Peter A. Hughes traveled  aboard the M/V Galapagos  Sky on  May 22 – 29, 2011 and prepared this special MANTA SEASON trip report.

Opening Comment: “As I have stated many  times before in various media I feel  the period of January thru’ mid June (Manta Season) is my favorite time of the year to visit & dive the fabulous Galapagos Islands – with emphasis on May thru’ mid June being my most  favorite!! The following trip slide show and daily log show exactly why Manta Season is such a great time to visit Galapagos.

 

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From Peter’s Daily Log:

 

Sunday: Up early (anticipation is building) @ the Oro Verde Hotel in Guayaquil, Ecuador. We begin the day with an excellent buffet b/fast before heading off for our flight aboard one of Aerogal’s spanking, brand new A320 Airbus airplanes for the short 1 ½ hour flight from Guayaquil to San Cristobal in the Galapagos.

We board M/V Galapagos Sky – Safety & General Orientation briefings, lunch, gear set up and check out dive (Galapagos National Park requirement) at Isla Lobos – this time w/ some overly playful (and  one particularly large) female sea lions – great fun as the “beast” playfully mouthed my head!! Back to vessel and we cruise to …

 

Monday: Arrive Itabaca Channel between Baltra & Santa Cruz Islands for our visit to the highlands of Santa Cruz to view & photograph the giant tortoises  in their natural habitat, visit the quite amazing lava tubes, the endemic Scalecias Forest and the sink holes – about a four  hour excursion and well worth every minute of it! Back for lunch and then, due to an engine problem w/ one  of our just overhauled (??? go  figure ???) main engines we forfeited two afternoon dives at Cousins Rock – once a practice bombing target for the US  – and (normally, as I have done the site before – several times) great dives offering up a little bit  of “everything” and a real good  preview of what’s to come –  we left for the longer than usual transit north to Wolf Island.

 

Tuesday: Arrive &  anchor at Wolf Island and prepare  for our three scheduled dives  – no disappointments here – the waters “up  north” surrounding both  Wolf & Darwin islands  is considerably warmer than the waters surrounding the central or southern islands of the Galapagos as a result of the warming effects of the Panama Current streaming down from the north around them and especially,  at this time of year, are clearer (and calmer too) – currents  were typically light w/ surge being far more of a factor than current. Our sightings over the three dives  included, but were not limited to scorpion fish, lobsters, red lipped bat fish (yeeesss, third  dive of the  day) countless moray eels (many  free swimming along the wall,) turtles “by the dozen,” eagle rays, dolphins in a “fly-by,” and sharks – walls  of hammerheads w/ some coming in very close in their curious review of the bubble blowers invading their peace, Galapagos sharks (some XXL sizes too,) silky sharks and last but not least, the always playful  sea lions.

 

Wednesday: Very early Wednesday AM Capt. Victor &  his  crew hauled anchor and got us  underway for the transit from Wolf island to  Darwin island (Darwin island is the farthest north in the Galapagos archipelago) where  we started our dive day w/ an incredible early, pre-b/fast AM dive – again NO  disappointments here – our three scheduled dives, w/  100ft (30 m) viz & comfy water temps in the 80F (24C) range offered us “blinding” (due to their  volume) schools of  Creole fish, huge schools  of horse  eyed jacks, bonitos, tuna, steel pompano, marauding (XL) blue Trevally,  African pompano (XL), snapper ( XXL), dolphins on their usual “fly-bys,” hammerheads in significant schools as well as solitary, at cleaning stations manned mostly by beautiful king angel  fish, Galapagos  sharks  (XXL at this time of year,) the ever present silky sharks on our blue water safety stops AND (unusual, but my SECOND such experience) a XXXL TIGER SHARK and oh yeah baby, even a late afternoon, early season whale  shark – w/ the ever curious blue footed booby bird joining us as we wait for the panga (dive tender) on the surface – what more  could  you ask for????

 

Thursday: Again an early, pre b/fast dive (we continued to fight time throughout the week due to malfunctioning main engine – but NO ONE was complaining about the  early AM dives,) breakfast and another dive  – all the usual sightings  w/ the additions of some black tip sharks but unfortunately, no further sighting of the tiger  shark  (we did go looking, heh, heh)  and no  further sighting of any whale sharks.

Over the lunch break we transited back to Wolf island for our third dive of the day and our last schedule dive in the northern islands – due to slow speed of vessel we were a little late in arriving but the dive site “Landslide” was a real azz kicker!! HOLY COW!! I have dove/dived (whatever) “Landslide” many times over the past  12 years  – at all  different times of the year (May – mid June still my favorite) but this was like none other!! What can I say – my  editorial skills  fall far short of any ability to come close to what this dive offered – rivers of Creole fish hindered our view despite the 100ft viz (30m) & 80F (24C), eagle  rays, free swimming moray eels, turtles again “by the dozen,”  sea lions, dolphins on their “fly-bys,” walls of hammerheads coming in particularly close, Galapagos  sharks (XXL) virtually “on top of us,” several  black tips and  the ever present silkies on our safety  stop  out “in the blue.” And this does not even consider the  huge snapper, grouper, black &  blue Trevally and …  it  goes on & on, it was “ sheer turmoil down there!!”

Now  it is time to  say “farewell” to the northern islands  and head back south, crossing the equator for the second time (first on way up north,) for our overnight ( but flat calm) transit to our Friday destination.

 

Friday: Arrive Roca Redondo – a “rock” in the middle of nowhere, an extension of the volcanic geology of Isabella island and a convenient stop for a dive (or two) but, very much conditions dependent on the way to Punta Vincente  Roca. Roca Redondo offers amazing curtains of femoral rising from the sea floor through which all manner of sea creatures may appear –  sea lions, fur  sea lions too, hammerhead sharks and … here viz had  dropped  significantly – maybe 35 ft (10m) w/ a noticeable drop in water  temperature too – 72F (20C) but still much warmer than the mid June thru’ December period – but w/ the hammerheads appearing almost mysteriously out  of the gloom and coming in very close, it gave a certain excitement to the dive.

On to Punta Vincente  Roca – this  north western corner of Isabella is constantly bathed by the cold Cromwell  Current and as such is what I describe as a “deep, dirty, dark & damned cold dive” heh, heh, but one that is fast becoming one  of my favorite  dives ever – and I hate “cold!!” Viz was down to possibly less than 35ft (10m) & water temp  dropped further  to 70F (19C).The environment is absolutely amazing!! A sheer,  deep wall covered w/ sea fans, opportunities to see red lipped  bat fish, horn sharks, sea horses, a flightless cormorant (my first swimming – fast – underwater) and (as we did) Mola Molas (oceanic sun fish) – one of the weirdest creatures in the sea –  and again turtles “by the dozen,” swimming, floating on the surface and sleeping or feeding on the bottom and just so much more – so  very  well  worth the “cold.”

After dive panga (dive tender) rides for photo ops include all manner of birds including the Galapagos penguins, marine iguanas and …

 

Saturday: We arrived at Cabo Marshall in the early AM for two scheduled dives – again (stuck CD or per the old days “broken record”) NO disappointments here – white tip  sharks, gigantic school of selemas (a “sardine”endemic to  Galapagos,) eagle rays, schooling mobula rays (mini mantas) and the always intriguing MANTA RAY – we were graced w/ several slow & up close & personal swim-bys the manata rays and this ray parade was punctuated by cero mackerel, wahoo, many XL Pacific dog snapper, grouper, tuna and the ever present rivers of Creole fish streaming over the wall and then off we have to go – back to port.

 

Sunday: Breakfast & “good bye.” It has been a great week, great diving, incredible sightings, Galapagos weather at its best – clear, warm, calm seas, light winds, blue skies dotted w/ puffy white clouds and a blazing sun that will warm you in minutes (and burn you too, if not very careful) after every  dive – all shared w/ wonderful new friends & dive buddies – I cannot  wait to  do it all again!!  I can never get enough of it!!

 

That’s it folks – hope you enjoy & that  we will see you soon but until then and as always … keep an ocean mind,

Peter