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Liah McPherson | 07.01.2019

Hold... and exhale, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.

As a certified freediver, I always "breathe down" before a dive. Slowing your heart rate and becoming as relaxed as possible both increases the time you can stay underwater and makes a dive more enjoyable.

Hold... and exhale, two, three... damn it.

It turns out that dropping into that state of relaxation is nearly impossible when you're sitting on the edge of a boat, waiting to slip into the water with orcas. In fact, despite my best efforts, my heart was racing.

With a nod of his head, the captain signaled for us to get in the water. We did so quietly and kicked back behind the boat, waiting for the orcas that were heading our way. At first, we saw only the vast expanse of the open ocean, but soon, nine dark shapes emerged in the distance. They glided toward us, calm and curious. Passing just below me, the largest female turned on her side and met my gaze before disappearing back into the blue.


Let me preface this by saying that I got very lucky. While orcas can be found in all the world's oceans—from the Bahamas to the poles—running into them in the open ocean isn't exactly common. But the experience wouldn't have been possible without the knowledge and expertise of the Pelagic Safari crew.

This company, part of the larger Pelagic Fleet, is focused on bringing people face-to-face with the abundant marine life in Mexico's Pacific Ocean. Based out of Cabo San Lucas, they run trips offshore and around the end of the Baja Peninsula in their 32-foot intrepid boat, "The Mobula," named after a species of ray commonly seen in the area.

This region of the world is one of the best places to see big-ocean animals. Whales, sharks, dolphins, rays, turtles, sea lions... I think you get the point. Some species are seasonal and predictable, others appear literally out of the blue (cue the orcas!). It's no wonder that Pelagic Safari's motto is "Expect the Unexpected."

During the four days I spent out on the water with this team, we saw dolphins, sea lions, turtles, and humpback whales, in addition to the orcas. One of my favorite experiences was putting a hydrophone over the side of the boat and listening to humpback whales sing all around us. As a marine biologist who spends a lot of time in the water studying and listening to dolphins, having this experience with humpback whales was absolutely giddying.

My knowledge of marine mammals brings me to perhaps the most important point—Pelagic Safari is respectful and responsible with the marine life they encounter. I find that many ecotourism businesses don't have the animals' best interest in mind, and in my opinion, some of their operations fall under the category of harassment rather than observation. Numerous scientific studies suggest that animals are negatively impacted by this irresponsible ecotourism.


The Pelagic Safari crew, however, was adept at reading the behavior of the animals, and did not approach animals that showed signs of avoidance or disturbance. When approaching animals that were calm and curious, they moved the boat slowly and were explicit in explaining how to act around the animals.

Pelagic Life, the conservation branch of the company, focuses on spreading awareness of marine species in Mexico's oceans and strives to educate the public about sustainable fishing practices. They've worked on a number of projects, and have a award winning film called México Pelágico about shark fishing and conservation in Mexico.

I have no doubt that I'll be back to freedive here again. Maybe I'll keep getting lucky with orcas, or maybe next time it will be hammerhead sharks, or a super-pod of spinner dolphins—maybe I'll just float in the ocean with nothing in sight but dark blue water. As long as I'm in the ocean with a pair of freediving fins, I'll be happy.



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Women in the Wild is a movement that recognizes the amazing women who enrich the outdoor community with their passions, inspirations, and accomplishments. Outdoor Project is proud to grow this campaign in 2019 with the help of guest editor and 2018 #womaninthewild Georgina Miranda, adventurer, entrepreneur, mountaineer, and founder and CEO of She Ventures. We're proud to open our platform once again for the incredible stories and photography of women throughout our community. From in-depth interviews with outdoor advocates, influencers, and athletes to female-focused content from the community, Women in the Wild 2019 aims to amplify the voice of women in celebration of female fortitude, strength, and camaraderie in the outdoors.

For a complete list of content published in correlation with Women in the Wild 2019, visit Women in the Wild 2019: Amplifying Women in the Outdoors.

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