Bahia Magdelena Pt. 1

Guys, I have a confession. I ate this:

Megapitaria squalida, the chocolate clam

Megapitaria squalida, the chocolate clam

It all went down last summer when I spent five weeks in the Sea of Cortez in Baja California Sur, Mexico for a tropical marine biology course, as mentioned here. The initial part of the class focused on comparing different marine habitats, like the rocky intertidal zones, eelgrass beds, and sandy subtidal zones, as well as contrasting those to what is common in our lovely Pacific Northwest. Mainly, these studies were an excuse to snorkel at a bunch of different beaches, and it also led us on a field trip to Bahia Magdelena all the way on the other side of the Baja Peninsula. After a few hours traveling through the desert on a bus with no air conditioning, stopping along the way to look for fossilized shark teeth (it was ludicrous to image that giant swimming beasts were once in this place that could now support nothing bigger than barren, twiggy shrubs) and an hour of off-roading, squeezing through cacti on either side (our bus driver Jorge was pro, knowing exactly which unmarked fork to take every time), we arrived at a sandy point and fled the bus, so happy to see water again.

The closest thing to a road sign

The closest thing to a road sign

The afternoon was wiled away exploring our campsite. On a large sand flat bordered on one side by the bay and a small channel that increased ten fold at high tide on the other , we hunted for good sea shells. There was no shortage; we found cockels the size of cereal bowls, scallops in vibrant oranges, pinks, and blacks, and sand dollars larger than my palm. We waded in the shallows of the ocean side, watching for the telltale puff of sand and the brush of smooth skin as a stingray darted out from under our shuffling old lady feet. As the sun set and the tide came in, we played bocce ball, almost losing the pallino multiple times in the loose sand, and we built a fire in a turtle-shaped sand pit. Screams ensued when a scorpion emerged from the burning wood and scuttled across the sand at a panicked pace towards us. I didn’t regret my choice to stargaze through the mesh ceiling of a tent that night, especially after one of my classmates later recounted waking up to find something making itself cozy in her sleeping bag.

Cuddly local fauna

Cuddly local fauna

Hermit crab occupying a moon snail shell

Hermit crab occupying a moon snail shell


Molt of a blue swimming crab, Callinectes arcuatus

Molt of a blue swimming crab, Callinectes arcuatus


Exercise after a long bus ride a la beach soccer

Balls of sand that hermit crabs create by filtering sand to pick out organic munchies

Balls of sand that hermit crabs create by filtering sand to pick out organic munchies


There could have been millions of scorpions lurking just beyond the edge of the light, and we would have never known…


As soon as the moon rose above the bay, the waves started washing in with force. The second night we camped there, we built a sea wall to protect the tents.

The next morning, we found ourselves on four small boats in the middle of the bay, each bow pointed to a line of green on the horizon. This was what we had came for: mangroves. As we slowly chugged our way over there, we caught sight of a lone dolphin before pulling up next to the boats of a few men our guides knew.  A few words were exchanged in Spanish, and one man bent over, reaching into a white bucket next to a generator that pumped air down to a diver below us. A couple of clams came flying through the air and with a deft flick of a knife, our guide had them splayed open in front of us. They were chocolate clams, a native species with a thick brown shell. Cut in half, the bright red foot was visible, along with the gills, siphon, and intestines…filled with what I’m pretty sure was poop. Yup, after my professor ran the knife along the inside of the shell, separating the body from it, I downed the entirety of that half. Yup, I ate a raw, live clam, complete  with sea water, poop, and all. Trust me, the chocolate clam does not get its name from its taste. 

What have you eaten that still kind of makes your stomach turn when you think about it?


7 thoughts on “Bahia Magdelena Pt. 1

    • I sure was! I learned way more than I could have here on campus by getting out and seeing so many varieties of organisms and creating/performing/presenting a research project, all while getting to camp on the beach, snorkel, and check out the local culture! Definitely one of the biggest benefits was getting to know a few professors better, and Deb was one of them. I’m forever grateful that she woke up really early one morning to get me out to my field site at low tide! I also had invertebrate zoology with her last quarter, and it was by far one of the best classes I’ve ever taken.

  1. Pingback: Bahia Magdelena, Pt. 2 | Windows to the Sea

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