In 1940, John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts led a voyage to the Sea of Cortez. Sea of Cortez was published a year later and included both Steinbeck’s account of the memorable voyage and Ricketts’s scientific review of their findings. 64 years later, Professors Gilly, Baxter, and Shillinglaw led another expedition to update Steinbeck and Ricketts's voyage both in public awareness and scientifically. That voyage in turn inspired the Holistic Biology program, which began in 2005 and had its first field component in Mexico in 2006. Now, in 2008 we're going to go again.

Why go on such an expedition?

“One of the reasons we gave ourselves for this trip - and when we used this reason, we called the trip an expedition - was to observe the distribution of invertebrates, to see and to record their kinds and numbers, how they lived together, what they ate, and how they reproduced. That plan was simple, straight-forward, and only a part of the truth. But we did tell the truth to ourselves. We were curious. Our curiosity was not limited, but was as wide and horizonless as that of Darwin or Agassiz or Linnaeus or Pliny. We wanted to see everything our eyes would accommodate, to think what we could, and, out of our seeing and thinking, to build some kind of structure in modeled imitation of the observed reality.”
Steinbeck & Ricketts, Sea of Cortez (1941)

This course will attempt to satisfy the goals of the1940 voyage, both in the "simple, straight-forward" elements of biology and in the unlimited bounds of curiosity. 

Itinerary and Highlights (day numbers are on map)

  • We start with an overland journey visiting missions at San Javier and Loreto and squid fishing operations in Santa Rosalia.  We will also investigate the local geology of Santa Rosalia, once a major copper producer, and the nearby volcanoes, Tres Virgenes.  We are negotiating the production a video chronicle of the class tagging a squid with the Journal of Visualized Experiments ( We then return to La Paz for an intertidal survey on Isla Espiritu Santu, a site visited by Ricketts and Steinbeck in 1940, and visit El Triunfo in the Sierra de la Laguna and Cabo Pulmo,  the world’s northernmost hard-coral reef.

Day 1    (4/26) Flight to Los Cabos, transport to La Paz
Day 2    (4/27) Overland to Loreto
Day 3    (4/28) San Javier mission and transport to Santa Rosalia
Day 4-5 (4/29-30)  Santa Rosalia/San Ignacio: squid fishery and geology
Day 6    (5/1) Overland to La Paz
Day 7    (5/2) Baja Expeditions pangas to Punta Lobos for intertidal transect
Day 8    (5/3) El Triunfo and Cabo Pulmo
Day 9  (5/4) La Paz

  • A week at sea will follow, during which we will cross the Gulf in search of Humboldt squid and marine mammals, particularly sperm whales.  We will also document relevant oceanographic properties and dynamic features of acoustic scattering layers. We will be accompanied by Mexican squid and whale scientists. As a research team we will work with National Geographic Remote Imaging to deploy a crittercam on a free-swimming Humboldt squid ( and hope to document the effort as part of the collaboration with the Journal of Visualized Experiments.

Day 10-16 (5/5-11) La Paz to Farallon de San Ignacio to Puerto Escondido

  •  We will make a personnel-change stop at Puerto Escondido where we will be joined by Susan Shillinglaw, Chuck Baxter and other invertebrate biologists on a return to nearshore and terrestrial environments. We will search for the endemic rattle-less rattlesnake on rugged Isla Santa Catalina and also survey subtidal fish communities and rocky intertidal fauna. We then move to the remote Santa Marta region on the Baja coast. From there we will carry out surveys of the rocky intertidal at two nearby sites as part of our monitoring program and visit the remote fishing village of Agua Verde. We will finish up the intertidal surveys at Isla Cayo, the ‘burned’ site of Steinbeck and Ricketts that we found to be full of life in our 2004 expedition.  Our last outing will be an exploration (snorkel and kayak) of a rich mangrove system full of fish at Amortajada on Isla San Jose.

Day 17-19  (5/12-14) Isla Santa Catalina
Day 20-23 (5/15-18) Santa Marta, Punta Marcial, Punta San Francisco, Agua Verde
Day 24      (5/19) Isla Cayo and Amortajada, Isla San Jose
Day 25      (5/20) La Paz

Day 26      (5/21) Flight to California


Map of Baja California and trip. Cabo San Lucas images Santa Roslalia image Santa Marta image Santa Catalina image San Javier image San Francisco image Punta Lobos image Punta Marcial image Loreto image La Paz image Cayo image Amortajada image