Visiting Isla Isabela in the Galápagos Archipelago

Reef Shark Trail

This giant crack in the ground was filled with seawater and connected to the ocean. This is where we saw the white-tipped reef sharks.   A white-tipped reef shark slowly swimming along the channel. The dorsal and tail fins both have rather unusual white tips.

Friday, April 16, 2004 (Day 19 in the Galápagos Archipelago)

Today our main adventure was to take a dinghy ride to one of the small volcanic islets that form the reef around the harbor. We wanted to visit a nature trail where supposedly you could see white-tipped reef sharks in the water.

The dinghy landing was a little tricky. It was a dry landing since there were steps right down to the water, but the steps were of coarse and very abrasive volcanic rock (what else?) so we couldn't really butt the dinghy up to the steps. We all managed to hop out, then David tied up the dinghy with a stern anchor to hold it away from the rough steps.

The islet was covered with fields of rough angular blocks of sharp basalt, but the park had moved aside rocks to create a smooth well-marked trail so walking wasn't a problem. We walked around and took in the landscape, then shortly came to a giant crack in the ground that was filled with seawater and connected to the ocean. It looked regular enough to be a man-made canal but it probably was a natural feature.

In the water, we saw several white-tipped reef sharks lazily swimming about. They were anywhere from six to eight feet long and very ominous looking, although theoretically they don't bother people as long as there's enough natural food for them to eat. It was difficult getting good pictures due to reflections from whitish scum floating on the surface. While we were watching them, we saw a spotted ray about the size of a table placemat come "flying" through the water at a slow but steady pace. In the water, they look like huge butterflies and their method of "flying" through the water is quite graceful and enjoyable to watch. At one point, a sea-lion came swimming into the channel, and all the sharks took off like they were afraid. You normally think of sharks as being fearless predators, and it was hard to believe that they were afraid of a playful sea-lion. There's obviously more to the situation than we understand.

More white-tipped reef sharks. The one on the right has some small fish swimming along with it, although it doesn't look like they are attached.

More pictures of the sharks.

As an aside, this is what all the shark pictures looked like straight out of the camera: very low contrast, weird colors, and with white scum floating on the surface. The pictures required a lot of processing to bring out the shark details.  

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