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freediving Galapagos, seastars, by Joost van Uffelen

Freediving Galapagos

The Galapagos islands are a dream destination for many people for obvious reasons.

The island's history and its (for the biggest part) well protected nature reserve have attracted many holidaymakers and naturalists over time.

This year we finally managed to visit the place for the first time.

"For the first time", because for sure we need to return once to the archipelago with its abundant marine life.

Although Live-aboards are often the chosen way of seeing Galapagos we decided to make our experience a little different by doing daytrips from the main islands and exploring on our own from land.

The cost of the live-aboards that would easily charge in excess of $3000 for trips, but would not even last a week, influenced that decision mainly.

Doing those day-trips from the different islands turned out be a great idea as we got a better feel for the islands. 

We chose to do freediving-only on this trip as well.

We must conclude that most Galapagos dive-operators (like in many other locations worldwide) are not used to freedivers yet. A lot of operators that offered trips around the island that would go beyond a regular snorkel tour would turn us down immediately once we mentioned we wanted to freedive instead of SCUBA.

It might have been because they foresaw a risk with freedivers or they thought that Scuba divers would be less of a hassle and provide more income at the same time.

Or maybe I should have gotten rid of my beard before approaching them :-).

We did find however one dive operator in Puerto Ayora that would take us to the wild side and one that would do this safely too.

Another operator took us out once, but gave us a very unsafe feeling that day by failing to spot us on the surface multiple times. On his third pass I shouted loud enough for the captain to hear us. By then we had been in the water for almost 1,5 hours at the end of our second dive.

I think the employees of the operator were not as much disturbed by the event as we were. It gives you the chills if you think how far away from the islands into open ocean one can drift in strong currents..

On all other divesessions we were equiped with a big SMB (Surface Marker Buoy), just to make sure that if we were taken by the current we would still be visible.

The dives we did at dive site Gordon Rocks were wild in terms of currents and being out in the open, but also interesting because of the amount of life to be seen.

The Gordon Rocks divesite is in fact a collapsed volcanic crater pinnacle from which only part of the cone is still present above the water surface.

Galapagos sealions, sharks, rays and turtles can often be spotted. The place is known for its hammerhead sharks. We did see scalloped hammerheads too, but only briefly now and then on the surface where they seemed to hunt the schools of fish.

The hammerhead action was fast and short as you might expect, but what a thrill to spot them... No images though...

We did have fun with the Galapagos sealions. Some sealion pups were confident enough to come out and play, often with observant mother sealions closeby. 

A big bull sealion came in barking, showing who was boss, while I was taking images of a seaturtle. The advice is not to mess with the big boys, so I backed off after a short while to give him some space.

One day at isla Mosquera we did have a great day image-wise while the waves were pounding. 

On the wild side of the island we cruised with some 30 Golden Rays in the deep.. Surfacing with my snorkel (that did not have a dump valve) in 1,5 meter waves meant swallowing half the Pacific Ocean before I got my breath back. 

Recently I learned that a group of rays actually is called a "fever" of rays.. I must say animal group names are interesting. Somewhere I read other examples like "a school of fish", "a herd of horsefish" and "a smack of jellyfish" (i like the last one..).

We also found the milkyway and watched the stars "Galapagos-style" next to Seymour island. It was such a pleasure to freedive down to about 10 meters and take some time to observe what the seastars were doing.

Getting the best shot was not easy. We tried to agree on a nice composition beforehand to make sure we both followed the plan.

Before we both were down at 10 meters after aiming for some specific seastars to pinpoint location, they often would have moved on with their tiny "tube" feet!

Also, it was hilarious how fast Sandy would come in the frame even without realizing it. Not only on land she is lightning fast. Put some sturdy freedive fins on those legs and the mermaid is rocketing through the water column!

The dives we did around some other islands revealed how healthy a marine park can look like. The schools of fish that were present in combination with big predators like sharks and rays show how balanced marine ecosystems actually can (and should!) be, if protected well.

On the final day we got a nice farewell from the local bottlenose dolphins that seemed much interested in our boat. How could we resist trying to jump in with them? :-)

Check out the marks on the back of this dolphin. These tooth rakemarks are the result of social (not necessarily friendly) behavior amongst the dolphins.

Pretty impressive!

joostvanuffelen's picture
About the Author:
Joost loves the oceans, travelling and (underwater)photography. Combining those three elements he creates ocean art, travel reports and ocean photo stories...

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