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Thursday, 13 December 2018

From aboard National Geographic Venture: The Pirate Hunters of Isla San Benito

#expeditioncruising .

Itinerary: From Southern California to Baja: Sailing the Pacific Coast

The Pirate Hunters of Isla San Benito

Arturo (L) and Ismael (R) on the beach in front of their fishing camp (RE)


They might look like a couple of scruffy teenagers you could see hanging around the mall, but Ismael and Arturo, along with their boss, Jose, are real-life pirate hunters.

Here on the tiny island of San Benito, they must protect their most valuable resource: abalone and lobster. And in doing so, they often encounter more than just poachers. The boys patrol their pots with 'pangas', open fibreglass boats powered by outboard motors typically of between 60-120hp.

The fishing and seafood harvest around Benito is particularly good, hence the small but healthy populations of elephant seals and sea lions. The boys come over from the main island of Cedros (pop. 2500) and occupy a small 'village' in shifts of a couple of weeks at a time. A good season will yield 120 tonnes of lobster and 24 tonnes of abalone, the majority of which is exported alive to Asia.

During their patrols, it's not uncommon to see foreign boats. Everyone knows everyone on Cedros, so it's easy to spot an intruder. And on one such occasion, they did. Another panga of unknown origin was paying way too much attention to their pots and the boys gave chase. Fortunately, our lads had the more powerful outboard and were able to run them down, but they would not yield. In order to bring the chase to a rapid conclusion, the intruders were rammed resulting in one of the fugitives sustaining a leg injury when he fell into the propeller. Money was also found aboard and the injured pirates were handed over to the police.

A mother elephant seal contends with two noisy infants (RE)

Life is not always so exciting and mostly the guys just do their work, but they are also keen to work with conservation bodies to protect the seals and seabirds who inhabit the islands. The elephant seals, for example, were hunted to the brink of extinction.

“By 1892, just eight individuals were known to survive on (nearby) Isla Guadalupe,” Lindblad naturalist, Tom Ritchie tells us, “Seven of these were promptly killed and it seemed the species was finished. Miraculously, 20 years later a group of about 100 animals was discovered on a hidden bay on this same island and the Mexican government gave them complete protection. From there, they soon spread back to Los Benitos and then on to several points on the Baja mainland, so that today their numbers have continued to increase and survival seems assured.”

Lindblad naturalist, Tom Ritchie, leads expeditioners on San Benito (RE)

We visited the beach where the pack of a dozen or so animals were hauled out and observed a batch of very new pups squealing and squawking for mum's milk. Seems a mother's work is never done.

Our journey continues south to Magdalena Bay.

For more information on Lindblad – National Geographic journeys, see www.expeditions.com