20-21 May – Crossing to Malpelo
Another calm crossing on my second trip to Malpelo this year. We arrive just at dawn and anchor at La Nevera.
22 May – A Huge Baitball in Malpelo on our First Day!
As is our custom, we begin our Malpelo diving at Altar de Virginia because this is one of the easier dive sites around this barren rock. This is more than just a place for checking our gears and setting our brains to diving mode though; it is also a cleaning station for hammerheads, and therefore one of the best sites for getting up-close-and-personal encounters with sharks.
We see hammerheads as soon as we enter the water; and they continue to parade in front of us during the entire dive. Many thanks to my divers who are doing it right—moving extremely slow, staying close to the bottom and breathing slow—to make the sharks stay.
We use the same slow diving technique at La Nevera and stay in just one spot, watching hammerheads in front, under, above and often, behind us. Looking up, I see a huge school of yellowfin tuna pass by. I spot some silky sharks following them so we leave the bottom and swim out towards them, higher up in the water layer. And soon silky sharks are swarming around us.
Our dive from Altar to La Cara del Fantasma is more of a fish dive. (Who said sharks were fish?) We see two hawksbill turtles munching on sponges. They ignore us and just continue to turn rocks over and look for sponges, which they love to eat. There is also a big, extremely photogenic school of whippersnappers. We end our dive with the school of barracudas that we always see in Malpelo.
After our last dive we spot thousands of masked boobies bombing the water so we go in. And we come into a huge baitball around 50 meters (164 feet) in diameter. At first all we see is red so we think it’s blood. But it turns out to be a dense school of huge red mullet snappers.
Silkies and Galapagos sharks, as well as bottlenose dolphins are reigning in the middle. We stay until our tanks are empty. This baitball is moving too fast and too intense to snorkel so we enjoy the rest of the show from the boat as there is also a lot happening on the surface.
This is just the first day!!! It will be a hard trip for us guides because now our guests expect it will be like this everyday and want more and more!!!
Surface conditions: Windy and wavy, cloudy with a little rain; temperature 24 C (75 F)
Underwater conditions: Temperature 25-27 C (77-81 F), with a thermocline that always changes; but in general 18-20 C (64-68 F) at 25 meters (82 feet)
23 May – Silkies at La Gringa!!!
At Bajo del Monstruo (The Monster) we see some Galapagos sharks and a big wall of hammerheads passing by in the distance, looking like they were off on a mission somewhere. King Angelfish and barberfish are busy cleaning Creole fish and leatherbass. Lots of color, cup corals and sea fans. Except for the small tooth sand tiger shark that appears in deep waters at wintertime, this is not much of a shark place. A very pretty site with a lot of activity to look at nonetheless.
Since my guests are on a mission to see sharks, we go back to Altar de Virginia and repeat the same thing with the hammerheads. We have a really good dive again.
As the waves have died down, we try the southern end that is generally the most exposed to the elements at this time of the year. We start at the wall of La Gringa. Not as many hammerheads, but the big-eye jacks are here. Looking up, we see silky sharks above us so we swim out to meet them and spend the whole dive drifting in the blue. There are hundreds of the sharks; it’s just hard to see how many they are.
Surface conditions: Still wavy, but not as much of wind; cloudy with first signs of blue sky.
Underwater conditions: Visibility varies from 10 to 25 meters (33 to 82 feet), temperature 18-27 C (64-81 F).
24 May – Sharks, Sharks, Sharks!
Well, it’s happening again: a continuous parade of hammerhead sharks from all directions at La Nevera. Silky sharks higher up in the water layer and big fat Galapagos sharks cruising back and forth on the cleaning stations. And it’s non-stop!
I have seen so much of the silky sharks that I try to do something new. I start to look at their sex and during this week I can recall seeing only one male; all the rest that I manage to identify are females. They are not very big, about 1.2 meters (3.9 feet) to 1.8 meters (5.9 feet).
The southern end has been exposed to a lot of current this year so we have not dived it as much. We give it a try and we jump upcurrent in order to have time to go down the wall of David. There is so much current on the corner so I decide to go behind it and find shelter in a crevasse. Looking up, we see hammerheads and silkies staying together as one massive wall swimming against the current.
I call in a couple of very big Galapagos sharks. Then we move off from the topography and drift away with the silky sharks. A tough dive to do, but sharky.
La Nevera rules on this trip. We start 30 meters (98 feet) away from the cleaning station so as not to spook the animals. And looking down, we already see sharks. We start from the deep, watching schooling hammerheads; then by the cleaning stations, looking at them more closely. And upon ascending just a few meters above our previous spot we come into a big mixed group of silkies and hammerheads.
Surface conditions: Cloudy
Underwater conditions: Visibility varies from 10 to 25 meters (33 to 82 feet), temperature 18-27 C (64-81 F).
25 May – There are Other Fish Life Out There, Too!
Going down the wall we see eagle rays, mullet snappers and big-eye jacks. After passing the big open swim-through at La Gringa, we sit on a submerged rock and look up: they are all there in a swarm of hundreds in silhouette profile. It’s beautiful.
We leave the rock and ascend to them, drifting out into the blue. Finally the current has died down.
Same story at La Nevera. Still looking at the sexes at the silkies: females. I start to look around and watch the other life here: the schooling ocean triggerfish, the rainbow wrasses continuously spawning, and the rainbow runners coming in to get cleaned. There is so much more here than just sharks!
We dive by my favorite rock at Three Musketeers, D’Artagnan, which has the most life and most variation. The big resident school of red mullet snappers is here, as well the big-eye jacks. Some big Galapagos sharks swim by on the sand bottom. Lots of life, though viz is relatively low.
Surface conditions: Sun and clouds, temperature 28 C (82 F); calm seas.
Underwater conditions: Good viz in general, 15-25 meters (49-82 feet); temperature 27 C (81 F) with a thermocline at 30 m (98 feet): 18 C (64 F).
26 May – Is That Big Male Galapagos Maybe a Dusky Shark?
We slide down onto the top of the rock of Bajo del Monstruo. The water is clear and so calm, there’s not even current on the top of the rock. We start a bit deeper, around 33-35 meters (108-115 feet), just in case we get a glimpse of the monster sand tiger shark. We watch leatherbass, jacks, other “normal” fish and their behavior on the cleaning stations. Nice relaxed dive.
La Nevera is still going strong; same same, but different. We see what we think is a huge male Galapagos shark, around 2.5 meters (8 feet), maybe more. I start to wonder if what we are seeing might be a dusky shark. It is quite hard to tell one from the other.
We dive this area a bit different just to focus on Cathedral, a crack in the center rock island filled with mullet snappers and soldier fish. Water has suddenly become green. We go in the cathedral and swim around rock pillars. A Galapagos shark and a white-tip shark pass by. A swimming hawksbill turtle is outlined above us. We crisscross by the walls and rock formation in a mystic green light. We finish out in the green and have some hammerheads swimming up to have a look at us.
Surface conditions: Mainly cloudy, temperature 25 C (77 F), calm seas.
Underwater conditions: Water was mostly warm (27 C/81 F) down to 30 meters (98 feet), with a temperature drop to 20 C (68 F) at the thermocline. Viz in the morning was good (20 meters / 66 feet), but in the afternoon the current changed; the water turned green and the viz dropped to 7 meters (23 feet) in the first 18 meters (59 feet) of water.
27 May – Manta Birostris and Cannibalism in Malpelo!
When we dive, we are not looking for the dive site itself, but where we find the animals. Right now La Nevera is hot. We have all the sharks here: hammerheads, Galapagos, and silky sharks. This morning we have several Galapagos sharks just at 15-20m.
We have the park ranger Colombo with us so I bring him down for a look. I point the place out and sign to him to stay. I go a bit a ways to look for some of the other divers. When I return Colombo is waiting for me with big eyes. He feels that the Galapagos are getting too close...
I can count up to 14 sharks at one time. They are not shy around us at all.
As I have mentioned, we go where the animals are. We want to get to the south, but the visibility is down today. So we are at Altar de Virginia having our hammerheads, but we have gotten so spoiled now that we also take time to look at other fish life: blue-spotted jawfish and zebra moray eels.
From a distance I spot sand flying around. There are two moray eels fighting, the bigger one close to 1.5 meters (5 feet) is biting a 1-meter (3-foot) moray and holding it in its middle. The smaller one is biting back and they are turning around in knots, rolling over the seafloor. Green blood (bright colors disappear in deep water) streams out of both. The big moray pushes the small one into the holes in the rocks. It is all very violent and intense.
They end up in an open hole, where the big moray has managed to get the small moray eel’s head in its mouth. We see a cloud of blood and in less then half a minute it has swallowed the small one still alive. Two other morays come to try to participate, but it was too late; the big moray lies fat and tired on its side with the live moray wriggling inside its body. We can see it still moving!
That for me is better than any whale shark sighting. There are so many moray eels here. I have seen moray eels eating other fish and octopus several times while diving but never a moray eating another moray.
La Nevera again. Compared to yesterday morning, it is not as hot; no silkies, less Galapagos, but the hammerheads are still here. Still a good dive.
My dive colleague, Arthur Portmann, who is diving with the other half of the group did the Aquarium this morning and had a great dive there. They spotted a manta—a real giant manta that is not very common at all here in Malpelo.
Surface conditions: A bit windy and wavy; cloudy, temperature 24 C (75 F).
Underwater conditions: Murky waters (less than 15 meters/49 feet ) in the south, 15-20 meters (49-66 feet) further up north; general temperature 25-27 C (77-81 F), with a temperature drop to 22 C (72 F) at the thermocline.
28 May – A Curious Leatherbass Swallowing Air Bubbles
We descend by the wall down to El Mirador‘s sand bottom at 33 meters (108 feet) all the while looking out over the sand field. This time we do not get the big school of hammerheads, but higher up between 20-26 meters (66-85 feet) there is a good cleaning station to hang out at and watch leatherbass visiting from the deep.
We call in a big group of leatherbass so curious that they stop right in front of our faces. Some of them like to swallow our bubbles; it looks comical.
We end the dive with silkies and hammerheads in the blue.
This time we dive La Nevera a bit different, starting quite a good distance away from the cleaning station. We sneak in to the cleaning station and get a good result: All three species of sharks are present—hammerheads, Galapagos and silkies in a good number and not just in the middle of the crowd of cleaner fish.
The south has become more available towards the end of the trip, when the waves and current have died down. It is normally very exposed so we need good conditions here to make it safe for the divers.
We pass the wall with a huge school of big-eye jacks. The silkies are already at La Gringa. But after passing the cave, we have them as well by an isolated rock out on the sand, where the hammerheads are schooling above us. We drift out in to the blue passing Escuba followed by silky sharks.
Surface conditions: Windy and wavy in the morning that mellowed down at midday to afternoon. Mostly cloudy, temperature 24 C (75 F).
Underwater conditions: Visibility 12-25 meters (39-82 feet); temperature 27 C (81 F), with a temperature drop to 22 C (72 F).
29 May – Finally Home to el Bajon!!! And a Whale Shark Says Goodbye
La Nevera has been many of our divers’ favorite dive site on this trip. It’s not because the dive guides are being lazy; but it is a request from the divers, the photographers especially. You are able to get close to the animals and, at the moment, the waves and the current are mild. Also, they don’t need to be deep to watch the sharks, not even to see the Galapagos.
It is not always like this. Sometimes it is very quiet here and the animals are on another dive site. But now it’s hot; and the dive is excellent again.
The conditions look right: the waves... the current... and the sun is out. I decide to go to my favorite, El Bajon. And we hit the nail on the head. On our way there we have the jacks, sharks, and a huge school of snappers at 25 meters (82 feet). The visibility is crystal clear.
Under the thermocline hammerheads are circling around on the white sand bottom, with more sharks joining them. We spot the rock of el Bajon, so we start to call in Galapagos sharks. They’re coming from all sides! We hang out on the rock at 30 meters (100 feet) and above us we have a roof of hundreds of silkies and hammerheads, mostly silky sharks. And looking over the sand 25-30 Galapagos sharks in different sizes are now in the area. This is real diving! Finally I have come home to El Bajoon!
As it was so good on the last dive, our group decide to go to El Bajon again. We start by Gringa and just a few minutes in to the dive, we find ourselves looking up this huge shape of a whale shark. It is not a small one, around 9 meters (30 feet). We go up and follow it until it wins on us, so we continue the dive.
Back at Bajon. Our experience is repeated, but with less Galapagos sharks. This is our last dive of 8 days great diving.
Both Arthur, my brother-in-arms dive guide out here, and I agree that this has been an extraordinaire trip. So many sharks!
Surface conditions: Mostly cloudy, temperature 26 C (79 F).
Underwater conditions: Visibility 20-30 meters (66-98 feet), temperature 26-28 C (79-82 F); thermocline varied a lot between 6 meters (20 feet) and 25-30 meters (82-98 feet).
30-31 May – Crossing Back to Puerto Mutis
Now it’s time to sit back and relax for the crossing back to Puerto Mutis. Some choose to sleep while others are sorting the 12,000 photos that they took on the trip so they can decide which one is the keeper.
Thanks for this time.
Sten Johansson (“Vikingo”)