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Day 3

April 25, 2007

Galapagos Sharks

Morning MistThe ship sailed overnight, so when I woke up at 5:30 AM, the view outside was different. The sun rises at 6 AM on the equator and I was hoping for a nice sunrise. No such luck. It was foggy and cloudy, and I could barely make out the island of Bartolome, not far from where we were moored. There were several other boats moored in the bay, as Bartolome and Pinnacle Rock are one of the top sites to see in the Galapagos Islands.

Early Morning Shark!As I quietly drank my coffee in the pre-dawn light, I watched and listened to the birds and scanned the still waters. I was the only person awake, alone on the aft deck of the boat. Then just 10-15 feet from the boat I saw a fin jutting out from the water, and as it moved closer to the boat I could see the large body of the shark. Shocked, I only got one decent photo, and even that one is a little blurry. Had I been ready, I would have gotten a better one, when the shark was much closer to the boat. I then saw a second shark, and it seemed like they were swimming together. I lost site of them for a while, when two members of the crew gestured to me from the fordeck. They were watching the sharks swim, now near the front of the boat. I took this to mean that this was a rare occurrence, because these guys do this every day, they have seen it all. The shark was fairly large, perhaps 8-10 feet in length. I didn't get a good look at the second one to guess the size. I couldn't help but remember the briefing session with our guide the previous evening. He explains that we would not swim/snorkel at the beach on the other side of the island because they were sharks. Rather we would snorkel off the beach where the boat was moored, joking that "sharks are not allowed on this side". I guess these sharks were breaking the rule. As the daylight increased, I could see the beach where we would snorkel, only a few hours later.

Bartolome and Pinnacle Rock

For our first breakfast on the boat, we had banana pancakes -- not bad at all.

At 8 AM we left the boat by dinghy to land on the island of Bartolome. Bartolome is one of the youngest islands in the Galapagos, only 300,000 years old (which is quite young geologically speaking). The volcanic island is so young that few species of plant grow there. It appears black or brown, more like Mars than Earth. We began to walk up the steps to reach the top of the hill, which affords a great view. Along the way, we did see the only two plants growing there, a type Scalesia and the Lava Cactus. The only animal was the Lava Lizard, named because it is one of the first to colonize lava. We also saw tuff cones and lava tubes, both both volcanic rock features.

Martian Landscape of Bartolome Lava Cactus Mars or Galapagos?

From the top, the view is spectacular, featuring the most common Galapagos photograph and postcard: Pinnacle Rock. Pinnacle Rock is volcanic formation which rises dramatically out of the water into a sharp point:

Pinnacle Rock

Snorkeling at Pinnacle Rock

After climbing Bartolome, we returned to the boat briefly, collected our snorkel gear. Then we headed out in the dinghy for the beach to go snorkeling. From the dinghy, a member of our group spotted a Galapagos Penguin swimming nearby, just below Pinnacle Rock. Penguins are are quite rare in this part of the archipelago, so we were lucky to see one. As soon as we arrived at the beach I was eager to snorkel in the direction of the penguin. It took some convincing, but Michelle agreed and we did. We didn't see the penguin, but we did see lots of fish, a few starfish, and some urchins, and a couple of sea lions. One of the sea lions was in very shallow water and quite playful, swimming around us and at times coming within in inches of our masks. We had an underwater disposable film camera and took some photos -- hopefully they will turn out okay and I can scan some and post them here.

After snorkeling, we learned that other members of our group went snorkeling on the opposite side of the bay, and they did see a penguin, which was feeding on the fish. Swimming with the sea lion was fun, but it would have been cool to see the penguin fishing as well.

It funny that, while snorkeling, I didn't once think about the two large sharks that I had seen in the area only a few hours before.

Galapagos White Tipped Sharks

White Tipped SharksAfter snorkeling at Pinnacle Rock, we walked to the south beach. Swimming and snorkeling is not allowed on the south beach. There are known to be sharks in that area. At first we saw nothing at all, no sharks no sea lions. But then Michelle spotted a bunch of small sharks, swimming in very shallow water (one or two feet deep) just steps off the beach. From the the white tips of their fins, we could tell that they were likely Galapagos White Tipped reef sharks, a small shark that feeds on smaller fish.

We also saw a hermit crab and some pelicans sitting in their nests. Michelle also got a a few good photos of pelicans in flight:

Hermit Crab Pelican in Flight

Sullivan Bay Lava Flow

For lunch on the boat, we had shrimp with rice, very very tasty.

After a siesta until 2:30 PM we left the boat for the Sullivan Bay lava flow, a fresh and huge lava flow. The lava flow was created only 100 years ago and it created 10 square kilometers of new land. It is so new that it wasn't there when Charles Darwin visited the islands in the first half of the 19th century. The lave is pure black, and you can see where the it flowed and rippled.

Lava Flow Michelle on the Lava Walking on the Flow

After the lava flow, we went snorkeling from a nearby beach. We saw some fish but not too much. Others saw a small shark and a ray. We also saw some sally lightfoot crabs eating on the tidal rocks:

Dolphins Swim with our Boat

After returning to the boat, we began sailing to Santiago Island. I decided to take a shower and shave. As I was shaving, I had the bathroom window open. Half way done, I heard somebody yell something on the top deck. I didn't hear what was said, but then it went quiet. So I continued shaving. Minutes later Michelle came down to tell me that dolphins were swimming alongside the boat and that I was missed it. I finished shaving quickly and run up on deck with my camera. But the dolphins were gone. Then I learned that pizza was put out as a snack, and I thought I missed out that that too. It was frustrating to think that I had missed out on both dolphins and pizza.

But then it turned out that there was one slice left. And the dolphins returned! First I could see them a few hundred meters off the starboard side of the boat, then they came closer and began swimming beside the boat and right up by the bow of the boat. Some of them were jumping completely out of the water.

Dolphins at the Bow Dolphin Jumping Three Dolphins Bottleneck Dolphin

As we watch the sunset, we saw more frigate birds and pelicans, and a lava gull landed on the veranda on the top deck. For dinner we had calamari with fish and rice, which was very good. It is 9PM now as I write this, and we have arrived at Santiago Island. There is a sea lion sleeping at the stern of the boat, just outside our window. Tomorrow will be an early start, as we leave the boat at 6:15 ... with no breakfast!

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