Approaching Isla Isabel with whales in foreground

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Isla Isabel - January 2020

Whale Blowing with Las Monas islets in background

Approaching Isla Isabel, after an overnight passage from Mazatlán, we were thrilled at how many whales were in the area.

Humpback Whale tail showing as whale is sounding

Multiple adult and young humpbacks were breaching, flipper-slapping, and sounding, some as close as 200m from shore.

Hoku Pa'a now carries a hydrophone for listening to whales!

Short selection of whale song

Longer portion of whale song

The crackling/snapping/popping sounds are made by shrimp, parrotfish, and other creatures feeding on the reef. It's noisy under the water!

Hoku Paa anchored beside two Las Monas islets

The anchorage we chose was one of two, and the closest to two small islets that looked promising for snorkeling. Although it had some bounce and roll, the scenery was worth it.

Map of Isla Isabel

A bird's-eye view of the island. Originally a volcano, there's now a crater lake in the middle.

Bjarne standing on shore of Isla Isabel

Our intrepid explorers venture ashore...

Blue-footed Boobies

Blue footed booby

One of Isabel's many attractions is the Blue-footed Booby.

pair of Blue footed boobies showing front and back colouration

The Blue-footed Booby (Sula nebouxii) is a great fisher and swimmer, and is attractively coloured...

male and female pair of Blue footed boobies

...but has a certain goofiness that makes one smile.

neck and head of Blue footed booby

male and female pair of Blue footed boobies with two eggs

Thousands nest at Isla Isabel, laying their eggs in scooped-out depressions at ground-level.

Blue footed booby tag number 612

Isabel has no natural predators to the Blue-footed Boobies, so they retain a fearlessness. Many are banded - meet #612.

Photo-bomb by Booby

They love being photographed :-)

Brown Booby

Most, but not all, of the resident boobies were blue-footed. Here's a Brown Booby / Bobo Café (Sula leucogaster), dressed for a fancy dinner out.

Barb leaving beach watched by two boobies

We leave the Boobies, to see what lies farther inland...


Frigatebirds are also fish-eaters, but snatch their prey from the sea using their long beaks without (usually) getting wet. They are also opportunistic bullies (biologists call them kleptoparasites): if they spy a booby that has just caught a fish they use their superior flying skills to hound the booby, flipping it upside down by snatching at its tailfeathers, until it releases the fish or barfs it up.

Booby and Frigatebird soaring

The Frigate (left) is about twice the size of a Booby (right). Light as a feather is an appropriate description, as they have the lowest weight-to-wing-area ratio of any bird, and can remain aloft for weeks, sleeping while soaring.

Frigatebird with chick

Unlike the Boobies, the Magnificent Frigatebirds (Fregata magnificens) found at Isla Isabela build their nests in trees. Many were at our head-height, and this one contained a cute youngster.

Male and female Magnificent Frigatebird

Adult females have white plumage on their lower necks and breasts. Adult males are smaller than the females and have a red neck sac they inflate when trying to impress. Both male and female will feed the young for the first three months. After that the males seem to lose interest.

Two Magnificent Frigatebird

Like the Boobies, with a lack of predators on the island the Frigates are easily approached. It is, however, a bad idea to stand directly underneath one.

Male and Female Magnificent Frigatebird

Iguanas, Crabs, and Spiders, oh my

Huts on beach of Isla Isabel

The southern bay of Isla Isabel holds a long row of rudimentary huts used for temporary accommodation by fishers and nature groups. Later in San Blas we met such a group of about 35 students heading out for a few nights on the island.

Spider with long legs

One of two spiders we met on the trail.

Spider with black-spotted white back, with 6 red spiny projections

This one (about 8 mm across) looks like it borrowed a crab shell.


Almost as numerous as the birds, iguanas and lizards were roaming the ground and lounging in trees.

mature Green Iguana

This one's an older (about 3 feet nose-to-tail) Green Iguana (Iguana iguana). Even though they are called Green Iguanas, they come in other colours depending on their age, gender, and where they live.

Green lizard

Skink with black and white stripes and polka dots

Sporting an awesome stripes-and-polka-dots combo, is some kind of skink, we think.

Spiny Lizard

We believe this is a Spiny Lizard / Roño Espinoso (Sceloporus horridus)

Hermit Crab

We're always impressed with how well the hermit crabs can fold themselves into their spiral home.

Barb with green beetle in her hair

Flying creatures landing in one's hair aren't usually welcome, but some are so pretty...

Green beetle

Extricated from Barb's hair and placed on a more agreeable (especially to Barb) surface...

Underwater Treats

Las Monas Islets at Isla Isabel

The visual treats of Isla Isabel were just as exciting underwater. We enjoyed many snorkel trips around the Las Monas islets.

Panamic Fanged Blenny

Panamic Fanged Blennies have a scary name, but are only a few inches long and usually shy.

Spotted Eagle Ray

Bjarne briefly swam with this Spotted Eagle Ray; Barb unfortunately missed it (she's near the surface to the right).

Gafftopsail Pompano

This is only the third time we have spied Gafftopsail Pompanos - this time we were fortunate to have nice clear water.

school of Golden Cownose Ray

Initially we thought we were approaching a brown rocky ledge, but it shifted and shimmered wierdly. Once closer, the ledge revealed itself as a school of over a thousand Golden Cownose Rays!

school of Golden Cownose Rays

The rays were swimming slowly, stacked several deep in layers that extended as far as we could see to the left and right. It took several minutes for the whole school to pass by. Amazing!

Turtle being cleaned

It's always a treat to spot a Turtle - this one was being cleaned (by a juvenile Mexican Hogfish) and wasn't bothered by our presence.

Turtle being cleaned with fish hook in flipper

Our turtle unfortunately has a fishhook embedded in its left front flipper - hopefully the hook will rust away soon.

Sunrise at Isla Isabel

Sunrise at Isla Isabel. After four wonder-filled days, it was time for us to sail southward to San Blas.

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