Favorite Things: Flying Rays

Note: Between now and January 1, we’re going to write about ten of our favorite things (in no particular order), from 2009.

Photo by Michael Albert.

Photo by Michael Albert.

The Sea of Cortez, wrote John Steinbeck in 1940, teems with “a furious exuberance.” That exuberance might best be manifested in the flying mobulas, or cubana, rays, that perform acrobatics along the East Cape of Baja between La Paz and Cabo Pulmo. Called “tortillas” by the local fishermen because of the way they look doing belly flops, the manta-like stealth bombers launch themselves out of the water in a scene that is both spectacular and spooky, flapping their 3-foot-wide wings as they perform a somersault or two before crashing thunderously back into the sea in what can only be described as an aquatic Cirque de Cortez.

I’ve seen them in December and January before but mostly I have friends who say the best time to spot them is in the summer. So when, exactly, is it best to catch the show? It’s hard to say; their comings and goings, called “pulses,” are as wonderfully mysterious as their acrobatic performances.

If you’re curious about them, check out the story and photos by Paul and Michael Albert on their web site.



  1. Sonia’s avatar

    Thats kind of scary..be a afraid to get hit in the head by one. Like those fish that jump out of the water. Ouch…but eerie

  2. david’s avatar

    From Greg G.:
    Mechas and I have land on the beach just north of Cabo Pulmo, the next bay north to be exact, “Las Baracas”. We still have a garage and use to have a house, but that is another story. Since 1990 we’ve had a Boston Whaler which we beach launch in Cabo Pulmo. The tortillas, have been one of my favorite shows to watch from the patio of the house as they come close to shore, especially in the late afternoons and jump one after another in a line doing one maybe two flips. I’ve even put on music to go with the acrobatics, as the line of jumping rays can go on for a long time. I have also come across tens of thousands of the rays any where from 100 yards off shore to miles off shore. We have thrown on our snorkel gear and dove with them on numerous occassions, it is wonderful. The East Cape area has many rays that we consistantly see on our diving forays. What we call the huge Manta ray here the locals refer to as the Cubano and the smaller ray, still five feet across they refer to as the Manta, so it is confusing. The locals use to catch the Manta, that is the smaller version, in great numbers to salt and dry the wings and make a fish machaca, or dried ray jerky. When we first started going down to Cabo Pulmo in 1980 it was still pretty much living off the sea and land for the locals. The fisherman would trade with the ranchers for cheese and beef for their tomales, etc. In the spring I even joined them on a foray into the mountains to collect wild honey. Easter was always celebrated by catching a sailfish in the morning and burying it on hot coals in the ground, and then having the whole village, albeit, small village to share in the festivities. The tortilla is a small ray, but as you noticed, numerous….and good entertainment, add to that a school of Rooster fish chasing the bait fish onto shore and you’ve got great entertainment. Really enjoying your ten best….Regards Greg and Mechas

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