Expedition to Galapagos

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Week Four

More Animal Stories
4 July Bartolomé

9:00 a.m. James Bay was a bust. No sea lions except a few dead ones. This was very discouraging because the grottos here are apparently typically full of playful sea lions, and Dave and Al had considered this footage a "gimme." So, we hauled anchor again and went around to Bartolomé. Michael and Rod Farb are in the water now, checking out visibility for some sub footage. The plan is to park the sub in 50-60 ft. on a sand bottom, and shoot Don and me in the sub -- basically the same stuff we did in midwater the last time when the film didn't advance. Unfortunately, Michael cut my bangs a little too short two days ago, and they're still in the "little boy" stage(!), but perhaps it won't be too conspicuous through the bubble of the sub. Where's my hairdresser! ; )

Bartolomé is very impressive -- small steep volcanic slabs with some reddish color in them and a small beach. Later today, we hope to get on land to hike to the top of one of the rocks. There, a light house apparently marks the equator, so we'll be able to stand on 0 degrees! (Actually, it's 0 degrees, 16.5'S....).

5 July

9:45 p.m. We're en route on the DAPHNE from Bartolomé to Champion Bay. Did four shallow sub dives during the past two days. Al got some good footage, although visibility wasn't that great. After the first dive yesterday, I went with a big group from the ship for the hike mentioned above. It felt good to get out and walk a little, and Bartolomé was impressive. The lava terrain looked like a lunar landscape. This is my first visit to volcanic islands, and the terrain is all so unfamiliar -- well, I did visit Hawaii, but only Honolulu -- not quite the same! Juan Carlos told us that Bartolomé is one of the most recently formed of the Galapagos Islands, and not much inhabits the land. Saw a lava lizard and some cacti and low shrubs on the hillsides. Pretty desolate.

After the p.m sub dive, we had a 4th of July feast of grilled spareribs. Woke this morning to find two sea lions and a pelican sleeping on Al's zodiac, which was left in the water overnight tied to the SJ. Pretty cute. The pelican sort of stayed all day, and when we took off a couple hours ago for Champion Bay, he was still on the zodiac as it was being towed by the DAPHNE. He seemed pretty comfortable!

Took a long swim between sub dives today at Pinnacle Rock. Had fun and a few scares with one playful sea lion and one not-so-fun large male sea lion. Also saw some penguins on the rocks and lots of fish. I was amazed to learn that penguins occur here -- we're on the equator after all! This is the only place that penguins are known to occur at such a low latitude; they survive here because of the unusually cold water that is brought here via the Humboldt and Cromwell currents. The currents really explain a lot about the marine life in these islands. There are currents coming in from the west, northeast, and southeast -- some are cold and carry a lot of nutrients, some are warm and bring tropical species to the area. I've come to think of the islands as a "melting pot" of currents, so to speak. Anyway, it felt good to get in the water today and swim. All these days of being on the water but not IN the water were killing me! As much as I love scuba diving, I much prefer being able to swim in the sea with just a mask and not all the heavy gear. I'm much more free to spin around with the sea lions or just flip and turn underwater and enjoy the weightless feeling of being almost neutral in the dense seawater.

Well, things are beginning to return to "normal" on the filming front following the tragedy. The first couple days we were back at it, I felt that I was in a dream. Nothing seemed real. I guess this is the mind's response to the emotional trauma we've suffered. I felt better today, and the cold swim helped significantly. I could lay there in the water and be cold, or I could swim and be warm. It felt so good to have control over something for a change.

Well, tomorrow our party expands in number. The SJ will pick up more people and gear in San Cristobal. I believe Peter Coan (Dave Clark's production assistant) will join us, as will Kimberly Wright (a still photographer for IMAX) and John Ross from SI magazine. Two or three additional film guys will be coming for the top-side photography. We (Al's group) hope to film sea turtles and sea lions tomorrow (if they're there.... groan) and then join the SJ at Hood Is., where they're hoping to film Albatross. Hope I get to see those birds!

7 July Champion Bay

Made 3 dives yesterday with underwater film crew. Saw thousands of fish, and visibility was reasonable. The current was ripping, however, and the dives were both fun and exhausting. By far the most common species of fish was the creole bass, Paranthias colonus, but there were lots of yellow-tail surgeonfishes, snappers, groupers, etc., and we saw some wahoo, a turtle, and some sting rays. Also saw lots of long-nose hawkfish (a fish Dave needs for filming) in black coral, but since we don't have an aquarium in which to keep the fish alive on the DAPHNE, we'll have to hope we see more later. Al got some reasonable footage, and we will stay here today and do it all again. We're actually anchored at Devil's Crown, where we were hoping to film, but there's not much here. Juan Carlos once saw a feeding frenzy here. First he saw Orca fins and saw one male Orca coming towards his boat. He grabbed a mask and jumped in. The Orca turned around and went away. Then Juan Carlos and his companions put their panga (small boat) into the water and went to check out the feeding frenzy, but it was over. They saw a female Orca go beneath the boat, and 3 of them jumped in on the NW side. They saw an Orca, head down, feeding on a dead hammerhead lying on a sand bottom at about 40 ft. Then they saw sea lions swimming around, playing with an Orca tail. Baby hammerheads started coming out of the dead hammerhead's belly, and young Orcas chased them around, pushing them along with their snouts. Juan Carlos et al. tried to get close to the baby Orca, and the female Orca turned on them. The three guys linked arms to form a large target and started screaming. Juan Carlos said it was the scariest moment of his life. The female went vertical and looked at them, then went back to the hammerhead. Amazing story. Steve King, one of Al's assistants on this expedition, is our whale expert, and he interviewed Juan Carlos about this incident before breakfast. Steve keeps a log of "whale tales" and wants to write a book of them some day.

As I write, at 8:00 a.m., Michael and Al are on the deck above swapping dive stories. Okay, time to get ready for another day of diving with Al!

8 July Hood (Espanola) - Gardner Bay

Did 3 more dives at Champion Bay yesterday with the large schools of fish. Used an ear piece yesterday that allowed me to hear Al -- at least somewhat! Al used a 30 mm wide-angle lens with the flat port the first two dives, the dome port the third. The dome was very difficult to handle with the strong currents, but Al feels he'll get some of the best footage with it. We were supposed to meet up with the SJ last night, but Dave Clark decided he was finished at Hood and wanted to head up to Tower Island to film "friggin frigates." Al wants to film garden eels at Hood, so we came here, and they went to Tower. They will steam back here tonight for a reunion. The passage last night was rough! As we tried to eat dinner, everything was crashing off the table, and Steve and Jon didn't feel well enough to eat. Al rearranged the sleeping spaces so that I could move upstairs to a better ventilated room. What a difference that made! The room below that I'd been using was fine when the generator was running and keeping the fan powered, but the generator goes off at night, and the room was like a sauna. I finally slept well last night for the first time since being on this boat. The meals on the DAPHNE have been very good -- Manuel, the cook, works so hard. We had a 5-course lunch of soup (with popcorn instead of crackers -- it's good!), shrimp ceviche (also with popcorn -- this is good too!), wahoo, rice, slaw, and watermelon. Right now, they are serving us beautiful papaya for breakfast. Yesterday's breakfast was odd but good -- a boiled egg cut in half and covered with sautéed red onion sauce.

We awoke anchored on the east side of Espanola. There is a long white sand beach here, and the terrain seems more hospitable than some other places we've been. The elevation is small, and the hills are covered with green -- an unusual phenomenon resulting from El Nino I understand. Life here for the plants and animals is pretty much as it is for us on this trip: The highs are high and the lows are low. In fact, the more I think about it, the Galapagos are full of paradox; i.e., the "enchanted" islands are actually inhospitable, unforgiving masses of volcanic rock; good conditions in terms of abundant rain mean life for some, death for others; and the most bizarre one -- that Darwin would have obtained evidence for the appearance of new life in a place he initially described as "wretched" and essentially depauperate (my word.).

Michael, Al and Juan Carlos are now in the water searching for a huge garden-eel "garden." Al is just generally happier on this boat than on the SJ. Probably because it's a small group, you can have a cocktail before dinner(!), and he can easily get 3-4 dives in per day and enter the water right from the stern. I know his feeling -- it's very frustrating to be on the SJ and not be able to get in the water when you want to.


Diving in a Lava Tube
9 July Espanola

Had a "rain party" last night that started with the excuse of drinking shots of tequila to cure the stomach bugs most of us woke up with yesterday morning. Juan Carlos played the guitar and sang, we danced the Macarena, and we had delicious slipper and spiny lobster for dinner. I made 3 dives yesterday, one very cold one for filming garden eels. We're in a beautiful spot here at Hood -- on the NW side. Michael and I did a rotenone station yesterday morning and I went with him late yesterday afternoon to an underwater lava tube (to look for his Suunto dive computer that he'd lost on a dive there earlier with Juan Carlos -- we didn't find it, but Randy picked it up beneath the DAPHNE and presented it during the party last night!). Anyway, the lava tube was scary! Very dark, but with Michael's light we were able to see small red fishes on the wall and small spiny lobster on the ceiling. I was a little nervous about being in there, but ended up thinking it was pretty cool. Looking out the entrance of the "cave" from within was beautiful, and Michael and Juan Carlos may take Al to see it this afternoon. There were 5 stingrays at the entrance of the cave when we went in yesterday.

It's going on 10:00 a.m., and we just finished the last garden-eel dive. I wore my skin, the 6.5 mm wet suit, and vest -- plus 26 lbs. of weight, and that worked fine and I was warm. Don't like all the weight and can feel it in my back, so I'll only use the heavy suit when necessary. I wouldn't normally need this much weight with a 6.5 mm suit, but the suit is much too big and thus has a lot of air pockets. I was only down 15 minutes - mainly scaring garden eels back into their holes as I swam toward them(!) -- but it was beautiful. In addition to the garden eels, I saw spotted eagle rays, huge schools of Paranthias a little off the bottom, huge schools of pompano mixed with mackerel above them. The Paranthias are now near the surface, hanging out behind the boat, probably benefiting somehow from the eddy swirling around back there that must be concentrating small crustaceans and other organisms that the creole bass eat. Visibility and light are great right now, and Al and Juan Carlos and I will go in again soon to see what we can find to film.

5:30 p.m. En Route to meet the SJ at Plaza Rock, Santa Cruz. I understand that I'll be with the land crew tomorrow morning, then in the sub later in the day. The second dive today was great, and we got into big schools of Seriola (jacks), and I messed around with a big sting ray -- scary! I was swimming up to this very large animal along the bottom, and all the while Al is saying "keep coming, keep coming." Eventually, I'm lying right next to the very large tail (and very large barbel of course) and I'm wondering "what am I doing here?" About this time, I'm thinking of bolting, when Al says "Put your hand out Carole, put your hand out." I know he's trying to get me to make the animal move -- preferably towards the camera -- because it's hard to see the sting ray when he's lying in the sand. But I don't know how the animal will react if I touch him -- will he get up and swim calmly away? Or will he whip the dangerous tail around and put me in danger? Well, not wanting Al to think I'm a sissy, I put my hand out, and gently lifted the right "wing" of the animal. The ray lifted up off the bottom and swam right towards the camera. What a relief! Unfortunately for me, the animal only swam a few yards and then settled down again, so we ended up doing this scene 3 or 4 times. Kind of felt like the ray and I were buddies by the time it was all over.

Went back to the "cave" on the 3rd dive for a couple of shots with me at the entrance. Randy and Rod helped Al with the camera in the cave. There was a pretty strong surge in there (and we were shallow), so it was pretty tough work for those guys to keep the camera from banging into a boulder. Should be some good footage however.

 

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