Todos Santos Eco Adventures and the Festivals of Todos Santos
No less an authority on the human condition than the Dalai Lama has proclaimed, “I believe that the very purpose of life is to be happy.” Helping to ensure that everyone in our community can fulfill that purpose, our three local masterminds of happiness – Rouss Ramirez, Sylvia Perel and Perla Garnica – are working to unleash a veritable avalanche of joy upon our pueblomagico. Check out this stellar calendar of bliss-inducing festivals that will start our season:
1. Day of the Dead Festival. Oct 30-Nov 2. 6th Anniversary. Rouss Ramirez 2. Todos Santos Film Festival. Nov 3-8. 18th Anniversary. Sylvia Perel 3. GastroVino Food & Wine Festival. Nov 11-13. 10th Anniversary. Perla Garnica
Todos Santos Eco Adventures, in conjunction with Alianza Cero Basura, is extremely proud to be partnering with these festivals, which bring their unique creative forces to bear in bringing about not just an isolated event, but fundamental, long-term community happiness. The festivals have long been committed to funding programs in education and healthcare to assist those in our community for whom such opportunities are not readily available. Now they are working to improve the way our community thinks about and deals with trash.
The Dalai Lama finished his thought on happiness by adding, “In my own limited experience I have found that the more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being.” So come out and enjoy these festivals, support your community, and know that your happiness will be spread throughout, helping to create a better future for us all.
Rouss Ramirez and the Day of the Dead Festival.
Rouss and her store Besame Mucho Bazaar have been strong financial supporters of Alianza Cero Basura since the beginning, and this year Rouss is taking her commitment to zero waste principles one step further: all contestants in the main Catrin/Catrina contest of her Day of the Dead Festival must use repurposed materials to create their costumes! So take a fresh look at those yogurt containers, soup cans, wine bottles, potato chip bags and chewing gum wrappers and let your imagination run wild! All costume components will head to the recycling center afterwards. Rouss started the Day of the Dead Festival in 2017 with the founding of her nonprofit Amamos Nuestro Pueblo, AC (We Love Our Town AC). through which she supports children, the elderly and vulnerable people with serious illnesses in our community. Rouss has invested over 3 million pesos in her program.
Sylvia Perel and the Todos Santos Film Festival.
Since starting the Todos Santos Film Festival in 2004 Sylvia has become known for escorting famous movie stars and directors through Todos Santos. But her real passion has always been engaging local children in film making through her nonprofit, the AC Escuela de Cine Leonardo Perel (Leonardo Perel Film School), and teaching the power of film to address environmental issues. In 2019 she made Desplastificate the topic of her Cineminuto film competition, and students from across Baja California Sur submitted movies illustrating the importance of eliminating single-use plastics in our state. Next, she almost single-handedly produced Alice in the Land of the Whales, an environmental love letter to Baja California Sur, with local children both behind and in front of the camera. Other environmentally-themed films created by Sylvia’s local students include Open Sky, The Little Prince in Todos Santos and Trapiches de Todos Santos. This year the topic of her Cineminuto film competition is “Our Ocean, Our Treasure”, and again students from across the state are being invited to submit films on the importance of caring for the health of our oceans. The grand prize is a Go Pro 10. The Hollywood Foreign Press gave Sylvia a special award in 2018 for her festival’s focus on community and education.
Perla Garnica and the GastroVino Baja Food and Wine Festival.
Perla created the GastroVino Festival in 2012 to celebrate Mexican wines and great local restaurants, and it has been a joyous affair every year since. To spread that happiness, the festival has always acted as a fundraiser for local nonprofits. Since 2012 it has donated USD $64,000 to key programs for the community including the Palapa Society and the Padrino Children’s Foundation. In 2019 Perla made the festival a single-use plastic free event, and this year Alianza Cero Basura, in conjunction with Water Ways Baja, will be providing water stations at the festival to ensure that no one feels compelled to bring in single-use plastic water bottles. Perla and the organizations she works with – Ricardo Amigo Real Estate and Plaza Amigos – have been key financial supporters of Alianza Cero Basura since the beginning, and installed the first public water bottle refill station for our community at Plaza Amigos.
It takes a fair degree of faith in the goodness of your fellow man to hitchhike… with a mule. But that is exactly what Trudi Angell and her daughter Olivia did as part of La Mula Mil, their 1,000 mile mule trip up the Baja Peninsula. One of their mules had taken a respite with friends along the way, and when it came time for him to rejoin the rest of the expedition – now many miles away – Trudi and Olivia just set out along the road with him. Women and mule were picked up by a rancher with a partially empty horse trailer in a matter of minutes, and safely delivered to their camp. Says Trudi, “This was indicative of the type of reception we got from ranch families throughout the entire expedition. They were above and beyond hospitable and helpful. Wonderful meals for us, care for the mules, information on trails – they were generous to a fault with all these things.”
Doña Luz and Don Cata
Fermín Reygadas, a professor of Alternative Tourism at the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur (UABCS) who has worked with Baja California rancheros for over 30 years, is not at all surprised. “The Baja ranchero culture of hospitality is directly connected to the old Bedouin custom that demanded the utmost in hospitality, requiring you to give aid and succor to anyone who asked for it for at least 3 days, even if that someone was your mortal enemy. Of course, you were free to kill him after that, but for those 3 days he was an honored guest in your home.” Bedouins?
Fermín explains. “When Padre Kino first arrived with the Jesuits in Baja California in 1683, pirates were a menace to this new territory of Spain. Padre Kino sold the Spanish king on the idea of Jesuits settling the land and using their own money and means to keep it free of pirates. In return, the Jesuits would have the right to rule without interference from a Spanish-run civil government. The king agreed and the Jesuits set about recruiting soldiers that bore little resemblance to their European counterparts. They didn’t choose people based on their fighting or weaponry skills, but rather people who knew how to raise cattle and plant crops. They didn’t choose typical soldiers looking for new world get-rich-quick schemes, but people seeking a living from the land with a focus on family. The Jesuits chose people whom they considered honorable, trustworthy and capable to protect and settle Baja California Sur.” In short, they chose the people whose descendants make it possible for women to successfully hitchhike around the peninsula with a mule. We’re getting to the Bedouins.
Miguel Martinez. Photo by McKenzie Campbell, Living Roots
Fermín continued, “When the Jesuits arrived in Baja California the indigenous peoples here were hunter-gatherers, skills not suited to building a permanent society. So the Jesuits looked for people who had the ranching and farming skills that could support their missions. These people came from two main sources: 1) people from the agricultural province of Andalusia in Spain, which had been heavily settled by Moors, Arabs and Middle Easterners during the Moorish conquest of Spain in the 8th to 15th centuries, and 2) descendants of the Moors, Arabs and Jews who had been kicked out of Spain during the 15th century Christian reconquest of the country, and had settled in the new world. Not only did these “soldiers” carry the Bedouin tradition of hospitality and honor, they brought Middle Eastern foods to the Baja Peninsula that still flourish to this day including olives, grapes, lentils, date palms and alfalfa.” Teddi Montes, a member of La Mula Mil expedition, took DNA samples from rancheros throughout the trip and her preliminary results show that these middle eastern bloodlines are still found throughout the peninsula, i.e., the Bedouins – along with their hospitality – are alive and well in Baja California!
Ranchero Rule in BCS
The Jesuits ended up being entirely too successful for their own good with their BCS economic model, and they were unceremoniously kicked out of Baja in 1768. The king sent a new administrator who gave the Jesuit mission lands to the “soldiers” who had been working the land under the Jesuits. By this administrative fiat a whole new class of fairly egalitarian land ownership arrived in BCS, and a system of ranches owned and operated by people with excellent skills, a strong work ethic, and a tradition of honor flourished. This was in stark contrast to mainland Mexico, which was heavily settled by Spanish hidalgos, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th sons of wealthy marquis who could not inherit the ancestral lands back home, but who could help themselves to substantial holdings in the new world. “Work ethic” was not a phrase commonly used when speaking of the privileged hidalgos.
By the late 1800s the Baja economy had become centered around mining, with major gold, silver and copper mines flourishing in towns like Santa Rosalia
Chema. Photo by McKenzie Campbell, Living Roots
and El Triunfo. As mining prospered, so did the ranches that supplied them with food, leather goods, horses, mules, and coffee. Mainland Mexico, focused on its own affairs – including wars with the US and France – paid very little attention to Baja for the next 100 years. The result was that the BCS character cultivated by the Jesuits and strengthened by land ownership was left intact, and continued to develop almost completely independently of the rest of Mexico. While mainland Mexico society became highly stratified, Baja California remained a much more egalitarian, independent-minded place, with ranchero families a key and integral part of the peninsula’s economy.
Then mining collapsed in the 1950s, and the ranchero economy went into a tailspin. But the deathblow really came in 1975 when the Mexican government opened its previously closed economy to the outside world. Two territories were declared free ports open to foreign trade: Quintana Roo and BCS. Almost overnight the market for ranch meats, cheeses and leather goods dried up; imported goods could be bought more cheaply and easily in the cities. Ranchero culture was in peril, and made all the more precarious by a school system that requires ranch children to leave home for 9 years and live in boarding houses in towns like Todos Santos, where they steadily lose touch with their culture. As Fermín says, “They watch a lot of TV in the boarding houses, and if their culture doesn’t appear on TV, then they assume it’s not important.” Fermín, Trudi, Olivia and others are trying very hard to change that perception.
In 2008 a documentary titled Corazon Vaquero – Heart of the Cowboy – won the Paso Robles Film Festival California Roots award. Created by Garry and Cody McClintock and Eve Ewing with Trudi, Fermín and others to showcase the beauty of BCS ranchero culture, the film is centered largely around a family at Rancho San Gregorio in the Sierra de la Giganta above Loreto. In the spring of 2008 a young NOLS instructor named McKenzie Campbell found herself at that same ranch. “I learned how to do leatherwork, make cheese, all kinds of things. I was completely enamored. I then did a week-long scouting trip through the Sierra de la Giganta walking ranch to ranch, and I was completely blown away by the hospitality of the people and their values. They are focused on family, their land and working hard for themselves. They don’t need a lot to be happy. They inspired me to go back to school to get the tools to aid them in the transition to the modern world, to participate in the larger market around them.”
Carlos Ignacio (Nacho) Chiapa with La Mula Mil in Todos Santos
Two years and one MBA later, McKenzie returned to BCS and founded Living Roots, a non-profit with the mission of “Helping an endangered culture adapt and thrive in the modern world.” Focusing on San Javier, the site of one of the Jesuits’ very first missions in BCS, McKenzie set about walking the delicate line between protecting ranchero values and traditions, while connecting ranchero families directly to the marketplace. “They grasped immediately that they had a brand-able concept, but they didn’t see that some of their every day items like ropes and jackets had market value, and we were able to help them see and capture some of that value.” In 2013 Living Roots helped the rancheros establish a cultural center in San Javier that connects them directly with their public. Not only does this place serve as a market for ranch products, but it’s now the base station for many young rancheros who are being trained as guides in order to lead interpretive hikes around the area. In 2014 Living Roots and its ranchero partners also started a farmer’s and artisan’s market in Loreto that sells organic produce, fish and handicrafts. Says McKenzie, “The US and Canadian communities who live in Loreto are hungry for local produce so it’s been quite successful. It is wonderful to see it all progressing so well.”
McKenzie’s next goal for Living Roots is to start a school for young rancheros aged 15-25 where they can learn the old technologies and merge them with the new. Courses are already underway in some schools, with living legends like Dario Higuera, featured prominently in Corazon Vaquero, teaching traditional leatherwork to kids in the local schools. The most popular items to make are wallets and cell phone covers.
Into the Future
35 year-old Rogelio Rosas knows the value of learning traditional skills from his ranching elders. As a child he lived with his grandparents on the family ranch in San Dionisio in the Sierra de la Laguna mountains. Every day he would work alongside his grandfather, learning how to identify and use the 80 edible wild
Don Claudio teaching leatherwork. Photo by Eduardo Boné
plants that grow in BCS, including those with medicinal properties. By the time he was 10 he was helping his grandfather deliver babies and heal the sick throughout the area. When his grandfather died at the age of 116 (leaving 35 children fathered with 5 wives) Rogelio felt compelled to enroll at a seminary in Tijuana. But he didn’t find the answers he expected there, so he joined up with some missionaries and spent the next 6 years traveling throughout Baja, using the healing arts learned from his grandfather to help children around the peninsula.
Rogelio found this work rewarding, but he still wasn’t finding the answers he was seeking. So at the age of 28 he moved to La Paz to study philosophy at UABCS, the first member of his family to attend college. While there, he met McKenzie and Fermín who were in the alternative tourism arena, so he added tourism to his list of degrees. By this time Rogelio’s parents, the now-legendary Don Catarino and Doña Luz, had been living at the family ranch for many years, making a very nice living with their organic produce, leather work and other traditional skills. When Doña Luz suffered a snake bite that paralyzed half her body, Rogelio returned to the ranch where he had grown up to help her. By the time he graduated with his double degree from UABCS, he could have joined the majority of his ranching peers and gone off to seek employment in a shinier part of the economy. But he found the pull of the ranch impossible to resist, and is now working with his parents to develop their ranch as a tourist destination where visitors can learn about traditional crafts like leatherworking and cheese-making, hike to see waterfalls and rock art, learn about traditional medicinal herbs, make tortillas from scratch, and enjoy the
Don Claudio and Rogelio
history and culture of the area. This is the future that he sees that will sustain not only his family’s ranch, but those of other families throughout the region.
But like Fermín, Trudi and McKenzie, Rogelio’s real passion is to preserve the heart and soul of ranchero culture. To that end he has created a document that sets forth the principals and values of ranchero life. Working with seven other sons of ranchers who, like him, left home for a while but then returned, he is in the process of creating an association that will keep the rancheros of the Sierra de la Laguna mountains united and focused, adapting to a changing world economy as necessary to thrive, but doing so while maintaining the values and ethics of their forebears, handpicked by the Jesuits. The goal is to remain true to their Bedouin roots. You can count on their hospitality.
Category Seven: Pizza, Burgers and Take Out Chicken
Gallo Azul Pizza Bar
Overview: Local entrepreneur Alan Becerril created Gallo Azul Pizza Bar in 2013 and it’s a great addition to the Todos Santos restaurant scene. Alan serves up authentic Napolitan pizza made in a blisteringly hot wood-fired oven with a volcano stone floor with natural leavened dough – the results are delicious. There is a full bar, great salads and lots of fun events like Saturday night Latin nights with salsa lessons.
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 3:00 PM – 10:00 PM
Contact: 612 158 8457
Café Santa Fe
Overview: As with everything else on the menu, the thin-crust pizza at the Cafe Santa Fe is fabulous. It ain’t cheap but you get what you pay for!
La Coronela at the Hotel California
Overview: The Hotel California restaurant serves up a pear and gorgonzola cheese pizza that is fantastically delicious.
Overview: This is a great little spot in the middle of town that cranks out very tasty, very affordable pizzas from 1:00 PM to 10:00 PM every day but Wednesday. It’s a favorite with locals. You can do take out or take advantage of the simple seating at the restaurant and enjoy cold beer and soft drinks with your meal.
Overview: Coming soon – stand by for details!
Chill ‘N Grill
Overview: Fun tropical bar atmosphere with full bar and good bar fare including burgers, ribs, steaks, wings and hot dogs. (Best vegetarian option is to stick to the booze or get take out from Our Pura Vida next door – the owner of the Chill ‘N Grill and the owner of Our Pura Vida are brother and sister!) Pasta Mondays, Taco Tuesdays and 2-for-1 happy hour 4-6 PM every day. NFL and other sporting events flowing on the bar TV. They often have live music on the weekends.
Hours: 4-10 PM daily (unless everyone’s having a great time and you can stay later); Sundays open at 10:00 AM for ball games.
Contact: 612 151 1441.
La Cueva Tres Marias
Overview: Big open-air space with a long bar, pool table, foosball, and darts, and lots of fun art work all around. The bar food is pretty yummy, with 1/2 lb Burgers (including a seriously tasty veggie one), Nacho’s, Salads, and Wings, all washed down with draught and bottled beer served up cold. Monday nite Football comes with 20 peso draughts, and free nachos, Wednesday features a pool league, Thursday is movie night, Saturdays feature haircut and a beer, and Sunday is NFL all day. They often have live music on the weekends, and food specials like pozole.
Hours: Kitchen is open every day but Tuesday, 12:30 PM to 10:00 PM. Bar is open until 12:00 Midnight (or so).
Contact: 612 159 3755,
Shut Up Frank’s
Overview: Some visitors to town told us just the other day that they’d found a great place in Todos Santos for their prayer meetings. Turns out they are born-again members of the Church of Football and Shut Up Frank’s had been providing all the spiritual sustenance they needed! 4 large screen TVs running nonstop NFL football, as well as NHL hockey, UFC and more make it a sinner’s sports-viewing paradise. And the food is pretty darn good too. The place has been famous for its burgers for 20 years now, and they grill up an array guaranteed to please most any palate – turkey, chicken, fish, veggie and beef. All served with terrific fries. To round out the bar menu they also serve up fish ‘n chips, wings, steaks and salads. New Italian menu with pizza and other specialties coming soon.
Hours: Open 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM every day but Tuesday. Happy Hour 3 to 6 PM, Monday through Friday.
By Todos Santos Eco Adventures The great Todos Santos festival tradition will continue in 2015, with celebrations of music, film, food, wine, nature, and art filling the entire calendar year. This is a list of the festivals currently scheduled for 2015, and please check back often for updates. For more in-depth coverage of these events, their organizers and other Todos Santos happenings, be sure to check out Wendy Rains’ weekly radio program Todos Santos Weekend with Wendy, as well as Janice Kinne’s magazine, Journal del Pacifico. Please confirm dates for festivals before you book your tickets as organizers sometimes must change dates. ___________________________________________________________________ Todos Santos Music Festival
Date: January 15-17; January 21-24, 2015
Organizer: Hotel California and friends
Details: Confirmed bands and musicians include Joseph Arthur, Kev’n Kinney, Chuck Prophet, Steven Wynn, Drive-By Truckers, Old 97’s, La Santa Cecilia, Conor Oberst, Nortec Collective, M. Ward and Dawes. All shows will be in the Hotel California with the exception of the show on the 24th, which will be in the town plaza.
Why It’s Fun: Peter Buck of REM conceived of and curates this event. Not only does he play, he invites his musician buddies from the US and Mexico to come play to raise money for the Palapa Society and other Todos Santos charities. And it turns out that Peter Buck’s friends are all these incredibly nice people who are insanely great musicians. It’s nothing but fantastic music and great fun pulsing through the streets of town for nights on end – you don’t want to miss it!
Why it’s fun: It’s a week-long celebration of Mexican culture that typically features live music, dance and theatre performances, painting and drawing exhibitions, lectures on local environmental and social issues, piano and poetry recitals and lots more. Artisans from different parts of Mexico also set up shop next to the church to sell their crafts. Diverse, fun and engaging.
Special Note: The Todos Santos Open Artist Studio Tourwill be held on Saturday, Feburary 7 and Sunday, February 8, just after the art festival. 38 studios participated in 2014 and mediums included oils, pastels, watercolors, mixed media, encaustic, ceramics, sculpture and photography. Proceeds from the Tour go to the Children’s Art Fund of The Palapa Society Of Todos Santos, A.C. It’s a wonderful event.
Dates: March 12-22, 2015: Film festival events at venues across Todos Santos, Pescadero and La Paz
Organizer: Sylvia Perel, director of the San Francisco Latino Film Festival and the Latino Festival of Redwood City, California.
Benefits: Youth in Video program, teaching the children of the Todos Santos area about film making. They usually present a film they’ve made at the festival each year.
Why it’s fun: This fantastic festival brings together a terrific selection of feature films, documentaries and shorts from across Mexico and Latin America that many folks would otherwise never have the opportunity to see. Many well-known film directors attend to present their films and lead audience discussions. It’s a truly great event.
Benefits: Silent auctions of previous years have benefitted the local orphanage and the Todos Santos fire department.
Why it’s fun: It’s a wonderful celebration of the food and wines of Baja California – and you get to indulge in plenty of both! It’s a great opportunity to get to know local chefs from Todos Santos (and their food) and wine makers from Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe wine-growing region (and their wines). Terrific live music performances throughout the day. It’s fabulous!
__________________________________________________________________Mango Festival y Fiestas de San Ignacio en Todos Santos
Date: July 31-August 2, 2015
Organizers: Todos Santos Pueblo Magico
Why it’s fun: Ripe, juicy mangoes everywhere! There’s also dancing in the town square, polka bands, a parade of horsemen (cabalgata), folkloric ballet, artisan products, coronation of the Mango Festival Queen and much more. Lots of fun for the family.
___________________________________________________________________ Festival del Dia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar / Todos Santos Foundation Festival
Date: Our saint’s day is October 12, and there are usually 5 days of celebration around then. Details when available.
Why It’s Fun: It’s a celebration of the founding of Todos Santos and our patron saint, Pilar. Lots of music, dancing, regional foods, arts and more. There is typically a parade of horsemen and a wonderful horse show October 13 and 14. Great time for the whole family.
Marine mammals know how to get the love. Fish, not so much. You post a picture of a sea lion or a dolphin on Facebook, and you’re likely to get comments about cuteness, playfulness, intelligence – the emotion you feel when it looks you in the eye. You post a picture of a sea bass or a dorado on Facebook, and you’re likely to get comments about dinner, seasoning, grilling techniques – apparently fish giving us the fisheye doesn’t tug at our heartstrings.
Manta Ray Eye Photo by Kaia Thomson
But there is one fish that no less an authority on charisma than businessman Richard Branson calls “one of the most charismatic creatures in the ocean”, and that is the elegant, enormous, manta ray. With the largest brain-to-body ratio of all elasmobranchs*, the manta ray is one of the most intelligent fish in the sea. Making that brain function well is a system of blood vessels that envelope the manta’s braincase, keeping the brain warmer than the surrounding tissue. A big, warm brain fosters intelligence, intelligence fosters curiosity, and curiosity causes manta rays to interact with human beings in the water. It’s an incredible thrill.
Manta rays are magnificent creatures to behold. It’s not just that they’re huge: they typically reach a width of 22 feet (7 meters) and a weight of over 3,000 pounds (1,400 kg); and it’s not just that they’re prehistoric-looking: they have cephalic fins on either side of their heads to direct food, which look like horns when furled; it’s just that they’re so darn cool: they look like stealth bombers in the sea, yet move that remarkable bulk with utter grace, using their massive triangular wings (pectoral fins) to fly through the sea, exuding the glide and flow of an eagle in flight. So when you realize that this fish that seems straight out of myth is turning in patterns with you, engaging with you, and – like any good dance partner – making direct (fish) eye contact with you, it, well, tugs at your heartstrings.
Manta Ray Coming to Visit Photo by Kaia Thomson
But some people still just see dinner. Despite the fact that fishing for oceanic manta rays was banned in Mexico in 2007, and that the possession and trade of all mantas and mobulids in Mexican waters is prohibited by law, you can walk into local markets in many Baja towns and find stacks of dried and salted rays for sale. They’re considered an excellent, affordable source of protein. On a global scale the problem is more menacing. Across the tropics they inhabit, mantas are now being killed for their gill rakers, the cleansing plates that filter their food from the ocean. Manta and mobula gill rakers are the latest snake oil cure-all in China, touted as a remedy that cleanses the body of everything from gout to cancer. The organization Manta Ray of Hope, which is acting to protect manta rays from this trade, estimates that the annual gill raker trade volume is 61,000 to 80,000 kilograms (135,000 to 176,000 pounds), with an estimated value of US$11.3 million.
But businessman Richard Branson, who is campaigning for manta ray protection, points out that “while the gills are valuable, the trade is also robbing local economies of [the mantas], which could draw millions of dollars each year for those communities.” In fact, Manta Ray of Hope estimates that manta and mobula ray tourism has an estimated annual value of over US$100 million per year, a far more compelling number than the $11 million currently enjoyed by the gill raker trade. If enough awareness is raised and policy makers (and policy enforcers) act quickly enough, there is still time to staunch what many fear could otherwise be the depletion of the global manta ray population.
Manta Ray Photo by Kaia Thomson
And in Baja California Sur we know the pure joy of having the mantas and mobulas as neighbors. Many days from the Pacific beach it is possible to see the mobula rays skipping along the water, making that distinctive flap-flap-flapping sound as they soar through the air and hit the water repeatedly. And in the Sea of Cortez we’re starting to see a return of the giant manta rays, with a large number of sightings over the last several months. So if you’re in Baja, take the time out to go engage with these remarkable creatures in their natural habitat, and let their charm work itself on you. Once you get to know them, you’ll definitely be joining Richard Branson in giving the gill raker traders the old fisheye.
*Elasmobranchs are in the Class Elasmobranchii, which covers cartilaginous fishes such as sharks, rays and skates.
Manta Ray Fun Facts:
Manta is the Spanish word for blanket, an apt description of the manta ray shape
Like their shark cousins, the manta’s skin is covered with dermal denticals – sort of modified teeth that are covered with hard enamel. These are packed tightly together with the tips facing backwards. Not only do they help in protecting the animals from predators, they also aid in hydrodynamics. Manta skin is also covered in a type of mucus which helps protect it from parasites and infection.
Manta rays have terminal mouths strategically located at the front of their heads for filtering the large quantities of water they take in as their gill rakers filter out the plankton they feed on (mantas eat about 13% of their body weight each week). Mobula rays have sub-terminal mouths, located underneath the head. While mantas do have teeth, they’re generally nonfunctional – a common occurrence among filter feeders.
Mantas are relatively long-lived – up to 40+ years.
Mantas, like other sharks, visit oceanic “cleaning stations” where they cease all movement and open their mouths and gills wide to allow in cleaner fish like wrasses and gobies who happily consume any nutritious parasites that may be present. Mantas repay the favor by not eating the cleaner fish.
Mantas reproduce via ovoviviparity, i.e., the young hatch from eggs inside the female’s body and the pups are nourished by yolk instead of placenta.
Female mantas give birth to only one or two pups every two to five years, and will have a maximum of 16 pups over a lifetime. By comparison, a great white shark produces a maximum of 14 pups in just one litter. This combination of long life and infrequent reproduction increase the manta’s vulnerability.
Manta rays were practically wiped out of the Sea of Cortez due to targeted species fishing in the 1980s and 1990s, but have been making a comeback under federal protection since 2007. It is now possible once again to see, swim and engage with the mantas in the Sea of Cortez. It’s a remarkable life experience.
When the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in 2010 that “corporations are people”, it was a low day for homo sapiens throughout the world, many of whom felt their “personhood” assaulted, and who resented the notion that their “person” status should be shared with entities lacking a corporeal body ruled by intelligence and passion.
So when in August of this year the government of India became the first in the world to declare all cetaceans – including dolphins – non-human persons, those same homo sapiens breathed a sigh of relief that the standard for personhood had this time been raised, not lowered, and that once again personhood was a mantle to be worn proudly. But what about the dolphins? Did they consider personhood a serious downgrade in their global standing? Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, offers some insight: “It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much – the wheel, New York, wars and so on – whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the waves having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man – for precisely the same reason.”
Now of course when the US and Indian authorities declared corporations and dolphins people, they didn’t mean to suggest that either should embrace the institution of marriage, seek political office, or engage in other acts characteristic of homo sapiens with personhood status. What they meant is that both have implicit rights under the laws of the land and should be treated accordingly. For dolphins, this was an acknowledgement not only of their remarkable intelligence, but their human-like self-awareness. In 2001 the National Academy of Sciences published a study from Columbia and Emory Universities that proved dolphins recognize themselves when looking at their reflection. Of all the other animal species on the planet, only humans and our great ape cousins have demonstrated such mirror-awareness, and the researchers concluded that this stemmed from the dolphin’s large brain and advanced cognitive ability. In fact, just prior to the Indian government’s announcement about dolphins, researchers from the University of Chicago published research demonstrating that dolphins can remember the signature whistles – the dolphin equivalent of names – of absent friends for more than 20 years. The study’s author concluded that dolphins are “operating cognitively at a level that is very consistent with human social memory.”
Other studies have demonstrated that dolphins use tools and understand abstract concepts, and it has been long recognized that dolphins form intimate, multi-generational family bonds that last for a lifetime. In short, they’re a lot like us, and the Indian government has honored that similarity by declaring that dolphins essentially have the same rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as homo sapiens; it banned captive dolphin shows and declared it is morally unacceptable to keep dolphins in captivity. Costa Rica, Chile and Croatia have also banned dolphin displays, while countries such as England and Brazil have regulated dolphin displays so heavily that they have become too expensive to operate. In other words, these nations have fixed it such that corporate persons cannot hold captive non-human persons for the pleasure of human persons. It’s a concept any dolphin brain can grasp!
Luckily, when visiting Baja California Sur, there are innumerable opportunities for seeking out the joyful companionship of dolphins in their wild ocean homes. In the Sea of Cortez for example, it is not uncommon to see hundreds of dolphins racing together through the sea, always keen for a game of chase and some graceful dolphin gymnastics.
Scott Taylor, founder of the Australia-based Cetacean Studies Institute, wrote a magnificent book in 2003 titled Souls in the Sea: Dolphins,
Photo by Daniel Ignacio Ramirez Valenzuela
Whales and Human Destiny. Taylor argues that these mammals, who have inhabited the planet much longer than we have, “possess a deep wisdom about how to live sustainably and joyfully.” Taylor ponders why, after centuries of abuse, whales and dolphins continue to engage with humans. Is there something they are trying to tell us? Are they trying to warn us about what is coming next for the human persons of the world? Again, Douglas Adams has answers in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “The dolphins had long known of the impending destruction of planet Earth and had made many attempts to alert humankind to the danger; but most of their communications were misinterpreted as amusing attempts to punch footballs or whistle for tidbits, so they eventually gave up and left Earth by their own means. The last-ever dolphin message was misinterpreted as a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to do a double-backward somersault through a hoop while whistling “The Star-Spangled Banner” – but, in fact, the message was this: “So long… And Thanks For All The Fish!”
But perhaps it is not all over for us human persons yet. Maybe this act of compassion for fellow big-brained mammals by the Indian government will convince dolphins that mankind is worth saving after all. Groups such as SpeakDolpin (www.speakdolphin.com) are actively working on achieving full communication between humans and dolphins, and when they do, perhaps the dolphins will once again tell human persons how to escape the destruction of Earth. The corporate persons, alas, will be left to their own devices.
Fun Facts on Dolphins in the Sea of Cortez
The bottlenosed dolphin loves the Sea of Cortez; it is one of the dolphin species that we see most often when kayaking, snorkeling or boating in its beautiful waters. Some fun facts about our bottlenosed dolphin neighbors:
Similarities to humans:
Likes a good joke
Gives birth to live young
Stays in touch with friends and family
Yacks all day long
Organizes community to achieve common goals such as food procurement
Plays with its food
Performs incredible feats to impress females
Chases off “bad” males trying to get a girlfriend alone
Forms alliances across family groups for strategic purposes
Enjoys hanging about fishing with friends all day
Nurses its young for one to three years
Aids and protects those who get hurt
Likes a good nuzzle
Sleeps about 8 hours per day
Enjoys group activities with hundreds of others
Helps surfers, sailors and snorkelers in distress
Differences from humans:
Gets as big as 10 – 14 feet (3 to 4.2 m) and 1,100 pounds (500kg)
Breathing is voluntary, so must keep half it’s brain alert when sleeping to keep the body breathing and also on the look-out for predators
Often swims while it’s sleeping
Females are pregnant for 12 months
Loses all its hair either shortly before or after birth
Can roll its tongue like a straw so that while nursing a calf can keep salt water out and mom’s milk in
Relatively short life-span, although some outliers make it to 45-50 years
Able to leap up to 16 feet – without a pole vault
Can swim up to 18 mph (30 kph); some say even faster!
Hunts by echolocation – sending out sound to bounce off objects and receiving back information on an object’s size, shape and location
Scientific name is Tursiops truncates, which means “a dolphin-like animal with a shortened snout”