Of the two documented human attacks by sharks in Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, one was perpetrated by the Galapagos Requiem Shark. Guide books assure snorkelers that they will “never see” this sleek predator as they rarely venture up from greater depths.
Unfortunately sharks don’t read guide books.
On a recent cruise aboard Ecoventura’s MY Letty to Punta Pitt, on San Cristobal, Galapagos Islands, I took the opportunity to go for a snorkel along the volcanic basalt shore line. Our party of five, including our guide Gustavo, had been fortunate enough to see spotted eagle rays, Pacific green sea turtles and myriads of colorful tropical fish.
The high point of our trip had been the Galapagos sea lions, the adolescents and females of the species having a penchant for cavorting with snorkelers. Sea lions love to play “chicken”, hurtling at high speed towards swimmers then turning away at the last minute. These delightful creatures are usually the high point of a casual snorkel in the islands.
Now while the smaller white tipped reef sharks are often seen near shore and usually confine themselves to consuming small fish, the larger sharks such as the Galapagos Requiem (a requiem being a mass for the dead in case you didn’t know) consider seals and sea lions a delicacy.
They are the natural prey of the bigger sharks in the islands and the fur of these mammals tends to be very dark in color, a signal to sharks that a meal may be in the offing. One would think that the makers of wet suits would therefore manufacture their product in bright colors that would tell sharks that the wearers were not meant to be hors d’oeuvres. Oddly this is not the case. Wet suits generally come in one main color…seal black.
This may lead to the following scenario: a husband and wife in our group were floating near shore after a leisurely snorkel when the husband happened to notice a huge, sleek torpedo-shaped creature about three feet behind his wife, eyeing her hungrily. Gustavo, was also nearby and recognized the silhouette of a Galapagos shark.
Let’s just say that a little excitement ensued.
Luckily, the shark fairly quickly recognized his mistake. He had been duped by a faux seal. Rolling his eyes, he swam away in disgust. In the meantime two members of the party snapped photos of the fish. The wifely half of the snorkeling couple had been saved from the fate of snack for a shark and we now all had dibs on a story to amuse our friends for years to come.
Believe me, what happens in the Galapagos doesn’t stay in the Galapagos!
Fortunately you are far more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a shark. Humans are not the shark’s natural prey so even when divers encounter larger and more aggressive ones such as the Galapagos Requiem Shark, the creatures rarely attack.
Handle a shark the way you would a stray dog…show no fear and keep your distance. Chances are the shark will simply swim away. Like a stray, show respect and don’t antagonize the fish. As a last resort if attack seems imminent rap the creature on the nose with the hardest object on hand.
If You Go: Ecoventura
All photos by George Burden – All Rights Reserved