beautiful schools of fish surrounding it.
Visibility is much improved today with a solid 60 ft of blue water.
A great day so far, and two more dives to go after lunch!
After such great diving before lunch we decided to remain at our spot and continue to take advantage of the great conditions and animals.  We were not dissapointed with our decision, with two more superb dives before we left the island to head back to Roca Partida.  Our friendly bottlenose dolphins remained throughout the afternoon, with a few divers enjoying around a dozen of the playful creatures for almost all of their 45 minute dive, surrounded by the adults and calves alike as they apparently showed off their agility while passing repeatedly within touching distance of the divers. Another group of divers, led by DM Juan, encountered a school of at least a dozen large silver-tip sharks on the last dive of the day.  The school approached the divers directly, before splitting up and encircling them completely. The school of silver-tips continued to circle the divers for several minutes before moving on. Around 10 minutes later another school, or perhaps the same one, approached them again, emerging from the diminishing light of the late afternoon dive and again circling the divers before losing interest. Throughout the day we had humpback whales passing extremely close to the vessel.
We are now underway for Roca Partida, expecting to arrive there around midday tomorrow in hopes of some more humpback snorkeling encounters!
Captain Gordon Kipp

By Nautilus Staff

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