The most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen…

Mantarraya gigante

The Giant Manta Ray. This one — and a couple others — cruised past Daphne on my last day of diving in the Galapagos Islands. A fitting final dive.

These guys are near threatened according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, making them actually one of the less endangered of the charismatic mega fauna of the sea. That said, they face serious pressure from overfishing and destructive catch tactics and are often killed as incidental bycatch. I’ve seen juveniles, which are less able to avoid nets, tossed dead in the back of trucks beach side to be sold as “trash fish.”

But having dived with these giants — the largest one on record was more than 25 feet across and weighed two and a half tons — I now plead: Please source your seafood.

The photos (above and below) are in black and white, because of the poor color reproduction. Between the distance, the grain of low-light and the poor underwater visibility, the camera captured little more than wondrous shadows.

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Cave sharks

Napping sharks

As soon as we dropped down in some choppy water off Daphne, Galapagos Islands, we found this cave with three resting white tip reef sharks. Absolutely arresting.

The photo is black and white because in addition to shooting blind, I was in low-light, so the colors don’t reproduce so well.

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Tales of shark tails

Not for consumption

A hiding white tip reef shark leaves its tail exposed for all of us to gawk at. Found off Daphne, Galapagos Islands.

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Green (turtle) on blue (sea)

Howdy turtle

A cruising Green Turtle at Daphne, a dive sight north of Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands. The ocean — particularly at this depth of about 20 meters — is really a green-blue place, devoid of a lot of other colors.

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In the Galapagos, Green turtles are cheap and easy

Tortugas verde

Before my diving in the Galapagos, I had only seen two sea turtles in more than 60 dives. For me they were a rare and beautiful sighting. After all there are only seven species and all of them are endangered.

But in the Galapagos, where charismatic megafauna are disinterested in divers and easy to spot, Green Turtles became almost an every-dive occurrence. Lots of them to go around (again, this is an isolated feature of the Galapagos Islands) and therefore my notion of them as extra-special sightings was dispelled.

These two come from my final day of diving off Daphne, an easy and celebrated dive spot north of Santa Cruz.

I won’t likely have as much luck when I head back to the Andamans for serious dive training in two weeks; so enjoy the turtle photos while they last.

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He’s really just trying to get himself stuck

Shy little guy

Not all pufferfish are the porcupine-esque versions, popularized by Finding Nemo, that everyone thinks of when they think of blowfish.

They’re sometimes rather timid. Not skittish, per say, but just retiring. Like this guy, found trying to wedge himself into some rocks on a dive off Daphne, Galapagos Islands. Too bad he’s also bright yellow and therefore not greatly camouflaged.

Also, for the record, they rarely expand just because you get close. This is more of a last-ditch defense mechanism done only in the face of great stress. When divers do set off this defensive mechanism for sport (typically by actually grabbing the fish), some biologists believe they can do serious harm.

I’m of the “look but don’t touch” philosophy underwater.

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Nowhere to land but also no need

Wonderful waters

The rock known as Daphne, north of Santa Cruz, the main island of the Galapagos chain, is one of the archipelago’s easiest and yet most productive dive sites. Often visited in conjunction with another site, Daphne offers something other dive sites in the Galapagos can’t: relaxing dives are almost guaranteed.

The dive trip here is an easy, easy cruise along sloping shelves or dramatic walls. Sea turtles are cheap and prolific; manta rays drop buy frequently; white tip reef sharks hang out lazily; sea lions come down to check out and play with humans who are thoroughly out of their element.

The rock offers no convenient landing spot for a boat; but then none is needed as Daphne’s spectacular wildlife is underwater.

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