In this ongoing series, we speak to the people who run dive centres, resorts and liveaboards from around the world about their businesses and the diving they have to offer…
What is the name of your business?
Dive Ninja Expeditions
What is your role within the business?
I juggle a few roles, but I guess that comes with running any business. Technically my job title is Founder/ Team leader, but my time is normally spent leading expeditions, teaching courses, or scouting & exploring new locations to bring our guests to.
How long has the business operated for?
We officially opened our doors in May 2017.
How long have you dived for, and what qualification are you?
I’ve been in diving for about a decade now and done around 6000+ dives at last estimate. I’m a Tec Trimix Instructor and Full Cave Diver, as well as a laundry list of other certifications & qualifications. I’m a bit of a big nerd (laughs).
What is your favorite type of diving?
I love diving with big animals, exploring new areas, and going for the more adventurous, off the grid, types of diving. The kind of dives that take you to obscure places in search of some type of special encounter that leaves you screaming through your regulator in excitement when it happens. That’s the kind of experiences I live for and what would become the basis for creating Dive Ninja Expeditions.
If you could tell people one thing about your business (or maybe more!) to make them want to visit you what would it be?
To start, Dive Ninja Expeditions takes a different approach to dive tourism. We focus on creating unique high-quality experiences and specialized tours & expeditions that aim to bridge the gap between tourism, marine science, and conservation. To give you an example, we’re really big on building citizen science trips with local marine biologists that allow our guests to not only learn about the local area but also contribute to actual research activities that play a vital part in helping to understand and protect our oceans.
We lead daily tours and multi-day expeditions all over Baja California Sur, Mexico from our Ninja HQ in Cabo San Lucas. Plus, throughout the year we also lead trips to different locations around the world to check out some of the best diving our planet has to offer. We also have an extensive list of courses and workshops on offer that span scuba diving, technical diving, freediving, photography and conservation.
One of the things we hear a lot from our guests is that diving with us feels like diving with old friends. I’d like to say this could be attributed to our high percentage of repeat guests, but it’s actually something we also hear a lot of from first time guests. I think it’s because we see our guests more like family instead of customers. One big Ninja Family that shares a passion for the ocean.
What is your favorite dive in your location and why?
It’s really hard to narrow down just one (laughs). Baja really has so much to offer throughout the year. But I think if I had to pick just one favorite it would be diving with the mobula rays. Every year starting in the late spring Munk’s Devil Rays begin to create gigantic schools around the coasts of Baja California Sur. The aggregations are one of the largest of any ray species in the world. It’s such an incredible experience. If you’ve seen BBC’s Blue Planet, you know what I’m talking out. They launch from the ocean splashing back into the sea. But not just 1 or 2…we’re talking hundreds.
It sounds like popcorn. But that’s only the appetizer, imagine ducking under the surface and swimming alongside thousands of these devil rays that have formed a school 20 meters high and are so densely packed together that it blocks the sunlight from reaching below them. Seeing them slowly soar through the ocean in unison is unlike anything on earth. It is truly breath-taking.
What types of diving are available in your location?
Cabo San Lucas and the Baja offer a pretty wide variety of diving that can accommodate everyone from beginners to seasoned experts, as well as great spots for freediving and technical diving too. We have relaxed shallow sites, steep sheer face walls, offshore sea mounts, marine parks, pinnacles, big schools of fish, sea lions, large pelagics, multiple species of sharks & whales, a bit of macro diving, and even a few wrecks. But I think what makes Baja so special is the unique expeditions to see the different migrations that happen throughout the year; such as the Mobula Ray aggregations, Striped Marlin hunting giant bait balls, as well as multiple shark & whale migrations throughout the year.
What do you find most rewarding about your current role?
I think most people would say I have a dream job. I get to spend my days in the water exploring, looking for new areas to dive and new incredible encounters to have. But for me, the most rewarding part is seeing the work we do inspire others to get involved in conservation. When our guests tell us how they ditched disposable plastics after diving with us, or started volunteering, or advocating for sharks in their hometown it makes my love for what we do grow even more.
I’d also have to say one of my favorite parts of the job is being able collaborate with & meet so many passionate scientists and conservationists. They are such an inspiration. Humans like Regi Domingo, David Valencia, Frida Lara, Marta Palacios, Sarah Richard, Pete Rodriguez Arana, Dr Robert Rubin, Mauricio Hoyas, and the list just goes on and on. These are incredible people doing remarkable things for our oceans. I truly feel blessed that we can partner with them. And it makes me feel great that as a business we can work with them to give back by helping to facilitate research and conservation projects that aid in protecting & understanding our oceans.
What is your favorite underwater creature?
I have always had this fascination with octopus. I find them incredibly interesting on so many levels. Whether it’s their amazing camouflage abilities, their intelligence & curiosity, or even just their almost alien looking appearance. I could honestly just spend entire dives hanging out with them.
Are there any exciting changes / developments coming up in the near future?
There is always a bunch of stuff brewing at the Ninja HQ! Right now, we are getting ready to release the dates for our 2020 Mobula Ray Expedition season. We’ve also been focused on launching our new conservation arm of the company — Dive Ninja Ocean Warriors. Plus, we are currently scouting a few new locations in Baja for some potential, new expeditions. I can’t say too much about them right now as it’s a ninja secret. But I will say that if it all comes together it could be a game changer for diving in Mexico and North America.
We’ve also got a super cool project coming up in French Polynesia for 2020 that we are working on with Girls That Scuba founder Sarah Richard, Nakawe Project founder Regina Domingo, and incredible photographer, Alex Kydd. We’ll be releasing the full details this August. I’m definitely excited for this one. There’s a bunch of other stuff too but I got to keep some of our ninja secrets for now!
As a center what is the biggest problem you face at the moment?
One of the big issues we are following right now is the spike in grey whale deaths this year. There’s been over 80 reported so far this season alone and no one really understands why. These curious giants are one of my favorite reasons for living in Baja. We share some of the most incredible up-close interactions with them here in the winter. So, it’s really sad and worries me that so many of them are dying on their migration back north.
We are also quite concerned about shark fishing in Baja, especially the fishing of protected or more vulnerable species such as the Mako. Organizations such as Nakawe Project are fighting hard for them and working with the local fishing communities to help change this, but there is still a long way to go. As a shop we are working on projects that aim to create alternative revenue streams for local fishermen through eco-tourism in hopes of showing them that sharks & rays are worth much more money alive.
Is your center involved in any environmental work?
Dive Ninjas is one of those rare centers that actually had environmental work as one of the core pillars in our business model from the start. We’ve built the company to be different than the average dive center and one of the ways we do this is by focusing our efforts on creating true eco-tourism platforms that aim to bridge the gap between tourism, science, and conservation. For example, the majority of our trips and expeditions include some form of citizen science and/or conservation aspects. We regularly invite marine biologists and researchers to be part of our expeditions to give presentations or create discussions, while also allowing the guests the chance to take part in actual research activities.
We’ve also worked with environmental consultants from the start to see how we can minimize our impact on the environment in all facets of the business. But it goes beyond this for us, our entire team is very passionate about the environment and our oceans. Every day we try to educate and inspire our guests to get involved and take action. It’s something we at Team Ninja are dedicated to and I wholeheartedly believe that we can ignite change from.
How do you see the SCUBA / Freediving / snorkeling industry overall? What changes would you make?
I feel there is a growing rift in the industry between the old and new ways of thinking in the industry that is starting to become a chasm. I don’t think it is going to change anytime soon, although I hope it does. But in the last few years we’ve seen this positive change in the industry and in the population in general. We see so many more people interested in science and protecting our oceans and planet. We see a big shift in what divers want too. They want something more than just paying for a quick jump in the water. They want experiences that have substance. They want to learn. They want to give back. And this is incredibly beautiful.
But on the other hand, I still hear stories from female students of how they were laughed at when they asked about wanting to try their hand at learning technical diving because they were ‘too small’ or ‘too weak’. Plus, we still see many tour operators blatantly raping our oceans for profit. I would love to see more in the industry truly working towards protecting our oceans and not just using it as a marketing campaign. And I’d love to see less of this archaic thinking towards females in the industry. So, I believe that if more and more newer shops like us try to set the bar a little higher then maybe others will be inspired to follow suit.
What would you say to our visitors to promote the diving you have to offer?
Baja is a land of contrasts. We have cactus filled deserts with barren rocky mountains reaching from star filled skies down to meet bright blue waters which are known to host more migratory marine species than anywhere else in the world. Cousteau nicknamed this region ‘the world’s aquarium’ because of the abundance and variety of life found here. It is a spectacular area where the mighty Pacific Ocean meets the beautiful Sea of Cortez. Yet much of the peninsula is untouched and just begging to be explored.
That’s where Dive Ninja Expeditions comes in. Whether it’s chasing huge bait balls & striped marlin 20 miles off shore or gliding along with thousands of mobula rays or just taking a relaxing wall dive in the Cabo San Lucas Marine Park our team can deliver the adventure you are looking for. And along the way we can teach you about the incredible animals and ecosystem that make Baja so special. Or even help you take an active part in giving something back to protect our oceans and further our understanding of them. Whether it’s to one of the more well-known areas or one of our secret ninja spots, we can show you a side of Baja that no other operator can. But best of all you can count on that it’s always done in a safe and conservation minded way.
Where can our visitors find out more about your business?
Check out our website to see all the trips, tours, expeditions and courses we have on offer. But I definitely recommend following us on Instagram & Facebook because that is where all the latest news and upcoming trips are released first.
A guest blog by The Scuba Genies from The Scuba Place…
During a visit to Florida, Mona and John from The Scuba Place swam with manatees and learned some very interesting facts.
John and I made a trip to the USA this Spring and had the opportunity to check out all that Florida has to offer travelling divers. We had seen manatees in various Florida marinas over the years but had never had the opportunity to swim with them so our first stop after visiting family was to Crystal River, just a little over an hour north of Tampa International Airport. Crystal River is one of the few places you can legally swim with manatees in their natural habitat. We booked a 3 hour swim with Fun 2 Dive with a 10:00 am departure. Fun 2 Dive asked us to arrive 15 minutes early to check in and participate in a short educational briefing. We arrived with our camera gear in tow and the staff asked to view a video from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service titled “Crystal River Refuge’s ‘Manatee Manners’ for Photographers and Videographers”.
Between November and April every year this area is home to the largest aggregation of manatees in a natural environment. We were there mid-May but were confident we would have an amazing experience! And did we ever! Our guide for the day Dani, is a self-proclaimed manatee nerd! She has had a passion for manatees since the age of 13 and loves what she does! Our group of 10 loaded up on the Fun 2 Dive bus and took the short 5-minute trip to the marina. We boarded the pontoon and motored out into the nearby inlet. There were a few other boats in the area and as one boat was moving off, they let us know that there were three manatees in the area. Armed with our pool noodles, snorkel gear and cameras, we carefully entered the water and were lucky enough to find a mother and baby!
We spent the next few hours with our faces in the water amazed by the encounter. These beautiful yet endangered animals are gentle giants found in inlets, marinas, and coastal shallows. Often bearing numerous scars from boat propellors, these sea-cows are super cute in an ugly way but so much fun to be in the water with! Don’t be fooled by their size and slowness – when they want to move, they can put on a real burst of speed! And while we could have spent all day with them, watching the baby nurse and then munch on some sea grass in just a few inches of water, our time came to an end, and we loaded back up on the boat.
We have to thank Dani for her enthusiasm and endless knowledge of manatees!
Here are 10 facts Chloe researched for us that we had to share:
- Manatees can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes!
Although manatees live in the water, they need to breathe air to survive. Common sense, right? Well, you’ll be surprised to know that manatees don’t use their mouth to breathe. By breathing through their nostrils, they can achieve a higher rate of exchange of air, exchanging about 90% of the air in their lungs, whereas humans only exchange about 10%. This enables a manatee to hold its breath for longer.
- The oldest manatee in the world died at age 69.
The average lifespan of a manatee is 40 years old. However, Snooty exceeded this! Snooty the manatee from Florida was born in captivity and raised in Bishop Museum of Science and Nature’s Parker Aquarium. Due to hand rearing, Snooty was never released to the wild. Snooty sadly died two days after his 69th birthday, which was actually down to human error. It is thought that Snooty could’ve reached 100 years old!
- Sea cow? More like Sea Elephant!
It is suggested that manatees have evolved from four-legged land mammals over millions of years.
The last ancestor they share with elephants lived about 60 million years ago.
- Man vs Food finds potential new host
An incredibly impressive fact is that a manatee eats around a tenth of its body weight in food each day! Let’s all appreciate that they can weigh up to 450kg and their diet is predominately made up of seagrass, which weighs hardly anything!! Hence why manatees are munching all day, they’ve a job to do! That’ll give any Man vs Food challenge a run for its money. Their diet is a good indicator of an ecosystem’s health. A full up manatee suggests its immediate environment is flourishing.
Each species of manatee is a member of the Sirenius family, which shares a common ancestor with the elephant, aardvark and small gopher-like hyrax.
- There’s no looking back for a Manatee. Seriously, they can’t turn their heads.
As manatees don’t possess the same neck vertebra as humans, they can’t rotate their heads like we can. This means if they want to look back or to the sides, they must move their whole body. What an effort!
- Manatees have SIX senses
Manatees have tiny hairs distributed sparsely all over their body that are known as vibrissae. Studies have suggested that these tactile body hairs can be just as sensitive as whiskers and can help analyse surroundings underwater and detect vibrations in the water. Having this sixth sense is great help to manatees, as they are not known to have 20:20 vision, particularly at night.
- Who are you calling fat?
Although they may look fat and blubbery, manatees don’t have a thick layer of fat for insulation; that’s why they prefer warmer waters! So, if it’s not fat, what is it? Well, the reason for their size is due to their stomach and intestines taking up a lot of space.
- Dentist? No thanks!
Manatees’ teeth often get worn down through their relentless chewing and munching but this doesn’t cause concern. Manatees grow and lose teeth throughout their entire lives, just like elephants. Older teeth fall out at the front whilst new teeth grow through at the back of their mouths.
- Causes of death
This is not such a fun fact. Whilst manatees do not have any natural predators in the wild, humans have had a large part of putting this species at risk of extinction. According to the United States Fishing and Wildlife Services, around 99 manatee deaths each year are related to human activities, especially boat injuries. Manatees are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978 to help lower this number.
- Pregnancy Glow
Once female manatees reach the age of 5, they are ready to mate. It’s almost twice as long for males, taking a further 4 years to be ready. Take your time guys! Once pregnant, the gestation period for a manatee can be between 11 and 12 months. Manatees typically only have on calf per pregnancy, although rare, twins have been born too. Once born, a calf can weigh up to a whopping 32kg and will stay with its mother for around 2 years. One last bizarre fact we found out whilst on our trip, is that the mothers’ teats are found on the joint of the flippers. Check out the image below…
Would you like to swim with manatees? Dive the Florida coasts? Spend the day with Mickey Mouse? The Scuba Place can arrange a custom trip for you! Let us put together a Fly-Drive-Dive holiday that ticks all the boxes!
Keep your eyes on this space as we headed over to the East coast of Florida to dive Key Largo, West Palm Beach and Jupiter and we’ve got stories to share!!! Come Dive with Us!
Find out more about the worldwide dive itineraries that The Scuba Place offers at www.thescubaplace.co.uk.
Why diving Cocos should be at the top of your bucket list!
Missed part one of Sean’s blog on his trip to Cocos Island? You can read it here.
You ever expected so much from a place that you’ve then been left disappointed once you’ve finally had the opportunity to visit? Well, thankfully that didn’t happen with my visit to Cocos Island. Back in 2009 my friend was encouraging me to take up diving and showed me videos of his trip to Cocos to entice me. Ever since then and the start of my diving life, Cocos has been top of my dive bucket list. A lot of my expectations were alleviated slightly as a lot of his videos were the crazy whitetip reef shark night dives that are unfortunately not permitted anymore. However, I was still expecting a lot from a place that had an incredible reputation. Thankfully it lived up to that reputation and more.
The island itself had already won my heart on arrival. One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever laid my eyes on. Lush green rainforest broken up by cascading waterfalls drawing you down to a rugged beautiful coastline. It really is paradise on earth. Then I finally hit the water and quickly realised paradise continued beneath the waves. The checkout dive was a sure sign of things to come and a great entry into life diving at Cocos Island. A nice calm shallow dive at Chatham Bay but with lots of life to see and many whitetip reef sharks that weren’t as skittish as other places I’ve dived with them. Such a fun relaxing dive and then there it was!! My first Cocos scalloped hammerhead. Hang on, this is only the first dive and I’m only at around 7 metres or so. I really wasn’t expecting this, as thought I’d only see them at the deep cleaning station sites. It gave me a real buzz for the diving week ahead.
Sure enough the next dive at Manuelita Outside was really what diving at Cocos Island is all about. Hammers, hammers and more hammers!! Scalloped hammerheads were everywhere at the three cleaning stations along the wall with action pretty much starting as soon as we hit the water. While we perched up along the wall and looked on over the cleaning stations we watched as some would come in to be cleaned while groups patrolled the blue outside. What a fascinating spectacle to witness and it was only dive 2!!
The worry after such a crazy fantastic second dive was the expectations for the rest of the week. Was this a sign of things to come? Or were we to be left disappointed if we didn’t get another dive like that again? Luckily it was a great sign as the diving continued to deliver dive after dive through the week. I think I can only recall about 1 or 2 dives out of 21 where I didn’t see a hammerhead. They were prevalent throughout the week even making regular appearances on the more relaxed shallower third dives of the day.
Dirty Rock and Manuelita Coral Garden were my favourite dives of the trip and continually delivered for hammerhead action. What you learn when diving in Cocos is that if a dive site is hitting early, then it’s good to dive that site on more than one occasion. These two sites were on fire and delivered dive after dive. Not only were the hammerheads in abundance and made close passes. We also hit big moments at both sites that have gave me some of the best dives I’ve had in my life. In fact, one of the other guests I was diving with has been to Cocos 19 times and on one particular dive we had at Dirty Rock she said it was the best dive she has ever done there. I’d hit the jackpot on only my first visit to the island.
The dive started deep with numerous hammerheads at a cleaning station around 30 metres deep where I got one of my closest hammerhead passes. Hammerhead cleaning stations are typical of Cocos, whereas what happened next was completely unique and was the reason we all came up from the dive buzzing. As we shallowed up, we made our way around the rock to the other side and was greeted by BIG circling Galapagos sharks at around 16 metres. This was a completely natural encounter with no bait used as they swam past within touching distance at times. Juan Manuel has been a dive guide in Cocos nearly 20 years and had never seen anything like this before with Galapagos sharks. Such an incredible natural experience where my only problem was I couldn’t stay longer due to deco time and air consumption. I could have stayed there for hours with them circling between the group.
Close interactions with an eagle ray at Dirty Rock and the amazing school of bigeye trevally that we encountered on 3 of the 4 dives there added to the lure of this site. While Manuelita Coral Garden was a more relaxed shallow dive where around 20 metres was the max depth I reached. It was still equally exciting and gave me two of my most memorable moments. On one dive I had moved away from the group slightly watching the hammerheads circle around the reef through the cleaning stations. I then had a look over my shoulder and was surprised by a juvenile whale shark bolting along the reef at around 5 metres. It didn’t stay for long but was such an exciting moment as it was completely unexpected. That moment was joined by seeing mating whitetip reef sharks on one of the dives there. Another completely natural occurrence that left the whole group buzzing with excitement.
While we hit big at these particular sites, the rest of the diving we did around the island had its moments and delivered amazing dives throughout the week. I’m a sucker for a critter and in particular octopus and frogfish are some of my favourites. Seeing both these on what is a popular big animal destination adds to the appeal of a trip to Cocos Island. We also got lucky and got to see the elusive Cocos batfish that is endemic to this area, a really interesting and comical looking critter with its big red lips. The schools of snapper (particularly blue-and-gold snapper) and soldierfish were in abundance on most dives with the swim-through and caves at Submerged Rock creating memorable moments with them and the whitetip reef sharks. Marbled rays were always fun to see and friendly at times.
Overall, what an incredible dive trip to return to after a forced Covid break over the last year and a half. When expectations are so high but can still be exceeded you know you’re in a special place. From the first minute to the last, the dives continued to deliver and we were even given a parting gift on the very last moments of the very last dive. A huge school of bigeye trevally rose from the sandy bottom of Manuelita Coral Garden and engulfed the group, staying with us for our safety stop as if to ensure we have a reason to return. Something I would rush to do in a heartbeat.
Find out more about Sean, his photography and his hosted trips at: www.greatwhitesean.com