Monday 25 August 2014

Day 104: The Galápagos Islands Day 5 - Shark versus sea lion

Sea Lion family reunion on Chinese Hat. Who ate all the penguins?
Even the Galápagos Islands give moments of disappointment. Overnight we back-tracked to Santiago |sland and spent part of the morning watching clusters of marine iguanas in a similar setting to before.  (Just as the Galapagos can teach you to view the antics of sea lions with indifference, so it can numb you to the delights of iguanas.)  The only difference was the island name: Chinese Hat (it actually looks like one), located across a narrow channel from Santiago.  To break the deja vu, we hoped we might see Galapagos Penguins here.  Alas, one fleeting glimpse of a penguin's head was all we got while he kept his white shirt, black dinner jacket and waddling feet hidden under the water.  Well, you can't have it all.

Blue-footed Booby's assemble en-mass in the lagoon
After a choppy snorkelling session, where I saw my first ray and some starfish, we passaged back down to Santa Cruz where the temporary cloud dissipated and cameras whirred once again.  The cause?  A two-hour panga ride through a mangrove swamp where we saw hundreds of blue-footed boobies flocking on the water ("the first time I've ever seen this," declared our guide), several white-tipped sharks, loads of turtles, two golden rays, several spotted eagle rays, and the spectacle of a juvenile pelican diving session to round things off - all in the shallows at very close quarters.  The variety of landscapes that the seemingly-bleak Galapagos can throw at you is surprising; this was an entirely different ecosystem from any we had visited before and a very rich one.   We all returned to the boat feeling ray-ed and shark-ed up, on a bit of a high.  But the excitement wasn't yet over.

White-tipped reef shark in the lagoon
Turtle in the lagoon
In the evening, a Galapagos shark decided to cruise around the back of our boat, accompanied by a couple of sea lions and a pelican.  Galapagos sharks bear no resemblance to the white-tipped variety; you wouldn't want to get into the water with one of them.  We were surprised that the sea lions didn't share our view on this.  Had they spotted the shark?  Surely they had.  At times they swam so close together that they almost crossed paths.  Would it end badly for the sea lion?  We leaned over the railings at the side of the boat, gripped by the free theatricals.  Only the pelican looked utterly unperturbed.

The sea lion and the shark crossed, re-crossed, and parted again.  Were we about to watch a kill?  Yes we were, but it was only placid Mr Pelican whose night's hunting proved successful.  Darting after a sequence of flying fish, he filled his belly nicely while the shark cruised away into the darkness.  Meanwhile the sea lion, after eating his own fish supper, decided to pay a good night visit to the ship's inhabitants and jumped out of the water onto the deck.  But it was a fleeting visit and before long he dived.  The curtain came down on the watery theatre.  Time for bed.

The beauty of the Galapagos in the form of Santa Cruz island
A white-spotted eagle ray swims amongst mangroves
Boobies and a Pelican keep watch over the boat moored off Santa Cruz
A sea-lion avoids becoming shark food off the back of the boat at night

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