From the National Geographic Endeavour in Galápagos, Tuesday, May 18, 2010.
With their wingtips tracing sinuous tracks very near the water’s surface, Galápagos shearwaters may be the most difficult photography subject to start a day with. Luckily the sky and water around Roca Redonda is teeming with marine life so as the National Geographic Endeavour explored this offshore islet, we crossed paths with more cooperative subjects like red-billed tropic birds, brown noddys, Nazca boobies and even common dolphins. Having a long breakfast was not an option as the pod burst into the air in sync as they quickly made way for their next prey.
Soon afterwards, we anchored in the waters of Isla Isabela at Punta Vicente Roca for Zodiac cruises and snorkeling. The cool waters surrounding Isla Isabela support populations of marine iguanas, Galápagos fur seals, Galápagos sea lions, flightless cormorants and lots of green sea turtles. Our rides in the fleet of Zodiacs afforded all of us an opportunity to stay dry while taking pictures of animals found nowhere else on Earth. For those of us seeking an immersive experience, we donned our fins and masks for a snorkeling session before lunch.
For anyone on board wanting to swim with a turtle, they would soon find out how easy that could be. Although young sea lions desperately tried to distract us with their acrobatics, the allure and grace of feeding, resting and swimming sea turtles was hard to compete with.
Under the watchful eye of basking marine iguanas, we watched the endemic flightless cormorant swim with astonishing speed. A bulky bird with a brilliant blue eye, it uses its oversized webbed feet to dive at very high speeds. At the surface some of us were able to swim within feet of these birds in between their feeding bouts.
The afternoon landing at Fernandina turned into a photographer’s dream – charismatic marine iguanas basked in the setting sun, stacked 5 high on old lava floes and apparently without a care in the world. Many of us scurried from subject to subject as we tried very hard to create a photograph that captures the essence of these unique islands. Regardless of whether we watched the marine iguanas at sunset or sally-lightfoot crabs at the waterline, the profound impact of these legendary islands was obvious by the number of smiles at dinner.