Report on a Classic Destination:
By Carl Roessler
many years I have labored under a particular kind of personal misfortune. If
the shrinks ever succeed in getting me onto the couch, it will all come pouring
You see, doctor, I've spent thirty years on live-aboard dive boats in all the very best dive areas of the world. In doing so I have met the finest, most talented, supremely dedicated boat owners and captains in the universe.
However, doctor, they are driving me crazy! They feel compelled to tell me all of the sensational marine life they see when I'm not with them! Navot Bornovsky of Ocean Hunter in Palau just had to tell me about the twenty mantas he had on one dive, and the mako sharks he now sees regularly. Craig De Wit of Golden Dawn in Papua New Guinea seems to enjoy telling me about shark feedings with forty sharks of three species. How could he!
Bob Halstead of the Telita in Papua New Guinea be devils me with tales of up to seven of the brilliant tartan-plaid Rhinopias scorpionfish on a single dive, or of Caledonian Stingers, or new species of fairy basslets, or...
But you get the picture.
Now, doctor, I have this flamboyant captain of a beautiful yacht called The Inzan Tiger in Costa Rica. He takes divers to the unbelievable granite spires of Malpelo, and the stories he tells me are finally going to break my spirit.
Doctor, do something!
First it was the orcas, doctor. Snorkeling with orcas, for heaven's sake! Then it was the whale sharks. Then for the past two Summers it was humpback whales, and, you know, he has guests diving with huge schools of hammerhead sharks EVERY CRUISE!
It's just awful, doctor, it really is. I'm suffering. Really.
Then, a few weeks ago, it got worse. He called me to tell me that they had just put a group in the water with eighteen sperm whales.
It's just too much.
As you probably know, this Malpelo Island to which he takes his guests is an unusual place. It is one corner of the Golden Triangle, which includes Cocos Island and the northern islands of the Galapagos Islands (Wolf and Darwin). It lies 300 miles South of Golfito, in Costa Rica, and to get there you use a similar sequence to that one uses to reach Cocos Island. You fly to Costa Rica, enjoy a comfortable opening hotel night, then catch an early morning flight to Golfito where you board the sumptuous yacht The Inzan Tiger; once aboard, you cruise for thirty hours to reach the island across a generally calm tropical sea.
When you arrive at sunset on that second day, your first view of Malpelo is like seeing an ancient monument bathed in the softly radiant glow of the setting sun. It's right up there with the Pyramids or the Parthenon.
The real impact of this island fortress, however, occurs next morning. By the brilliant light of sunrise you see the main island's spectacular battlements erupting from the sea and soaring, sheer-sided, into the vault of heaven. Indeed, like so many high tropical islands, Malpelo is tall enough to generate some of its own weather. There may, at dawn, be a cloudless sky on all sides, yet a wreath of cloud envelops the remote island-peak.
During the week or so that we are at Malpelo, the island is a constant presence. At any time of day, we find our eyes drawn to the shining cliffs, which contrast vividly with the empty, flat blue sea. This contrast is part of the indelible memory of Malpelo, a mental movie which sometimes plays unbidden and brightens a rainy day at home.
Still, no matter how impressive the island, it is the explosion of life in its waters which distinguish this amazing place from any other. Mental movie: The Inzan Tiger, gliding quietly in the deep shadow of the western flank, moving toward Carl's Corner. As we come closer, the mirror-calm surface of the water is rippled, as if tiny fish are swimming just beneath the water/air interface and grazing it with their tiny fins.
However, when we finally drift close enough to see beneath the surface, we see that the dorsal fins are those of HAMMERHEADS!
Excited? Nah. We only trip all over each other as we struggle to don our dive gear. Minutes later we slip off the convenient dive platform and snorkel out into the middle of a huge school of these graceful sharks. Even now, a bit after 8:00 in the morning, the sharks have finished their nocturnal hunting and gathered for socializing and security. Recent research suggests that one side of the sharks brains shuts down completely when they school, allowing the sharks to rest yet still be alert to danger.
Gliding down from the surface in the middle of a school of hammerheads is one of diving's more enduring memories. To non-divers it would be taken as a clear sign that you had slipped your moorings yet while you are doing it, it is the most natural, peaceful thing in your world.
Malpelo's hammerheads tend to stay fairly shallow, offering you the opportunity to dive with them several times each day. I found that I only went deeper when I wanted to photograph them soaring in great armadas above me, and even then the deepest dive of the week was to 110 feet. By contrast, filming the hammerheads at Cocos really requires going to 115 feet on every dive. That naturally reduces the number of dives you can do in a week at Cocos. Malpelo's shallow sharks are a special wonder because they fit our human frailty.
Recent night dives during the El Nino months have revealed a new phenomenon which may or may not be connected to the famous warm-water intrusion. On five separate occasions, night divers at Malpelo have observed hammerheads devouring large green moray eels. Has this been going on all along? Or is it another El Nino curiosity? We don't yet know. Sure is a fabulous photo op, though.
Another recent discovery is a trio of brilliant canary-yellow frogfish, rebutting the popular notion that Malpelo offers only big-animal encounters. What actually happens, of course, is that in famous big-animal destinations we simply never get around to looking for smaller creatures! I've observed this in Papua New Guinea, Western Australia's Ningaloo Reef, the northern Galapagos and other places famed for their pelagic species; by the time I turn my attention to the smaller thrillers the cruise is over!
Doctor, it's all too much, I just can't take it.
So, I'm going to steel myself and do what I have to do. I won't let him keep torturing me. I'm just going to go back to The Inzan Tiger, doctor, back to Malpelo. I'm going to face it like a man.
Maybe, just maybe, I'll see something Captain Heinz has never seen. There just has to be something...
If any of you are courageous enough to face that kind of excitement without getting dizzy, please contact me through the information in the sidebar that is printed in these pages somewhere.
I'm looking for a few good---whatever, to join me in facing the unknown.
I'm cured, doctor! I'm cured
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