Everyone has seen the pictures of the indigenous land-side wildlife of the Galápagos (big tortoises, blue footed boobies, marine iguanas et al - more about these guys soon). What's not quite as commonly known is that there is an astonishingly rich underwater world which is even better preserved than the topside ones.
The Galápagos islands straddle the Equator line (most of the southern islands are below but Wolf and Darwin are above), so you would naturally expect the water to be quite toasty. This isn't necessarily the case though, as the islands are at the junction of several large oceanic currents - the Panama current coming from the northeast (warm water), the transPacific coming from the west (warm water), and crucially, the Humboldt current coming from the south. This is the key current, that sweeps in all the way from Antarctica up the coast of South America, bringing cold water, rich in nutrients. And penguins...
The cold water brings nutrients, which are eaten by the microscopic shrimp and such. Who are in turn eaten by the little fishies. Who are eaten by the hand size fish. Who are then eaten by the big game fish... and the sharks!
Wolf and Darwin are, as previously mentioned, the two northernmost islands of the archipelago. They are geologically distinct to the other islands, being part of the Cocos tectonic plate rather than the Nazca plate, and formed by the subjunction zone between these two plates slipping over each other. The islands are uninhabited by people, and just look like big rocks in the sea with masses of bird colonies on top. These are two of the most revered sites among scuba divers, to be spoken of in hushed terms. The access to the islands is restricted so much that less than three thousand people dive them every year. We have a dive briefing the night before, where we are told to expect currents, lots of fish, and hopefully some sharks. We go to bed, beyond excited.
We're out of bed before the morning wake-up bell has started ringing. A quick breakfast and a more detailed dive briefing and we are in the water. Today the current is only mild, so we drift along at about 60ft above the tumble landslide that falls into the deep. We start to see some sharks - firstly the small Galápagos sharks (about 1-2 metres long), then some larger hammerheads (2-3m) (note - not dangerous to people unless you cut your leg off or something... just a little disconcerting). I have floated forward in the group to be the point man, even ahead of the divemasters. I turn around to check that my buddy Angi is OK and still where I think she is, and when I face forward again my brain almost stops. I can't believe what I am seeing. Coming directly towards us is a huge whale shark - 40ft of harmless, beautiful beastie. People construct entire dive trips around these things and quite often fail to see them. We had hoped to see one in Belize or Honduras but weren't lucky enough then. And one has just snuck up on us. It's huge, as big as a fortress, as big as the sky. I hold my breath (they don't like bubbles so much) as it effortlessly drifts towards us, close, closer than people are supposed to get to them. Less than 3m and it glides past us, its huge body surmounted by a load of remoras hanging on to the tail. It's probably a female, here to get the remoras cleaned off by cherry-picking smaller sharks. I hang there, motionless, speechless, as the divemasters frantic tank ting-tinging alerts the rest of the group that Mrs Big has arrived. She's past us in what seems like seconds. Some of the group are haring off after it but Angi and I just hang there, not really knowing how to process the information. Then we high-five, hug and grin like idiots.
A week later, it still seems like a dream.
(Note - we don´t have any pictures/videos unfortunately due to the lack of an underwater camera (and also the lack of a working computer) - any donations from our kind new friends gratefully received!)
(update 16-06 - we have some photos very kindly courtesy of Dave from our trip! Links are
Depicting a whale shark, a hammerhead, an eagle ray, a dolphin, me, a turtle, a sea lion, a penguin and the brooding Wolf landscape.
Thanks Dave & Nicki!)