Shelter Masthead

Swimming with the Fishes

I was swimming in the warm water at a remote beach in Baja. My friends were fishing for corvina, and one of the kids loaned by a mask and snorkel. No fins.

For a native of San Francisco, where swimming in the ocean always entails a certain amount of tension — just to resist the cold — the warm waters of Mexico are heaven. You swim, you float, you’re loose, you feel the water sliding over your shoulders and body. Swimming is a sensual experience.

I snorkeled out to where it was about 8 feet deep, with a sandy bottom, inside the reef. There were a lot of fish, all sizes and colors. Blue/green water, dappled moving patterns of shade underwater, fish swimming, darting in all directions . . . .

Pretty soon a flock of white fish with black stripes appeared. They were nearly circular in shape, 15–20 inches across. A lot of them. I started swimming above them and was surprised they didn’t shy away. I followed them a while, snorkeling above them on the surface, and then decided to see what they’d do if I went closer. I dove down to the middle of them. Mama mía, they stayed right with me. I swam along, thrilled. I came up for air and went back down and they were still there, swimming around almost like waiting for me. We took off en masse about 6–8 feet down. As I swam along, my peripheral vision told me there were fish on both sides of me. I looked to the right — there were fish. I looked to my left — there were fish. I looked behind me . . . I looked above and below . . . I was surrounded! I was at the center of a moving sphere of fish. Increíble! I’d been admitted to the underwater world . . . no matter which way I turned, they surrounded me.

I swam with them for maybe ten minutes — coming up for air, then diving back down — they seemed to enjoy the company. When I got home I looked them up. They are called Pacific spadefish, get as big as 25 inches, and are “. . . like large silvery dinner plates, with 5–6 stripes. . . . They are sometimes curious about divers, and have been known to circle one in numbers, walling him in by a silvery, moving cylinder.”

Fishes of the Pacific Coast,
Gar Goodson, 1988, Stanford University Press
This is a great book with beautiful paintings,
the best fish book for Baja.
Lloyd Kahn