Darwin’s Wonderland – Part VI

For two glorious weeks in November, Scuba Diver Life went to the Galapagos Islands aboard two different live boards to see as much as we could both above and below the water.

The following series of articles will detail our misadventures, from spontaneous bird feeding frenzies, to Nadia’s Internet withdrawal, playful sea lions, getting rocked out of hot tubs, wonderful food, lava flows, chasing penguins with digestive issues, newborn sea lions, running out of air, schooling hammerheads and much more.

Click Here to Read Part l of This Series

Click Here to Read Part ll of This Series

Click Here to Read Part lll of This Series

Click Here to Read Part IV of This Series

Click Here to Read Part V of This Series


Darwin Island
So, there we were, at the pinnacle of Galapagos diving: Darwin Island. The dives there were similar to the ones at Wolf; they involved a current, but this one swirled around the famed Darwin Arch. While the arch itself doesn’t look too large on the surface, it’s actually just the tip of a large underwater volcano. For these dives we would panga out towards the arch, drop down into the abyss, and then anchor ourselves to the rocks around the volcano and watch the show. If we spotted any interesting large animals (whale sharks!) then we would swim out to them to take our pictures or videos, scream, do happy dances, and then boogie back to the rocks. Like Wolf Island, ending the dive meant swimming into the blue and ascending to be picked up by a panga.

We weren’t promised anything but a good time here, and since it was the end of whale shark season, we all kept our fingers crossed. After just a few moments into the first dive, the sheer number of circling hammerheads and massive schools of various fish enthralled me. And, then it happened — Nelson began signaling wildly with his noisemaker, and it could only indicate one thing: whale shark! I turned toward him and made sure my camera was on. I looked and looked but didn’t see what he was making such a fuss about. Not being prepared for how large that fish was, I was focused on too small an area and didn’t immediately see the massive beast coming towards me. Widening my focus revealed a 40-foot female whale shark (all of them are female in the Galapagos, we were told) swimming towards the group at a slightly upward angle. She turned and moved past us deceptively fast. They look like they’re moving very slowly, but as soon as you start trying to keep up with these animals you realize they’re moving much quicker than you could hope to.

On our next dive, we back-rolled out of the panga and nearly right on top of another whale shark. No sooner did we hit the water than Nadia yelled “whale shark!” while we scrambled to get our cameras from the panga driver.  This time try as we might, the shark was descending too quickly and we couldn’t keep up with her. I swam with her as long as I dared and then followed the group and my buddy back toward the rocks.  We drifted and clung to the rocks while watching schools of hammerheads, Galapagos sharks, silkies, blacktips, turtles, tuna, creole and more. It really was like sitting in a massive aquarium. Then, the star of the show made an encore appearance. By this point we were pretty sure we’d seen two whale sharks, one larger adult female and a smaller juvenile. The larger adult was easily identifiable as the same shark due to a bite mark on her tail fin. She swam directly at us and I actually had to move slightly aside to keep from getting hit — at least it seemed that way at the time. I could have easily reached out and touched her if I’d wanted. Instead, I watched in amazement and, as the video will attest, squealed like a little girl.


We had lunch and then hopped back out for our third dive. One of our large stars appeared again at the beginning of the dive, but this time a little farther out from the rocks and heading away from us. Most of us stayed near the rocks instead of fighting the current, hoping we’d catch her or the other one a little closer later on. Tons of hammerheads circled around us again and I noticed it was beginning to feel ‘normal’ to be surrounded by sharks. Not too long afterwards, our wish came true and the other whale shark made her circuit past us. Unfortunately, she was out away from the rocks too, forcing us to swim out to get pictures or video. On our way back, the current was pretty strong. With my Force Fins, I was able to make it back to the rocks but Nadia wasn’t. Instead of leaving her alone, I went back out into the blue and we started our slow ascent. A whale shark made another pass within view, but too far away to get any good pictures or video. However, got a different surprise on our safety stop: dolphins.  We could hear them all around us and see some darting this way and that way, but for the most part they were moving far too quickly to get any good evidence. I did manage to get one decent video shot of three of them together swimming over us, though. As with many things in the Galapagos, it was magical, and something we likely would have missed out on if we hadn’t aborted the dive a little early.

Back at the boat, one of our fellow divers, Geri — whose name I am probably misspelling — had dislocated her shoulder on the last dive. It was already weak from a previous dislocation and when she tried to use it to hold onto the rocks in the strong surge, it came out again. Fortunately, I’ve had a fair amount of emergency medical training. We laid her on the tables on the back of the rocking boat, in the middle of the ocean, and with the help of her husband pulling counter-traction, got that shoulder back in place again.

The last dive of the day lacked any whale sharks, but that was okay. Instead, we sat in the Theatre at around 55 feet and watched the show. Hammerheads were everywhere — above, below, and all around us. Turtles glided by and large schools of creole were all over the place, as were tons of other fish. We swam out a little further to a different area, this time with a sandy bottom. I managed to get some great video of even more hammerheads overhead, schools of tangs (I think?) and other assorted, beautiful fish.  We could hear dolphins the entire time but didn’t see them until we surfaced. And then they were everywhere. They played with the panga and put on a show all around us on the way back to the Aggressor. Off the dive deck, we could see silkies circling under the boat too.

We had a fantastic dinner to punctuate a spectacular day of diving. A local fishing boat was nearby and supplied the Aggressor chef with some freshly caught grouper. We all went to bed exhausted, but exhilarated, from the diving and excited for the days ahead. For two days now, I hadn’t heard a peep out of Nadia about being disconnected from the rest of the world. The diving was that spectacular at Wolf and Darwin with the Aggressor.

You can check out my YouTube channel, if you are so inclined, to see pictures and video from the trip as I get them uploaded.

Next up: SMB deployment shenanigans, eagle rays up close and personal and Nadia and I nearly get tossed out of the hot tub during a bumpy ride.

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