Underwater Flight

‘This should be a good area, let’s see what we can find’. Daniel donned his flippers, adjusted his mask and snorkel, and dived backwards off the rubber dinghy. As our trusty guide, born and bred in the Galapagos Islands and with over twenty years experience, Daniel was an expert wildlife-spotter. In our week with him he had not let us down. He knew exactly where to find particular animals, and had escorted us through Darwin’s infamous island archipelago on land and at sea. His expertise had enabled us to witness many weird and wonderful species of mammals, birds and reptiles in their natural habitats.

As well as land excursions, Daniel had taken us snorkelling daily. While I was making sure that I enjoyed the in-the-moment experience, I also wanted to video creatures underwater to keep alive such rare and treasured memories. I was mentally ticking-off a list of what I wanted to film, and had managed to capture submerged turtles, rays, marine iguanas, and sea lions, many of them from just a few feet away. I had even managed to film whitetip reef sharks, which, although rarely aggressive towards humans, are usually nocturnal.

What I desperately wanted, however, was to get underwater footage of the elusive Galapagos Penguin, an endangered species with only around 1500 left in the wild. We had seen and photographed them on land where we are very much at home, but they waddle and shuffle about awkwardly. In the sea, our roles are reversed, with penguins moving swiftly and gracefully in a liquid environment in which we are slow and clumsy. To see and to film them would be fantastic. And this was our penultimate day. Time was short.

The four of us followed Daniel into the warm equatorial water, and swam slowly after him, with just the gentle kick of our flippers to keep up. Moving parallel to the rough volcanic shore, around twenty yards out, we kept our eyes peeled and cameras at the ready, watching all around us for any sign of movement in the clear water. We had learned the hard way that a ‘prize’ creature could swim past in an instant, and that if you weren’t on the ball, it could easily slip past unnoticed until it was too late.

I almost missed the object of my quest. I saw something moving out of the corner of my eye, turned to my right, and saw a Galapagos Penguin bobbing slowly along on the surface about twelve feet away. Panicking with excitement, I pointed my camera and started to film. Within seconds the penguin passed between me and Daniel, swimming a few inches from my face. It swam through the rest of our little group, took a gulp of air and dived down. The penguin left a trail of bubbles as it sped off into the distance, this ‘flightless’ bird flapping its wings faster and faster, enabling it to fly in its watery domain.

In less than fifteen seconds, it was gone.

P R Williams

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