PETER HUGHES SKY DANCER 2003 - DARWIN ISLAND
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August 20, 2003 - Darwin Island (Dives 10-11)

Dive 10
Max Depth: 94'
Dive Time: 49 min, 15:26
Temperature: 73°F
Nitrox PO2: 32%
     

Dive 11
Max Depth: 80'
Dive Time: 43 min, 17:23
Temperature: 73°F
Nitrox PO2: 32%


Camera: D60, 15/2.8 full-frame fisheye, 1 x Ikelite DS-125

Darwin is the best dive site I have ever been to. We dropped town into the "theater," a ledge 20-25 meters long that sits in 55' of water. From the theater, a wall drops off to deeper waters; much of the dive involves sitting there on the ledge, observing, and holding on to prevent the swell from pushing you around. Groups of scalloped hammerheads milled around, passing in front of us a couple of times a minute, and large jacks, tuna, turtles, galapagos sharks, and dolphins occasionally paraded by. I saw the silhouette of a silky shark, but he never approached me.

After sitting on the theater for half an hour, we let go, and kicked off into the blue. We had drifted for ten minutes, when our dive master Edwin started pointing energetically and shaking his noise maker. None of us could make out what he was pointing at, but when we swam a bit closer, the large, dark, moving mass turned out to be a whale shark -- the first of many! From the boat, after the dive, we spotted one just a few feet from the surface (we all jumped in to play), and on the second dive, I swam with two of them (the other group saw FIVE). It's hard to describe what it's like to swim with a fifty-foot long fish. I swam for awhile just above her head, peeked down into her mouth, and then dropped back to swim just behind the enormous dorsal fin. Getting tired, I started to relax for moment before it dawned upon me that I was drifting backwards between the dorsal fin and tail. :) I turned around and kicked my body into a quick arc, avoiding the moving tail (which dwarfed me in size). Whale sharks don't really appear to be moving when they are cruising. Their tails move with a calm slowness, fanning back and forth deliberately. It's deceiving, actually, because we have to swim almost at full speed -- with fins on -- to keep up with them.

There was much joy and laughter after the day's dives. We're excited to spend another day and a half here. :)

Whale Shark Count: 9 (+2,+5)

August 21, 2003 - Darwin Island (Dives 12-15)

Dive 12
Max Depth: 89'
Dive Time: 48 min, 08:33
Temperature: 72°F
Nitrox PO2: 32%
     

Dive 13
Max Depth: 72'
Dive Time: 60 min, 11:10
Temperature: 73°F
Nitrox PO2: 32%

     
Dive 14
Max Depth: 84'
Dive Time: 53 min, 14:56
Temperature: 72°F
Nitrox PO2: 32%
     

Dive 15
Max Depth: 78'
Dive Time: 53 min, 17:17
Temperature: 72°F
Nitrox PO2: 32%


Camera: D60, 15/2.8 full-frame fisheye, 1 x Ikelite DS-125

The water is murkier today, but I saw much larger groups of hammerheads than I did yesterday. A fast-swimming whale shark buzzed by early on, and after we drifted off into the blue, we saw three whale sharks at the same time. A small one led the pack; I caught up to it, but even though getting in front of a whale shark is a nice treat, I decided to save energy for the rest of the day.

Many more hammerheads are to be found both in the sandy channel between Darwin Arch and the island, and on the other other side of the arch, out in the open ocean. I saw schools of over fifty of them, and one such school let both me and Marc swim inside; it was the first time I have been completely surrounded by hammerheads, and it was GREAT! :)

On the sadder (and infuriating) note, there is an fishing boat here at Darwin; we are told that they are locals, fishing legall, but there is still some concern because they are literally fishing at the great arch. It's such a shame to see fisherman here. They say that they are fishing for bait, but we see lines in the water, and there are always many, many birds over the boat, circling, which means that there is a lot of activity. The ship is labelled "OBERLUS II." Two of our crew went over to the boat just now, but I'm not sure what they did over there. I saw the other boat hand over a large bag, presumable containing fish. Who knows.

Whale Shark Count: 18 (+4, +5)

August 22, 2003 - Darwin Island (Dives 16-19)

Dive 16
Max Depth: 65'
Dive Time: 45 min, 08:01
Temperature: 72°F
Nitrox PO2: 32%
     

Dive 17
Max Depth: 94'
Dive Time: 44 min, 10:11
Temperature: 72°F
Nitrox PO2: 32%

     
Dive 18
Max Depth: 92'
Dive Time: 27 min, 12:25
Temperature: 73°F
Nitrox PO2: 32%
     

 


Camera: D60, 15/2.8 full-frame fisheye, 1 x Ikelite DS-125

Whale shark heaven! It seemed like there were whale sharks everywhere we looked. Darren, who was the only person in our group who could keep up with a whale shark swimming for long periods of time, said, "I just followed one until I saw another, and that I followed that one." (or something like that). The last dive was the best dive of the trip. As soon as we dropped in, Rob's rattle started sounding like crazy, and three whale sharks were directly below us in the water. And even though it had been raining lightly when we left the boat on the panga, the sun came out while we were underwater, giving us perfect light for photography. I surfaced after only 28 minutes in the water because I was out of air; chasing whale sharks is hard work! We returned to the boat in great spirits, having had 27 whale shark sightings in a single day.

We are now motoring back to Santa Cruz Island, which will take 24 hours.

Whale Shark Count: 45 (+9, +6, +6, +6)

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PHOTOGRAPHS FROM TODAY

This very large dolphin cruised by on almost every dive

Galapagos shark

Laura, in a school of gringo fish

Diver, with whale shark

Whale shark

Martijn, with a whale shark

Denise and Rob, with a whale shark

Whale shark, with almaco jacks

Remoras, hanging out in the whale shark's gills

Diver, with a whale shark

Divers, with whale sharks

Galapagos shark

Whale shark

Reef cornetfish

Little fishies, spawning

Laura and others, with a whale shark

Whale shark



School of scalloped hammerheads

School of scalloped hammerheads

Marc, posing

Sea turtle, with hammerhead

Scorpionfish

Flouder

Hammerheads

A whale shark

Whale shark tail

Edwin chases a whale shark

A run into a school of fish

Edwin, on the rocks

Whale shark, with almaco jacks

Whale shark, with almaco jacks

Two whale sharks

Whale shark, with almaco jacks

Whale shark

Darren Rice films a whale shark

Mark, with a whale shark

Two whale sharks

Two whale sharks

Two whale sharks

Whale shark

Darren and Martijn, with a whale shark

Darren Rice, with a whale shark

Darren Rice, with a whale shark

Whale shark

Martijn, with a whale shark

Martijn, with a whale shark

Darren and Martijn, with a whale shark

Martijn and Laura, with a whale shark

Martijn and Marc, with a whale shark

Martijn, with a whale shark

Martijn and Marc, with a whale shark

Self-portrait, with whale shark

The last whale shark leaves...