The following list highlights a few animal species that can be found in Baja.
California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus)
The California sea lion is a common sight on tiny rocky islands along the coast of the Baja Peninsula. There are several colonies near La Paz and on in the Espíritu Santo National Park. Male sea lions grow very large and can weigh up to 400 kilos, while females are smaller at on 90 kilos (Encyclopædia Britannica). The animals are excellent swimmers and dive for food (Encyclopædia Britannica). Tour groups in La Paz often snorkel with the playful animals at Los Islotes, near Espíritu Santo.
Rooster fish (Nematistius pectoralis)
The rooster fish is in the jack family and is distinguished by the seven long dorsal spines that shoot up when the fish hunts its prey close in to shore. A mature adult can weigh over 50 kilos and reach over 1.5 meters in length. The fish is not good eating and catch and release is the usual practice, however, locals sometimes eat the fish when nothing else is available.
Sally Lightfoot Crab (Grapsus grapsus)
John Steinbeck traveled to the Gulf of California in 1940, to collect as many species of invertebrate as possible. The Sally Lightfoot becomes the bane of Steinbeck and his crew as they find it nearly impossible to catch. The Sally Lightfoot is a common land crab that spends more time on the shores in strong currents than it does inland. The crab is identifiable by its bright red shell and is known for its quick speed.
The wildlife in Baja stands out as a unique feature, which attracts millions of tourists each year, but also scientists and experts. The winter months bring the largest animals on Earth to the lagoons of the Pacific and the Gulf of California. Blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus), humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae), grey whales (Eschrichtius robustus), and the world’s largest fish, the whale shark (Rhincodon typus) seek out the warmer waters and the plentiful food sources. Orcas and dolphins have made permanent residences in the Gulf of California along with the California sea lion. The gulf teems with life, different species of rays, sharks, squid, fish, and invertebrate species. However, some species are in extreme danger.
The critically endangered vaquita porpoise (Phocoena sinus) ranges in a small area in the northern gulf. Less than fifty animals exist and their greatest threat are gill nets used for illegal fishing (Holman). Although the vaquita’s outlook is bleak, the government and other non-profits are working to save the rare dolphin (Holman). Another threat is an invasive tunicate. According to local fishermen in La Paz, the tunicate–a marine invertebrate, is partly responsible for endangering the protected scallops in La Paz Bay. The photo above shows a local fisherman demonstrating how the tunicate attaches itself to the scallop and suffocates the animal inside.
Marine, coastal, and terrestrial birds are prevalent in Baja. The magnificent frigatebird (Fregata magnificens), yellow-footed gulls (Larus livens), and blue-footed boobies (Sula nebouxii) are common marine birds throughout the peninsula. Great blue herons (Ardea herodias) and different species of Cormorants, including Brandt’s Cormorant and the double-crested are also common. Inland, the Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway)is often seen from the highway, and turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) are found nearly everywhere. In the cities and towns, doves, finches, and sparrows find homes.
A variety of mammals and reptiles call Baja home. Large cats, like the pumas and bobcats are major predators, along with coyotes (CONANP – 21). The black-tailed jack rabbit (Lepus californicus) often scurries across single lane and dirt roads, causing drivers to slam on their brakes. Divers must beware of lizards, who blend so well they are difficult to spot. The desert iguana (Dipsosaurus dorsalis) inhabits most of the peninsula, except the north west region and the aptly-named zebra-tailed lizard (Callisaurus draconoides) both have excellent camouflage. However, it is easy to distinguish the zebra-tail with skinny horizontal stripes on the underside of its tail and larger lime green and black stripes on its abdomen.