Diving in the Galapagos Islands

by Rob Tiller

Sally at Darwin's Arch, Galapagos

On Christmas day, we did our third day of scuba diving in the Galapagos Islands, some 600 miles west of the coast of Ecuador, at the foot of Darwin’s Arch. There was a strong current, and so we spent most of the fifty-minute dive clinging to barnacle-covered rocks. There were many patrolling hammerhead sharks, as well as a couple of large Galapagos sharks. We saw many large sea turtles and fine spotted moray eels. There were hundreds of small colorful tropical fish, such as Moorish idols, king angelfish, trumpetfish razor surgeonfish, Guineafowl puffers, barberfish and parrotfish, as well as huge schools of creolefish. It was fantastic!

After the dive, we hoisted ourselves over the side of the inflatable dingy (or panga) and returned to the mother ship, the Galapagos Aggressor II. It was Sally’s hundredth dive. The crew presented her with a certificate, and our fellow divers gave her congratulations and hugs.

The Galapagos Aggressor II

From the boat, we watched hundreds of flying boobies (large sea birds that resemble gulls with webbed feet) (Nazcas, red-footeds, and a few blue-footeds), frigate birds, swallow-tailed gulls, and storm petrols. Groups of dolphins came by periodically. Later that day, we did some snorkeling a few yards off of Darwin Island. The dolphins weren’t very interested in us, although I swam briefly with a group of six. We had better luck with a group of sea lions, who were curious about us, and came close by doing flips and loops.

Sally and a curious juvenile boobie (red footed, I think)

Darwin, like all of the islands we visited during the week, was the remains of a volcano that originated four or five million years ago — a mere babe in geological terms. It was mostly gray rock wall rising sharply several hundred feet to a plateau on top. It was very stark, but also thrumming with bird and sea life. We saw no other humans. It felt like the earth was brand new. The creativity and resourcefulness of nature was awe inspiring.

On the panga

During the trip, I finished reading The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker. Pinker’s theseis is that human violence has declined dramatically over the course of history, and he explores the possible reasons for this. The book covers a lot of territory (all of human history) using a lot of tools (history, philosophy, statistics, biology, psychology), and still manages to be surprisingly lively and readable. Part of the book examines the increase in the last century of concerns for animal welfare — the sense that mindless cruelty to animals is unacceptable, and the suffering of animals is a moral concern. As with most violence, we’re ordinarily concerned with (and overgeneralize from) the violence and cruelty we observe, and tend to ignore examples of kindness and decency. It was cheering to learn of a trend toward greater respect for animal rights, and to consider that the trend could continue.

In our group of 11 divers, Sally and I were the only ones who did not dive with cameras. They were a cheerful, intelligent, and sociable group of folks, and all significantly more experienced at diving than we were. I’d taken the view that I’d prefer to look hard at what was in front of me without the distraction and intermediation of a camera, but especially after viewing some of their pictures, I was a little sorry that I didn’t get pictures of some of the amazing, strange, and beautiful things we saw under water. Perhaps next time. Here are some other above-water pictures from our trip.