Thursday, May 22, 2008

Animal Encounters

Just a few notes on the diving here in the Galapagos. We started with our initial dives in the southern islands, close to our arrival point, then overnight motored north to Wolf Island, whence we will go further on to Darwin Island. The diving has been quite amazing already. In addition to frisky, inquisitive sea lions under the water, we have also seen other big animals: hammerhead sharks (a first for us), Galapagos sharks, yellowfin tuna, sea turtles, and perhaps most remarkably, dolphins.

My only previous dolphin sighting in the water came some years back in Hawaii, where we spotted some a great distance away (one benefit to the amazing water clarity there). Today, however, we had spotted some from the skiff before dropping in the water, and for the first fifteen minutes we heard lots of clicks and squeaks from the dolphins still in the area. That alone was very cool, but we also saw a fair-sized pod of dolphins go by, not very far away.

After that, the noise settled down to just a single, repeating sequence of squeaks, which sounded like a dolphin trying to express some message. We then saw a rather large dolphin swim by us very close, maybe ten feet away, after which the squeaks changed slightly, but kept repeating. Eventually, the squeaks stopped and we completed the dive. As we were ascending nearly an hour later, we again heard clicks and squeaks and saw dolphins quite close by as we broke the surface and rode back to the dive boat. It was quite a remarkable encounter of a sort I've never had before. I've seen lots of dolphins from boats, but none nearly that close in the water.

Hammerhead sharks seem mildly interested in us, at least when they're traveling in small numbers. Schools of sharks just pass by; they have other things on their minds. But mostly, the sharks seem to come near, see that we're not food, and head off somewhere else. The Galapagos sharks seem indifferent to us. They go about their business pretty much as if we're not around.

Sea turtles, on the other hand, will often come to check us out. My wife and I have both had turtles come right up and look into our faces, and Josh, one of the trip leaders, seems to attract them with his yellow fins. He's had turtles nipping at his fins more than once!

The other animal we're seeing a lot of is moray eels. However, unlike most places where you just see their heads poking out of the reef, here they just seem to lay about, often with just their heads tucked under a rock, and the rest of the eel draped out in plain sight.

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