Fearless Fauna

A postcard from Eric Sutherland, holidaying in the company of creatures unafraid of man

Diving in the equatorial waters of the eastern Pacific is a special experience. But make for the enchanting Galapagos islands on a diving liveaboard boat and you have the cream on the cake. I enjoyed a weeks diving holiday aboard the 24m Galapagos Aggressor, which combines the comforts of a cruise ship with the amenities of a dive resort.
Each island in the Galapagos is different, both under water and above. On our cruise, landscapes would suddenly change as the Aggressor hopped between islands while we ate or slept.
Chief divemaster Mathius, who was also a qualified guide for our shore visits, would give pre-dive briefings after supper, ready for a 7am start the next day. This is when underwater conditions are at their best.
The famous magic of the Galapagos lies not only in the unique mix of flora and fauna which isolation has produced, but also in the creatures which have no fear of man.
Ashore, nesting blue-footed boobies and frigate birds stare at you impassively, while prehistoric-looking iguanas sprawl on black reefs, motionless save for their impressive acts of spitting. Sea lions lie on the beach, unaffected by your presence.
Under water, the sea lions come to life, intent on having fun. My heart was in my mouth as one came at me like a runaway torpedo, as if hed strike me head on, but veered away centimetres from my mask. After several runs I accepted that he was not going to hit me. On another occasion, signalled by my buddy, I turned to find a pup, his enormous eyes a few inches from mine. He must have been wondering what strange creature he had met.
I saw only a fraction of the fish listed in my book on the Galapagos, yet this was still enough to leave me with unforgettable memories.
The variety was greater than I have seen anywhere in the world, from the Red Sea to the Barrier Reef.
Common yet impressive were vast schools of silvery fish, sometimes of mixed species, passing through your whole field of vision in their thousands. Golden eye or yellowtail grunts, chubs or scads would move unhurriedly across, changing direction with uncanny synchronisation. They showed no alarm as you swam gently through them.
Then there were the big chaps. Magnificent hammerheads, in groups of eight or nine, cruised haphazardly above us. Silhouetted by the sun, too, were eagle rays and, on good days, gigantic manta rays, which seemed to shut out the light altogether.
Most commonly we would meet whitetip sharks. Generally about 2m long, they would often lie immobile on the sandy bottom. When they did move, they seemed unhurried, graceful and unaggressive. Perhaps this is because their supply of food is always plentiful!
But the big occasion was near Seymour Island. At 20m we found a low, 1m-high reef wall encompassing a flat, sandy floor about the size of a bowling green.
Here were at least 20 whitetip sharks - parked, as my airline-pilot buddy later said, like Cruise missiles on an airport tarmac.
Many were in pairs, head to tail, moving gently within the area. But when the nearest sensed our presence, they all slipped smoothly away. We just gazed, spellbound.
  • Crewed by eight, the Galapagos Aggressor caters for up to fourteen guests in seven air-conditioned, en-suite cabins, and has a separate dining and saloon area.
  • Extensive diving facilities include a spacious operations deck aft, with covered camera table and freshwater rinsing for gear.
  • A weeks holiday, including flights from London to Quito in Equador and on to Galapagos, costs from about£2500 to£2750, depending on season.
  • For further information, contact: Scuba Safaris, Nastfield Cottage, The Green, Frampton on Severn, Glos GL2 7DW (tel. 01452 740919).

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