Baja desert and underwater

The slithery. The scaly. The spectacularly showy. Discover incredible animals from land and sea in this special exhibition featuring creatures from the coastal habitats of Baja California. Life here thrives on the edge of sand and surf, where rugged desert coastline meets the sapphire waters of the Pacific.


In this Exhibit

Bluespotted jawfish

Bluespotted jawfish

Opistognathus rosenblatti

This colorful fish keeps busy digging, building and remodeling its den, using its mouth to shovel and arrange sand and bits of coral. Then it hovers near its home looking for predators and prey.

Cortez rainbow wrasse

Cortez rainbow wrasse

Thalassoma lucasanum

Wrasses are usually the most abundant and conspicuous members of coral reef communities. Tropical wrasses like this one are distinguished by their brilliant coloring.

Desert tortoise

Desert tortoise

Gopherus agassizii

This small, slow-moving tortoise is fortified with distinctive scutes (thickened plates) on its domed shell and stocky, scaly feet with long nails. It uses its front claws to dig deep underground burrows to escape the desert heat.

Golden trevally

Golden trevally

Gnathanodon speciosus

Bright yellow as juveniles, and gold and silver as adults, this species uses its extendable jaws to suck out prey from sand or reef. Juveniles usually form large schools and follow bigger fish and even jellies.

Lookdown

Lookdown

Selene sp.

Easily recognizable by its super-slender silhouette and steep profile, this pelagic fish also has an exaggerated dorsal fin. The slim silver fish confuses predators by facing toward them and almost disappearing.

Mountain kingsnake

Mountain kingsnake

Lampropeltis zonata agalma

This beautiful and harmless snake's coloring mimics that of the venomous coral snake, which might deter predators. If that doesn't work it can release a smelly musk.  

Pacific seahorse

Pacific seahorse

Hippocampus ingens

The only seahorse found off the California coast, it's one of the largest known species and can grow to a foot tall. It's a "vulnerable" threatened species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Panamic green moray eels

Green moray

Gymnothorax sp.

This is the classic moray eel of most people's imaginations: long, lean and green. It lives inside rocky crevices and usually hunts at night, relying on its sense of smell to find prey.

Staghorn hermit crab

Staghorn hermit crab

Manucomplanus varians

This crab makes its home in a staghorn hydrocoral, Janaria mirabilis, whose stinging cells offer the crab protection. In return, the hydrocoral gets to move around and filter feed on plankton as the crab forages.

Beautiful Baja

This 800-mile-long narrow peninsula in northwestern Mexico is separated from the mainland by the Gulf of California. With almost 2,000 miles of coastline, sun-scorched desert, lush mangrove forests and colorful coral reefs, Baja is a land of contrasts, where unique plants and animals survive and thrive.

View map of Baja

Baja coastline
Mangrove
Coral reef

The Beauty Below: Cabo Pulmo

The warm waters off Baja's southern tip support a tropical treasure—the reefs of Cabo Pulmo and their dazzling denizens. After decades of overfishing depleted its rich marine life, conservation groups worked with the Mexican government to protect the Cabo Pulmo reef—one of the oldest coral reefs in the northern Pacific Ocean. It's now a designated National Marine Park as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site.


Whale in Baja

The Current Connects Us

The California Current carries many animals on epic migrations between the cool waters of the northern Pacific and the warm waters of Baja California. Gray whales, brown pelicans and elephant seals are just a few of the species that pass through Monterey Bay on their travels. Some find a feast in Baja's fertile seas. Others go to give birth in the safe shelter of coastal lagoons.