Sunday, August 16, 2009


As a youngster I was a Member of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. I loved to listen to whale song and read all about Marine Mamals. However I had never heard of the most recent guests to the Island. Last week a pod of 'false orca' were spotted off Cozumel. Here is a link to a video posted on utube by the Marine Park:

They look a lot like Dolphins and are actually part of the same family (delphinidae). BUT they are much bigger:

As its name implies, it also looks very similar to an orca and, like the orca, the False Killer Whale attacks and kills other marine mammals.

From Wikipedia:

The False Killer Whale has not been extensively studied in the wild by scientists; much of the data about the dolphin has been derived by examining stranded animals.

Although not often seen at sea, the False Killer Whale appears to have a widespread, if rare, distribution in temperate and tropical oceanic waters. They have been sighted in fairly shallow waters such as the Mediterranean Sea and Red Sea as well as the Atlantic Ocean (from Scotland to Argentina), the Indian Ocean (in coastal regions and around the Lakshwadweep islands) and the Pacific Ocean (from the Sea of Japan to New Zealand and the tropical area of the eastern side).

The total population is unknown. The eastern Pacific was estimated to have in excess of 40,000 individuals and is probably the home of the largest grouping.

The false killer whale and a dolphin have mated in captivity and produced a fertile calf.[3]. This is apparently the first mating between two different species that has produced fertile offspring, i.e., without postzygotic barriers. This offspring is called a 'Wolphin'.

The False Killer Whale has been hunted, but not extensively, in the West Indies and Indonesia. In Japan, a small number of these cetaceans are killed every year.

False Killer Whales have long caused anger amongst fishermen fishing for tuna and yellowtail. The dolphins take the fish from the longlines used by the fishermen. This led to a concerted effort from Japanese fishermen working from Iki Island to deplete the species in the area - 900 individuals were killed for this purpose between 1965 and 1990.[citation needed]

Several public aquariums in the world, including Seaworld Orlando have False Killer Whales on display.

Recent evidence indicates the insular population of false killer whales in Hawaii has declined dramatically over the last 20 years. Five years of aerial surveys undertaken from 1993 through 2004 have shown a steep decline in sighting rates. Group sizes of the largest groups documented in surveys were almost four times larger than the entire current population estimate [4].

On 2 June 2005 up to 140 (estimates vary) False Killer Whales were beached at Geographe Bay, Western Australia. The main pod, which had been split into four separate strandings along the length of the coast, was successfully moved back to sea with only one death after the intervention of 1,500 volunteers coordinated by the Department of Conservation and Land Management.

Just prior to sunrise on 30 May 2009, a pod of 55 False Killer Whales was discovered beached on a sandy beach at Kommetjie in South Africa (latitude 34° 8'3.98"S, longitude 18°19'58.22"E). By 9 a.m. already 50 or more volunteers had arrived to help swim out the whales into the ocean. Many more volunteers came throughout the day to offer their services. Late morning a decision by the authorities asked all volunteers to stabilize the False Killers Whales on the beach. No further attempt was made to take the whales into the open sea. At approximately 4 p.m. after considerable debate by all the authorities present, the decision was made to initiate euthanasia by shooting the whales; approximately 44 whales were killed. Fortunately, due to the efforts of the first volunteers in the early morning, some of the 55 False Killer Whales survived.

It clear from this event that not much is known about these mammals. Why they would find themselves in such a predicament? How long can these animals survive at the water edge? What options are there to get them back into the ocean? What are the options of handling these whales? How best to take care of these whales while rescue operations are put in place? What are the signs of stress in these mammals? How does one minimise the stress levels? How to keep the pod in communication?

We understand that these whales need to be turned on from one side to the other every 20 minutes to reduce pressure on their internal organs. That they need to be kept cool if in the sun and hydrated.

For example in the case of the beached whales in Sydney on 23-24 March 2009, the 11 survivors from a pod of 80 whales that beached themselves near Margaret River on Australia’s west coast were pushed back out to sea on the 24th. The long-finned pilot whales were loaded onto trucks at Hamelin Bay where they had come ashore the previous day for their release at a better spot 20 km away. Flinders Bay was picked because it is deep, sheltered and far enough from the original stranding site to deter the whales from coming back on shore. "There’s a juvenile in the middle of the pack as well, which is good", Department of Environment and Conservation officer Laura Sinclair said. "It’s looking more positive. They’re not meandering back to the coast." Margaret River schoolchildren were among the 200 volunteers keeping the whales wet so they didn’t dehydrate and die. Some stayed up all night to help in the rescue effort. Individuals measuring up to 6 metres long and weighing up to 3.5 tonnes were hoisted in a sling onto a truck for the trip from Hamelin to Flinders. They were penned until the pod was back together and then released together. From the above example. it is clear that whales can survive even road journeys if cared for properly.

The planning for the same incident: A spokesman for the WA Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) said they were trying to herd the remaining group together to form a pod they hoped to entice back out to sea by the morning. DEC Incident Controller Greg Mair said veterinary assistance had been organised to assess the health and well-being of the remaining whales as well as equipment to try and take them back out to deeper water. “The main strategy is to re-group the animals, which are spread over five to six kilometres of beach, into one pod and hold them overnight in Hamelin Bay until day-break when they will be transported by truck to Flinders Bay for release,” he said. “This method has been chosen to ensure the whales’ greatest chance of survival,” he said. He added that a scientific team was collecting samples from the dead whales for testing as part of research into what causes whale standings. The DEC said long-finned pilot whales tend to strand both individually and in pods, and the last time the species stranded in WA was in 2005 when 19 beached themselves at Busselton. Of those, 13 were successfully returned to the ocean It is the second mass stranding of whales on Australian beaches this month.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Weather Guide to Cozumel

I figured I'd impart some of what I've learned over the last year on the Island - weather wise:

January - March: Cool mornings, afternoons in the mid 70- mid 80. Often nice beach weather, ocean a brisk 79 and often with strong currents. Pretty busy season for tourism here on the Island.
April - May: Mornings can still be cool but often 80/90 in the afternoon, the evenings still cool off nicely. Ocean is starting to warm to the 80's and the currents are starting to die off. A beautiful time to visit Cozumel. The winter high season stats to taper off and things become less crazy on the Island.
June - August. Very HOT. Not good for people without air conditioning. This would be the time I'd most like to come on vacation if I was staying in an air-conditioned hotel (aren't they all). The Ocean temp is up to 82/83. Great for diving, warm water, warm surface intervals, warm nights out - no sweater for dinner. August does start to cool off noticeably. The rainy and Hurricane seasons officially begin in June. I think this year has been particularly dry but August has brought a good few storms which start to give relief to the heat. Tourism fairly high with Texans escaping their summer heat!
September - October. Peak rainy season. I arrived in September last year and it rained almost solidly from September 15-Oct 15. The ocean is still warm for diving and the air temperature is still high. Good to visit if you are lucky enough to miss the rain. Low season - great deals to be had if you don't mind a little rain between your sun.
November- December. Tail end of November stating to really cool off. Sweaters and jeans creep into every day use. Less rain. Mornings and evenings cool but often very hot beach days. The Ocean starts to chill back to 79 by the end of the year. December is a high month for tourism which stays high through April spring break.

I've been lucky enough so far not to have experienced any real hurricane activity. This winter is expected to bring a moderate to strong El Nino (a periodic warming of the seas in the eastern Pacific). This can often suppress hurricane activity, so hopefully this will not be a bad hurricane season.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Clearing Land

I usually have the day off on Sundays, but this week I had to work as some divers we'd been working with wanted to take a private boat out. This meant that BF and his mother went to our piece of land ahead of me and started to clear ground. When I arrived I was already exhausted, but I got working. Actually it was not as hard as I'd thought it might be. We concentrated on the front part of the land. This area was mostly grass and small plants. Lots of aunts and bugs, but when I am hot and tired I find my tolerance rises to things that would normally make me scream like a girl:)BF's mom barely makes 5' tall and she's well into her sixties, but my goodness can she clear land. She made mince meat of a small tree in minutes with her machete. She grew up in the jungles of the Yukatan and the family would chop old dry wood to take into town and sell. This lady may be up in years but I would not like to cross her!! Anyway after several hours of back breaking work for BF and his mom and about an hour from me, the front part of the land (where we will have a little 6' path of garden, and a drive for the car, is clear:My future mother in law looked exhaused but her eyes were sparkling. I think she enjoyed hacking away at those branches. Perhaps it reminded her of days gone by or perhaps she just enjoyed helping us start work on building our home. I plan to go back on Wednesday and do some more work. Hey its good exercise too.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Carriage Horses Cozumel

If you have ever been to Cozumel you will have seen the carriage horses lined up on the main road, by the Ocean down town, waiting to give rides to tourists - mostly from the cruise ships. I feel very bad for these horses, as they are often mistreated.
Anyway yesterday I was sitting in my car (watching buffy the vampire slayer on my ipod) waiting for diving clients when a horse carriage in front of me toppled over, spilling its passengers onto the sidewalk. The carriage landed on it's side on top of the poor horse, who's body was pinned betwen the two wooden posts which attach the horse to the buggy. I jumped out of my car and over the overweight tourists on the pavement to see how the poor horse was. Obviously in distress he had the whole weight of the carriage on top of him. Luckily about 6 of the cab drivers from accross the street rushed over and helped lift the weight of the cart off the horse, while the driver tried to keep him calm and held his head. After much struggling the horse was released from it's harness. There is no quick release on these harnesses so the carriage had to be pushed further on to the horse to get the buckles undone.
My heart was in my throat as I watched the horse struggle to get up. The first attempt failed and he hurt his back slipping onto the poles. The second time he made it. What a lovely animal. He stood calmly while the driver re-arranged the harness on his head and then allowed himself to be led over to a tree to be teathered while the carriage was righted and the damage assessed.
It seemed like the horse escaped unscathed, although he really did not walk far enough for me to see if any of his legs had been lamed. Ofcourse the driver reharnessed the horse to pull his carrige back home.
I would ask any visitors to Cozumel to think twice about taking these carriage rides. Take a cab or a nice long walk around town. Here is an article written by the Cozumel Humane Society on these animals.
People can be so heartless when it comes to animals - it really makes me sick.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

We're buying some land.....

One of the things I wanted to do if I decided to settle in Cozumel was buy some land, with a view to building a house. I'm 37 and, although I did briefly own an apartment from the age of 18-23, my assets currently amount to a car, a computer and some fairly sexy dive gear.
Anyway BF and I decided that buying land was a sensible way to go. We searched the Island tirelessly for the ideal spot. Let me tell you, it is difficult. Land falls into 4 rough categories here on the Island:

Jungle: Anyone with a 10 year plan and a little cash to risk should think about buying land in the Jungle. We've found plots as big as 30 meters x 20 meters selling for as little as $15,000. People are buying these plots and building like crazy. Some really interesting neighborhoods are likely to develop with properies boasting nice large gardens. I love space and I also love peace and quiet and so was initially attracted to these pieces of land. There are, however, some drawbacks:
  • No electricity, water or sewerage. These will likely be connected at some point in the future if enough people build property in a given area, but there are no guarantees. Could be 6 months, 6 years or never. It is possible to dig a well - and find good water. Electricity can be difficult though. Solar panels and wind generators are expensive and limited in capacity.
  • Mosquitos - the jungle mosquito is significantly larger and more ferocious than his down town brother. In town, trucks spray bug spray at night to keep the little blighters under control. not so in the jungle. My skin has become pretty immune to the city mosquito, but the jungle variety leave huge weilds on my skin. They are bigger, meaner and more prolific.
  • The distance to town. We have one car between us. Neither of us really wants a scooter and biking it into town would be a pretty sweaty task in the summer.
Down Town/ Town Center: Unfortunately due to Cozumel's popularity as a vacation destination, down town prices have been forced through the roof by wealthy Americans buying up land (I appreciate I own my job and actually just being here to this fact as well). A piece of land measuring 20 meters x 8 meters, will set you back $70-80,000. Simply out of the price range of anyone living on the Island and earning local wages.

Neighborhoods / Suburbs: Land is very difficult to come by in nice neighborhoods. Often land sales are opened up to only certain categories of worker (like hotel staff). BF's mother lives in a nice neighborhood but finding a plot of land for sale at a reasonable price is extremely difficult.

Government sponsored developments: Several large construction companies are developing neighborhoods in areas just outside of the suburbs. These neighbrhoods look a little like the English council estates. There is a very small house on a piece of land flanked very closely on each side by an identical very small house/ piece of land. The added incentive with these pieces of land is that locals are able to take a loan from their own social security funds to finance the property. This is a pretty inticing deal, especially as the building company will readily finance the balance you need to buy. What is the catch?? Well BF and I were a little short on the cash we would have needed to pay for the property outright and it turned out that the building company loans applied extortionate rates of interest and rediculously honorous payment terms. We very nearly did this as there were a number of properties on street corners with larger pieces of land. It was only when we discovered the rediculous terms of the builders loan and reasoned that we would actually be paying for a building that we intended in the most part to demolish and re-build that we decided to go back to the drawing board.

And so it came to pass that on one sunny Sunday afternoon we decided to go on a real hunt of the neighborhoods. It was this day that we stumbled on a neighborhood that we really liked with two blocks of empty lots for sale. The price was high but something that we decided we could manage. Here is the piece of land that we are in the process of buying:and again a few steps in with BF in what will be our yard/ garden. You can see from this one that it is a fairly decent sized piece of land:We are pretty excited. The street is currently dirt road...But we are told that a proper road surface will be laid this or perhaps next week (we are on Mexican time after all).
Our first project will be to clear the land. An advantage here, over jungle, is that the land has already been partially cleared. We'll be out with machetes on Sunday. I will definately try a little clearing, but think I might soon become, cool drinks and pizza delivery person.
After clearing the land we want to build a big wall around it. Firstly because we like privacy and secondly in the hope that any building supplies that we store inside of the wall will be relatively safe. Then on with our house. We will build a first floor to begin with and then eventually a two story, 3 bedroom home. I also have a secret scheme to make a third floor palapa hang out. But that is way down the line.
Exciting stuff - more to come.

New Fruits

Food here in Mexico is OK. When I used to come here on vacation I used to love it, but now it has become a bit 'samey'. Everything served with tortillas, cheese, lime, salt lots of oil and chili peppers. Its tough to cook in the summer because our apartment is so HOT. My BF and I have 2-3 favorite restaurants which we go to quite often. We have menu favorites and because I am vegetarian my choices are limited - in short food is becoming dull.
The only exception to this, is fruit and I have recently discovered two new fruits:

Pitaya (five star fruit rating - a must try)
I love this new fruit. It comes from a climbing cactus, that grows on walls trees etc. It is a beautiful bright pink on the outside:
And white with little black seeds on the inside:
It is about the size of an apple. You peel the fruit with a knife and eat the flesh inside. It is really delicious. Its so different from any other fruit I've had that its difficult to describe it. The flesh is a bit like melon in texture with tinsy little black seeds that just give it a little crunch. It's as sweet as a strawberry but quite a unique taste. I love them as is, or blended with ice 'pitaya water'.

Tuna (one star fruit rating)
Also the fruit of a cactus, (as opposed to a tasty game fish). I was very excited to try the tuna, following my experiences with the pitaya. Sadly I was sorely disappointed. Dull green on the outside:
and... dull green on the inside:It is filled with pretty large hard seeds that you would not want to swallow. I would not bother with this fruit. Unless I had a bad tuna, when it comes to cactus fruit, Pitaya is the way to go.
There are many other fruits that BF will buy and make me taste. Nothing very nice as of yet but I plan to give each of them a write up.
There is a store that I call at almost daily to buy a mixed fruit salad and some fresh juice or another. We like watermelon (sandia), pitaya, and strawberry (fresa) so far. I did try chaya water and it was OK. The chaya is a green leafy plan a bit like spinich. Very good for you, I expect, and taste wise it is definitely manageable. Next time I plan to mix it with orange or pinapple.
More exotic fruits to follow.....