Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Animals at Play

One last post about our diving in the Galapagos. Over the last couple of dive days, as we moved back to the southern islands, we encountered wonderful wildlife. In particular, on some of our last dives at a spot called Cousins Rock, I had sea lions playing all around me.

First, as we swam along one side of the rock, one young sea lion would swoop down and dance around me. She would pause right in front of me, make eye contact, and then swim over, around, and in front of me. Then she'd head back up to the surface for air, and come back and do some more. Must have happened about 8 times, and it was great fun to watch!

Then, as we came around to the other side, we stopped by a big boulder, and a whole group of six or seven sea lions of various sizes came by. There were large adults and several juveniles. A couple of them just came down to the bottom and scratched their backs and heads on the rocks, wiggling like very happy critters. Meanwhile others chased each other, danced in the water, and generally celebrated being sea lions. It was quite an extraordinary show, right there, just feet or less from us.

But even more remarkable was the scene at Cape Marshall, where we were nestled in some boulders as the current ran by, and a group of sharks swam through repeatedly. I didn't have the best angle, but my wife had a front-row seat, wedged behind a rock as the sharks swooped right in on the current. She said she counted at least nine white-tip reef sharks, and they were clearly doing something I'd never seen sharks do before. The would swim in from the side, then sort of slide sideways on the current toward the rocks, hang for a moment in the current, then swim off to do it again. Truly, these sharks were playing.

I've never seen anything like it, and I've swum with a lot of sharks in a lot of places. Everywhere else, they were either feeding, hunting, or resting. Sometimes they just swim by. But I've never seen them do anything frivolous before. It was wonderful. I had no idea that sharks had a capacity for play, but that was clearly what they were up to.

Chalk it up to one more incredible experience in the Galapagos. It's hard to go home after all that, but it makes me look forward to further diving this year. We haven't been doing nearly enough of it.

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