Guadalupe Island Shark Cage Diving History, Goats, Pirates and Whalers

guadalupe island shark cage diving

Guadalupe Island Shark Cage Diving History, Goats, Pirates and Whalers

Guadalupe Island or Isla Guadalupe in Spanish has a long history before the advent of commercial shark cage diving. In the Pacific Ocean, 150 miles off the coast of the Baja Peninsula and 261 miles south of San Diego, the island measures 22 miles long almost 6 miles across. Guadalupe has 11 small islands and rocks around it.  Off the main island’s northwest coast at 118° 22” West longitude is Roca Elefante, which is not only the westernmost point in Mexico, but the westernmost point in all of Latin America. Millions of years old, the island was formed when two volcanoes erupted on the ocean floor.  The two volcanoes make up the island’s tallest mountains, Mount Augusta at 4,259 feet and El Picacho at 3,199 feet.  Being so isolated from the Mexican mainland, Guadalupe Island developed its own unique ecosystem and is home to many distinct animal and plant species.  Pirates, naturalists, adventurers, crazy entrepreneurs, Yankee whalers, the Mexican military and most of all goats have all played starring roles in Isla Guadalupe’s interesting history.

Guadalupe Island 1800’s History

In 1807 while technically still geographically part of New Spain, American Samuel Chapman landed on Guadalupe Island and left an inscription along with a US flag and claimed the island for the young United States.  Chapman and his crew spent a few months on the island before moving on.  In the early part of the 1800s Isla Guadalupe saw the arrival of whaling vessels and those attracted to the island for its fur and elephant seal populations.  Seal fur and oil were highly prized at this time.  Those hunting whales and seals were either English, American, Japanese or Russians from Alaska.  At the time before Mexico’s independence from Spain, only the Russians had a legal right to be on the island as they were the only ones allowed to trade with the Spanish colonies of California and what is now the Pacific coast of Mexico.  It was sometime during the early 1800s when whalers and other passing ships may have released goats on the island to multiply and to ensure a future food source.  By the 1830s, goats had taken over the island and were described by whalers and sealers as being of great size.  The destruction of the fragile environment on Isla Guadalupe seemed like a sealed fate by this time.

Guadalupe Island Bird Poop Mania – Guano Wars

In 1856, the United States Congress passed the Guano Islands Act that enabled US citizens to take possession of any uninhabited and unclaimed islands containing guano deposits.  The act also empowered the President of the United States to use the US military to defend any guano mining operations on any claimed guano island. The act states:

“Whenever any citizen of the United States discovers a deposit of guano on any island, rock, or key, not within the lawful jurisdiction of any other Government, and not occupied by the citizens of any other Government, and takes peaceable possession thereof, and occupies the same, such island, rock, or key may, at the discretion of the President, be considered as appertaining to the United States.”

Because of “guano mania” of the 1850s, some American guano mining companies believed that the Guano Islands Act applied to the uninhabited Guadalupe Island even though it was clearly part of Mexican territory and had permanent settlements inhabited by Mexicans in the 1840s.  After twelve tons of guano had been mined on Guadalupe Island in 1857 without the permission of the Mexican government, authorities in Mexico City decided to crack down on all activities on the island.  Rival companies each put about a dozen settlers on the island in an attempt to make solid claims to the Mexican government to obtain mining concessions.  The bureaucracy in Mexico City moved very slowly on their remote island outpost and eventually the Americans withdrew their claims, tired of waiting for the bureaucrats to make up their minds.

Guadalupe Island Goes Full On Robinson Crusoe

Another historical chapter opened for Isla Guadalupe after the guano mania died down in the 1860s.  The Mexican territory of Baja California saw a small revolution in its government.  Governor Feliciano Esparza was ousted by Matias Moreno, and like Napoleon’s exile to Elba, Esparza was banished to Isla Guadalupe with his family. At the time, the Esparzas were the only inhabitants on the islands and lived a Robinson-Crusoe-like existence.  The former governor and his family subsisted off meat from the wild goats, bird eggs, seal meat and the scant fruits and vegetables that were growing wild from the days of Castro and Ferrano 20 years before.  The family spent almost two years in exile there until a passing schooner spotted their signal fire and rescued them, taking the Esparzas to San Diego.  Local newspapers told the tale of the banishment and even described the clothes and shoes the family had managed to fashion out of “hides that were spotted with black and white and made very beautiful clothing.”  The Esparzas eventually settled in Santa Barbara, California, and never returned to Mexico.

Guadalupe Island becomes Remote Outpost

Sometime in the 1890s the Mexicans abandoned its garrison on Isla Guadalupe and the island again was left to the goats.  The Mexican military occasionally would patrol the waters around the island looking for poachers and apprehended any people on and around Guadalupe.  In the early 1900s the island had become a destination not only for goat and seal poachers but for explorers seeking pirate treasure and naturalists studying and collecting samples of exotic flora. In 1910 the Mexican government granted a concession to Los Angeles businessman Alfred Marcuson to take goats off the island and the Marcuson operation only lasted a few years.  By 1928 the island became permanently off limits as a protected nature reserve, the oldest in Mexico, but the new restrictions did not deter visitors.  An article in the September 6, 1931 edition of the San Bernardino Sun tells the woeful tale of 7 people stranded on the island for months.  The party went there to poach goats and to search for pirate treasure.  They were rescued by Los Angeles millionaire G. Allan Hancock who happened to sail by the island in his palatial yacht the Valero III.

Shark Cage Diving at Guadalupe Island

Shark cage diving at Guadalupe Island, it really is as thrilling as it looks! You have always wanted to experience the world’s top white shark cage diving destination at Guadalupe Island, and now you can – for less than you imagined. Face off with great white sharks this year on America’s Shark Boat, the MV Horizon, see the same white sharks as everyone else and save money. Since 2000 we have been pioneering shark cage diving at Guadalupe Island, underwater shark photography, shark research, and Film and TV with sharks at this unique and pristine white shark location. We are your next shark diving adventure. Great ready for excitement and let’s go cage diving!