Cool Critters in Cabo San Lucas’s Marine Park

The diversity and sheer volume of marine life in the Cabo San Lucas Marine Park is incredible. It is one of the area’s biggest draw cards and brings in many scuba divers from all around the globe.  

Huge schools of fish, turtles, sea lions, crabs, sea slugs and rays of all different shapes and sizes, and of course the stars of the show are the puffer fish. Oh yeah, did I mention there is a little crab that lives inside sea cucumber butts! 

There are so many incredible creatures that it is next to impossible to choose favorites. Here are five interesting creatures you can find in the Cabo San Lucas Marine Park. They also have a fun sign/signal used when they are spotted.

Porcupine fish in Cabo San Lucas Marine Park

BANDED GUITAR SHARKS – Zapteryx exasperata

Did you know: They breathe through their eyes! Well, kind of. They breathe by drawing in water through a pair of holes called spiracles located right next to the eyes. Oxygen is absorbed and the rest of the water goes out through the gills located on the underside of its head.

Guitar sharks, also known as guitar rays or guitar fish, can be seen seasonally around Pelican Rock. They are most often seen from January through to June/July when the water is cooler. In the warmer months they will head deeper into the cold, nutrient rich waters. While they have been found at depths of up to 200m they are most commonly found in 1 to 22 meters of water, perfect depths for diving!

They are one of the more docile species of cartilaginous species (species with cartilage instead of bones – like sharks), which makes them easy to dive with and photograph, and due to their size (a maximum length of 85cm) they are always a thrill to see and a favorite for visitors.

Sign: have you ever seen ACDC’s Angus Young bouncing across the stage strumming his guitar…

FROGFISH – Family Antennariidae

Did you know: Many species of frogfish can change color over time to camouflage with their surroundings. They also have one of the fastest attack reflexes in the world, and are able to trap prey in 0.006 seconds!

There are multiple species of frogfish found in the Sea of Cortez, and while they are relatively abundant, they are not often observed by scuba divers due to their very convincing camouflage.  Sometimes you could be looking right at one and not even see it. They will camouflage themselves to look like rocks or bits of coral or seaweed. They are ambush predators so don’t move much and are quite small, which makes finding them even more challenging. Like the Pacific Seahorse, their main defense is camouflage so they are unlikely to swim away from you if threatened, not that they are very good at swimming anyway, they prefer to “hop” or “walk”. If you are lucky enough to spot one on a dive, consider yourself very lucky (or just a diver with a very good eye).

The sign: If you manage to find a frogfish you must do the frogfish dance. It is non-negotiable. Put your hands by your side and move them up and down. Do the same with your feet (best demonstrated). Try not to lose your reg whilst laughing.

THE PACIFIC SEAHORSE – Hippocampus ingens

Did you know: Most of us already know that male seahorses are the ones to give birth, but did you know that once a Pacific Seahorse finds a mate, they begin a courtship dance with each other. This dance can last eight hours or longer!

The Pacific Seahorse, also known as the Giant Seahorse, is the only one found in the Sea of Cortez. “Giant” is a little deceptive. They “can ” grow to 30cm (1ft) but we don’t see them at this size often. They are most commonly found at depths of around 8-20m, and while they are ‘common’, they are not often seen by divers due to their incredible camouflage. If you do want a higher chance of seeing one, they can usually be found hanging on to the large sea fans that are common in the Cabo Marine Park.

Unlike most other fish they will not swim away when feeling threatened, so it’s important as a diver to make sure all your gear is streamlined and doesn’t hang down where it can come into contact with the corals that these seahorses call home.  However, this lack of defense does make them the perfect model for macro photographers.

Sign: pretending to ride a horse, under water, with fins on isn’t easy but it is funny to watch. Guides get awfully excited when they see a seahorse so the signal may be accompanied by a “Yeeeeehaw”.

Sea horse found while scuba diving in Cabo San Lucas Marine Park

SAND EELS – Heteroconger digueti

Did you know: They secrete a pasty substance to the sides of their burrow which allows them to anchor themselves, emerging only their heads and upper body to drift around feeding on passing plankton.

Sand eels are found in the big sand patches like those on North Wall, Middle Wall and Pelican Rock. You’ll see their thin bodies poking out of small holes in the sand to grab plankton as it sails past in the water. They are usually found in small colonies but are very shy and may retreat as you swim closer. They are especially sensitive to noise and bubbles, which isn’t great if you’re a scuba diver looking for them. They are better viewed from a distance for this reason.

If you do happen to scare them all it takes is a bit of patience before they return again. And their location is perfect for safety stop entertainment.

The sign: make a circle with index finger and thumb on one hand and poke the index finger, from your other hand, though it. Do not move your finger in and out or the other divers in your group may get the wrong idea.

OCTOPUS – Octopus rubescens

Did you know: They have three hearts. Two of the hearts work exclusively to move blood beyond the animal’s gills, while the third keeps circulation flowing for the organs. They also have blue blood. Octopuses evolved to have copper-based blood rather than iron-based blood like ours, which results in a blue color. Also, octopus ink isn’t just for distraction and escaping predators when threatened, it can also cause temporary blindness and irritation of the eyes, and can also decrease the predator’s sense of smell and taste.

Octopus can be a common occurrence at many dive sites throughout the world, however it’s their exceptional camouflage skills that can make them difficult to find. If you do find one, they can be very entertaining to watch. They can change colors and textures depending on what they are trying to camouflage with, or if they are trying to warn you to back up a bit. They also make a beautiful point to any image.

The most common species of octopus found at our local dive sites here in Cabo is the East Pacific Red Octopus (Octopus rubescens). It is common throughout the Western North America coast with its range extending from the southern Gulf of California to the Gulf of Alaska.

The Sign: imagine you have a hand puppet on. now try and pull out pieces of grass using its mount.

Octopus suckers up close

Final thoughts

These are just a few of the cool critters you can find in the Cabo San Lucas Marine Park. There are however so many more that all have their own fun facts and often hilarious signs. Always ask your guide for a little more information about the marine life you have seen on the dive. They will love telling you about it and it is a great way to spend the surface interval. If you want to know more then consider taking a fish ID or ecology course to learn some in-depth information about marine life.

Ryan Sault - profile pic with manatee. PADI Dive Instructor & PHotographer

Ryan Sault

Underwater photographer, PADI instructor, shark whisperer and sea potato aficionado.
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