Cruise Report: Whale Shark Encounter in the Galapagos

Whale Shark Encounter
Whale Shark Encounter

Isabela Island & Fernandina, Galapagos Islands

We rounded Pt. Albermarle at daybreak, and took a southwesterly course away from the rising sun towards Ecuador Volcano. We were rounding the “head of the sea horse,” which means sailing over the northern coast of Isabela Island. To our port side we saw the soft dawn give the flanks of Wolf Volcano the rosy tones found on the newly-declared species of land iguana found here, and only here. Of course we couldn’t see any, being out at sea and the iguanas half-way up the 5,600 foot-tall volcano – but all the same, it was thrilling to think about them up there.

Over flat calm waters we saw northern phalaropes, Galápagos storm petrels (endemic), Galápagos shearwaters (endemic), Galápagos petrels (endemic), and others. It wasn’t until after breakfast when the ship was pretty much point blank on top of the equator line that everything happened at once. A small whale was spotted and we circled to see the probable Bryde’s whale, which effectively hid from us thereafter; fur seals popped up now and then. What was originally thought to be sea lions masquerading as something else, turned out to be a …WHALE SHARK!

For me, this was a dream of a lifetime; to be in the presence of a whale shark in its natural habitat. Today was that day.

Our wonderful Captain Robalino was the first to react and suggested lowering the Zodiacs…an idea taken up with my additional offer for anyone interested to come prepared with mask and snorkel in order to jump into water thousands of feet deep with a creature 30 feet long. And so it happened for over a dozen adventurous souls that we ended up in the Pacific Ocean next to the largest fish on earth. Others piled into Zodiacs as well and watched as she left the snorkelers behind with little effort. It was obvious the shark was a pregnant female with her huge belly extended; a true shark (and not a whale) of gargantuan dimensions (a harmless plankton eater), she was cruising at her own pace. With slow swipes of her tail that passed by seemingly inches from my face, she remained at the surface, allowing us to accompany her on a portion of her journey, to where, we will never know. For me, this was a dream of a lifetime; to be in the presence of a whale shark in its natural habitat. Today was that day. Words were superfluous; everyone in the Zodiac can verify that I was gibbering with excitement both before and after the experience.

This was followed by ocean sunfish sightings, snorkelling with green sea turtles, feeding penguins and flightless cormorants; then walks among fighting marine iguanas and sparring sea lion beach masters while flightless cormorants courted each other at our feet, around and around a trail marker; two females, blue eyes blazing, were vying for the attentions of one male. I really don’t want to leave.

Cindy Manning, Expedition Leader

View cruise itineraries to the Galapagos Islands…


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