I have made a lot of dives in the Galapagos Islands, and one of my favorite creatures to see underwater is the sea turtle. The ungainly-looking animals are actually quite hydrodynamic and can navigate the surge, currents and waves to graze on algae along the reef. These two turtles were encountered at remote Wolf Island (Wenman Island) in the far northern reaches of the Galapagos archipelago. In the first image, a school of ever-present Pacific creole fish surrounds the turtle; its distinctive tail gives away that it is a male. Cheers and thanks for looking!
Our days at Darwin Island in the Galapagos islands have been fantastic. On each of our trips we spent several days, sometimes almost a week, at this usually spectacular, remote and wild place. The diving can be, of course, unsurpassed which is one reason that virtually all visitors to Darwin Island are divers. Too bad, since the place is insanely dense with bird life. Birders would love this place, but I doubt many ever see it since the island has no approved land visits (that I know of). We spend lots of time between dives during the day and while sipping margaritas on the rooftop deck at sunset, watching the hordes of birds come and go. Upon waking each morning one naturally steps out on deck to see how the day is shaping up. Towering columns of birds lit by the sunrise, soaring on the warming updrafts and moving out to sea by the thousands, rise above the sheer sides of the island. The cacophony of bird sounds is impressive. Throughout the day frigatebirds and boobies perform their neverending parts, with boobies diving for food offshore and frigates trying to spook them into disgorging their catch as they fly back to land. This bird, likely either a blue-footed booby (Sula nebouxii) or Nazca booby (Sula granti), is blurred as it is seen against the pastel hues of sunset. Today’s abstract photo, #11 of 15.
A safety stop after a good dive in Galapagos is sort of like the aftermath of good sex: one drifts along lazily, quite relaxed, tuned out and somewhat befuddled, thinking “whoa, that was pretty good!” and wondering how long until one can do it again. On these safety stops I have at times nearly fallen asleep, in the zone watching a school of fish flit about in the water column picking particles of food, while the bubbles of the divers below me float idly upward and past me. One day the bubbles caught my eye. They form mushrooms, expanding as they rise due to changes in pressure, impossibly smooth on top and with a mirror-sheen, only to grow large enough that they become unstable and burst apart. Soon each of the broken pieces assumes its own mushroom shape and the cycle begins anew until the bubbles finally hit the surface. I shot some photos of these bubbles, including some with my friends and me reflected in the bubble-mirrors, but this is the one I found most appealing. Abstract #4 in a series of 15:
Skip found a marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) foraging on algae while we were freediving along the edge of Bartolome Island, and I got a shot of it, the only one I’ve ever seen in the Galapagos Islands underwater:
On our 2006 trip to the Galapagos Islands, we had some very good diving at Darwin Island: hammerheads, silky sharks and spotted eagle rays galore on the shoulder of the reef, with more than a few Galapagos fur seals, turtles and various schools of fish closer to shore. At the end of a late afternoon dive there, I was relaxing in the shallows gingerly sipping the last few PSI in my tank, spending as much time underwater before a lack of air forced me to ascend and call for the panga. There was a nice-sized school of bigeye jacks (Caranx sexfasciatus) whirling around me in the fading light. I tried making some artsy-fartsy strobe-blur photos and ended up with one I was happy with:
On the final day of our 1996 trip (my first) to the Galapagos Islands, we made a morning visit to North Seymour island. (Many Galapagos visitors walk ashore on North Seymour, it is one of the popular land visits due to its proximity to the airport on Baltra.) Uncertain that I would ever see the Galapagos again, the visit was particularly poignant as it was the conclusion of one of the most exciting trips I had had in my life to that point. It was also one of the first times I was able to see frigatebirds up close. This striking white-headed bird is a juvenile magnificent frigatebird (Fregata magnificens). the same species as the adult male that I mentioned a few days ago. It took me a while to confirm the identification; ultimately I relied on the characteristic blue ring around the bird’s eye. Fortunately, I was able to visit the Galapagos two more times with Skip (this photo of Skip was taken just a few moments after and a few yards away from the juvenile frigatebird photo), including once with Tracy, so have been able to see many more frigatebirds since I took this photo some years ago.
On my first full day in the Galapagos Islands, in 1996, we made three great dives at Champion, Enderby and Devil’s Crown. I was on overload all day, surrounded by schools of fish and groups of Galapagos sea lions. After all that diving, plus a visit to Floreana to see flamingos, it was decided that we would return to Isla Champion for a night dive. I was pretty tired so decided to conserve my strength for our Hood visit the next morning and shoot macro subjects in shallow water. Sea lions were buzzing around me through the dive, leaving long glowing contrails of phosphorescent plankton in their wake as they zoomed by. The one photo I kept from the dive that night is this shot of two orange cup coral (Tubastrea coccinea) polyps, a common coraline invert that “blooms” at night.
See more Galapagos Islands photos.
One of the best dives I ever had in the Galapagos Islands occurred while freediving during our 1998 trip there, at Cousins Rock. It was a beautiful sunny day, we were eating lunch al fresco on the deck of the Lammer Law after a late morning dive. I convinced our naturalists to let me skip lunch and swim over to the rock since I had seen quite a few gregarious Galapagos sea lions (Zalophus californianus wollebacki) in the water there earlier. Tracy said she wanted to nap after lunch but the guys gave me the ok to swim to the rock on my own so I grabbed a camera, hopped in and went over to the rock. No other boats were at Cousins which meant I was the only one there for the sea lions to play with. Shortly after I got among them, I noticed two young ones playing with what looked like a baggie or balloon. As I got closer I realized they had pulled a poor hapless puffer fish from the reef and were playing with it, passing it back and forth and dragging it about by its tail. The puffer was freaked out and totally puffed up. (Puffers puff when they freak, sort of like hippies and Democrats). Soon one of them pulled it to me and dropped it off. I kid you not. I look at it for a moment as it paddled around in front of me, far from the safety of its reef, before the two hoodlum sea lions grabbed it and dragged it about again. Then dropped it off for me. This went on for a while. After I got over the hilarity of it, I regained enough presence of mind to snap off a few photos. Ken Howard once insisted that I submit this to some photo contests, but I am convinced the judges would disqualify it believing that I was harrassing the fish and artificially setting up the photo so I never bothered. Yes, the fish was being harrassed, but not by me. Eventually the sea lions tired of their toy and let it go. I can confirm that it made it back to the reef, probably stunned and battered but likely to live another day.
Galapagos sea lion playing with puffer fish.
Image ID: 02254
Species: Galapagos sea lion, Zalophus californianus wollebacki, Zalophus californianus wollebaeki
Location: Cousins, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
The last time I dove Cousins Rock, one of the finer dive sites in the Galapagos Islands, I was set up to photograph sea horses. I rarely shoot macro, but on this trip I was burned out from two weeks of diving and swimming long distances (the currents are strong in the Galapagos Islands), and I planned to settle down on one of the ledges at Cousins and just shoot the sea horses. After a few minutes on the ledge, I felt a nudge on my shoulder. A young Galapagos sea lion (Zalophus californianus wollebacki) is laying down beside me, watching what I am doing. I had no idea it was there. It hangs out for a few minutes, playing with the smooth stones that are found on the ledges (probably left there by other sea lions), and finally leaves to swim up to the surface for a breath of air. A few minutes later there it is again, right beside me. It stayed with me like this for the entire hour-long dive. What a pleasant and mellow companion, willing to just hang out with me and relax! I eventually obliged it by taking its portrait, converted here to black and white.