One of the things I love most about scuba diving is the opportunity to interact with animals that show signs of intelligence and curiosity. Some special encounters leave me wondering what they are thinking, why are they reacting the way they are, what are they gaining from this social behaviour. In 2018 I had my […]One On One Encounter With A Giant — Morgan’s Ocean Images
One of the things I love most about scuba diving is the opportunity to interact with animals that show signs of intelligence and curiosity. Some special encounters leave me wondering what they are thinking, why are they reacting the way they are, what are they gaining from this social behaviour.
In 2018 I had my favourite ever one to one with a colossal whale shark. A huge but harmless creature that lives a peaceful life, slowly cruising and filter feeding across the vast ocean. Ever since my dive master training in Mozambique I’ve had huge adoration for these gentle giants, seeing them regularly while on ocean safaris was a privilege. However, there is a big difference between seeing them and ‘seeing them’, having a true interaction, 2 of natures very different creations trying to comprehend the other.
Alone in the Blue
That is exactly what happened in Galapagos not so long ago. I had found myself diving solo towards the end of the dive (not recommended), it was around the 50 minute mark so I knew the group would be on the way up anyway if not already. It was common to end dives ‘in the blue’ here, meaning away from the rocks or any sign of the bottom, just water in every direction.
As I ascended to 5 metres to make a safety stop I couldn’t see a single thing in sight, just 20 metres or so visibility. I tend to have some minor concerns when I’m completely alone in the blue, on top of the typical concerns of equipment and air supply. You can’t help but feel more vulnerable, the term ‘strength in numbers’ comes to the forefront of your mind and you begin to wish you had at least a buddy in the vicinity. After all this was the Galapagos, known for an abundance of wildlife, who knows what else could be drifting through the water column at this particular moment.
To keep an eye out for anything in the water I tend to rotate in these situations, covering my back as best as possible. After a minute or 2 I just accepted I was alone and would have to surface soon. I spent a few extra seconds looking in one direction trying to make out some sort of dark shape before it seemingly disappeared from view. As I turned a few degrees in my rotation strategy, nearly completing 180 degrees, I let out a huge gasp, I’d been ambushed by a gigantic whale shark of all things. It was coming straight at me head on, showing no signs of manoeuvring around me, did it think I was a huge bit of plankton? Could it even see me? I could already make out it’s beautiful bespoke pattern of white lines and dots, such an attractive specimen, it was big too, I guessed at 10-12 metres from the size of its head.
It felt like being on a collision course with a train, as shocked as I was I had to remove myself from it’s chosen path, although stubbornly refusing not to swim either side of me, it was moving very slowly which allowed me to quickly fin to one side. Anyone that has dived or snorkelled with these mesmerising gargantuans will know it is difficult to view them head on as they will avoid this in most situations by changing direction. As it drew closer it slowed down completely, almost stopping dead in the water, it seemed as if time itself had stopped. In that moment I looked into it’s comparatively small eye (compare to it’s body), it moved it’s eye to focus back at me, for those few seconds it was as if we were communicating with eye contact. It was just me and the largest fish in the ocean, visibly checking each other out, wondering what the other was thinking, I remember a real sense of mutual respect, as if it was accepting me as a ocean dweller. I’m sure I took more from this moment than him/her, whale sharks have rather small brains in relation to their size, but who knows.
I was close enough to touch it and managed to get a super wide angle shot of it’s whole body. There was something about being alone with it that made it as special as it was, maybe it wouldn’t have approached a group and changed course. It believe it certainly wouldn’t have come to a halt to share a glance with me unless I was alone, it just felt as if it chose to make that interaction happen, we don’t give animals enough credit for this.
After getting a few photos it slowly continued on its journey and I watched as its huge blue dotted tale vanished into the big wide ocean. I got picked up by the boat and joined the rest of the guests. I mentioned it to a few guests but didn’t make a big deal out of it at the time, it felt like a little secret between me and my big blue friend.
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Remember the movie ‘Jurassic Park’? Well, Cocos Island was actually the inspiration behind the fictional Jurassic counterpart ‘Isla Nublar’ If you’ve seen the movie you’ll know that this means cloud forests, a spectacular green mountainous landscape, numerous waterfalls and wonderfully blue water. While it may not have real dinosaurs (sorry to disappoint), it does have…
One of the things I love most about scuba diving is the opportunity to interact with animals that show signs of intelligence and curiosity. Some special encounters leave me wondering what they are thinking, why are they reacting the way they are, what are they gaining from this social behaviour. In 2018 I had my […]One…
It wasn’t until recent years that the Galapagos Islands were really put on the map as a world class diving destination. Nowadays, thanks to the world renowned and the very popular BBC series of ‘Blue Planet’ and later ‘Galapagos‘, awareness and appreciation of this archipelago was delivered to the masses. Ever since listening to Sir David Attenborough describing the stunning location and it’s magnificent abundance of life, it shot straight to the top of my diving wish list.
How could it not? With the BBC showing scenes of walls of hammerheads, marine iguanas, huge bait balls and so on, I knew I had to visit what looked like one of the best kept secrets on earth. It offered so much potential and would be completely different to any other diving trip I had embarked upon. When the opportunity came I could not resist, I always feel like I have to do things when I’m in the right ball park on the globe. In 2018 I was in Central America and started playing with the idea, after lots of time online I knew in myself that there was no way I could return to the UK without going. I managed to find a discounted liveaboard trip on the right dates and that was that, click, BOOKED..
As far as destinations go, this isn’t one of easiest. Depending on where you’re coming from it may take a number of flights as you need at least one to Ecuador and then another to the Islands themselves. Either way, in my opinion it is totally worth it, even if I wasn’t able to cutout a long flight departing from the UK. Once you arrive you will know that it was all worth while, the islands have a real sense of uniqueness, as if you could be on another planet. I spent a couple days on the island before boarding my new home for 7 days of diving, it was easy to see why this was also very popular for land tourism as well as diving. I plan on writing about this in a future blog.
After a couple days exploring the island of Santa Cruz it was time for the main event, I was about to sail out to some of the sites where the BBC filming had taken place. I was ecstatic at the thought of seeing these same scenes unravelling in front my eyes and not though a TV screen. I was mostly excited for Wolf Island and Darwin’s Arch, my prior research had confirmed these were the 2 most thrilling dives, where the concentration of whale sharks and hammerheads were. I would recommend only booking a liveaboard that will reach these islands, they are further north and so many do not visit here even though they are considered the best of the Galapagos. A true trip to the Galapagos should not miss these, for most visitors it is a once in a lifetime trip so why regret not seeing the best of the best.
Bucket List Ticks
This place makes it easy to tick off dive related bucket list items, just stepping foot here is already a big fat tick. I had so many first encounters here I began to lose track, mine included snorkelling with a humpback whale(with dolphins joining in!), tracking down and photographing marine iguanas, taking in the spectacle of playful sea lions, finally seeing a mola mola and more. Enjoying a hot tub after a dive with the untouched islands as a backdrop was also something special. I had my favourite ever encounter with a whale shark here, it eclipsed anything before, mostly because it was a true one to one, a truly humbling experience as we looked into each others eyes with nothing else in sight.
Guaranteed Action? Whale shark highway
Every other liveaboard I’ve been on, the briefings were always conservative, using phrases like “if we see….”, “hopefully we will see” or “if we’re lucky we might see”. Not here, the dives at Darwin’s Arch were as if everything there was on cue, every dive was spectacular. I was there in September which is considered more whale shark season, they got that right. During the briefing the dive guide used the phrase “when we see”, I noticed this instantly and can only assume they really are as close as guaranteed here as they can be. After hearing this I was confident that the seals and marine iguanas were also included in this assured sightings line up.
The first dive at Darwin there’s so much to take in, although the dive is based around whale sharks there is so much more going on. A constant aquarium of hammerheads, Galapagos sharks, turtles and many colourful fish all goes seemingly unnoticed as the majority of divers look out to the drop off for passing giants. The idea here is to stay low so the huge whale sharks don’t see the group and divert off route.
Patiently waiting, after not long at all, a shape begins to emerge, then…Bang bang bang, the guide is hitting his tank to alert everyone now is the time. It’s then a bit of a race at an upwards diagonal angle to get close enough to see it in all it’s glory, while keeping distance being respectful of it’s space. They have BIG whale sharks here, I’d seen many small ones snorkelling and a couple mid sized on scuba but not like this, the guide estimated some to be 12 metres or more. The astounding animal would then continue it’s journey and we would wait for another to pass by. This was essentially the dive plan for the hour and rightly so, some dives here we saw upwards of 6 different individuals. The other sharks, rays, turtles were just a glorious sideshow to take in while waiting. Even if there were no whale sharks here it would be an amazing site, I spent a lot of time trying to get close to hammerheads for a photo, they are definitely one of the more timid species.
Sea lions and Marine Iguanas
After all the excitement of the whale sharks we still had 2 more events in store, meeting the iguanas and sea lions. With the iguanas, I got the impression timing was key to seeing them in the water and if we didn’t get it right they would already be up on the rocks taking in the sun. This was like an Easter egg hunt, we all got into a shallow rocky bay and then were free to set off in search of one of these peculiar creatures. Focusing so much on searching made it easy to turn into a solo diver, there was no set path or particular area you would find your prize. After 15 minutes or so I had found only rocks and fish, interesting but not what I was there for. A few more minutes passed, popping my head up to see if I could see any surface swimmers, I did set off in the direction of one or two but nothing came of it. Then a glimpse of one munching on some algae, unfortunately a buddy pair had already began taking pictures and observing. I carried on searching until there it was, I spotted one swim down and clamp itself onto a algae covered rock. Fascinated, I watched as it sat there and ate, looking up at me wondering what I was so interested in. After eating it swam up to the surface and headed over to land. I managed to find and shoot a couple more before they all started to head away from the water, watching them eat, swim and climb was a lot of fun.
The seal lions were also very entertaining, twisting and turning in every direction before darting off like a rocket. I’d never dived with sea lions or seals before and what better place to do it than here. They really put on a show and are such curious and playful animals. I think we only had 1 dive with them but I could have repeated it a few times with no complaints.
I cannot recommend this place highly enough, I plan to one day have visited Socorro and Malpelo to make a comparison. Cocos Island was also stunning and will feature in a blog in the near future. I just hope the increased tourism of the Galapagos is controlled and doesn’t become detrimental to one of earth’s most unique destinations.
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