Manta at Cleaning StationMantas swim at this cleaning station undisturbed by divers, even gliding right overhead to get tickled by bubbles. Dive Site: El Boiler. Nikon D300s in Ikelite housing, ISO 400, f/10, shutter 1/100, 2 Ikelite DS161 strobes at 1/2 power
As we are swimming along the edge of the rocks, we hear a distinct whistling sound - there are dolphins in the area. Soon enough the familiar shapes start darting around us. They are in the mood to play, stopping in front of the lens, turning upside down and performing their favorite trick: suspending themselves motionless just below you and watching you sink with them, unaware of your depth changing until your ears let you know you’re getting deeper and deeper. Then a school of jacks comes into view and the dolphins lose all interest in the divers, finding chasing the fish around more amusing. These highly intelligent creatures need constant entertainment to stick around.
After a couple of days at San Benedicto, we start a long boat ride farther out into the ocean. Our destination: Roca Partida. This island, reduced by millions of years of erosion to a rock sticking out of the water, is surrounded by hundreds of miles of the Pacific. It is a beacon for underwater travelers, as well as home to a healthy population of white tip reef sharks, eels, urchins and reef fish like damsels, hogfish and big schools of jacks.
The east side of the rock is a more gentle slope, with small shelves and spaces filled with white tip sharks, stacked on top of each other, their tails moving with the surge. Size seems to matter here-- the bigger sharks occupy some shelves, while the smaller ones stay together on others.
Months of May and November bring warmer water along with the great ocean migrators: the whale sharks. One whale shark is a treat, and occasionally you will see two on the same dive. The small whale shark we see is very curious and passes through the group many times, giving everyone plenty of photo opportunities and a chance to swim side to side with the biggest fish in the ocean.
Not every dive takes place on the rock though. The action is in the blue. When nothing is going on directly on the dive site, the dive guides swim out into the great wide open. Though having no point of reference, like a bottom or a wall, can be confusing, it’s worth it. There’s a good chance of seeing huge schools of skipjacks or big yellowfin tuna, and strong currents that sweep around Roca attract Galapagos sharks and hammerheads.
One afternoon I am putting my wetsuit away when I hear Dave calling, “Baitball!” I quickly get back in my wetsuit, grab the camera and scramble into the panga. We make our way toward the horizon, where dozens of birds are diving into the water - a good indication there’s a big school of tiny fish just under the surface. Baitballs are at the bottom of the food chain and attract all kinds of predators, like dolphins, marlins and silky sharks. They fall apart fast, so we know we have to get in the water as soon as possible.
We roll in amongst the diving birds, and as soon as the bubbles clear out I see a silky shark speeding my way. I put the camera between us, and it hits the dome the minute I press the trigger. My adrenaline levels instantly shoot up. I realize there are silkies darting about all around me. Dave is in the water shooting away, right in the middle of the action, with sharks going through the little fish and straight into the camera.
When the water clears out, we climb back into the panga and start for another flock of birds over the water. We jump in as soon as the panga stops and are rewarded with not one, but six marlins swimming around. As soon as the baitball moves, we are back in the panga. Every splash into the water brings new sightings, until what is left of the baitball falls apart. Tired but happy, we make our way back to the boat.
The Socorros are known for mantas and you may think that once you’re done interacting with those amazing creatures, you have seen the best. Don’t miss an opportunity to get in the water though--the persistent will be awarded. We saw more action here and were surprised by more sightings in a week than we could imagine. Every dive brought something new to the table, with more photo opportunities and amazing encounters than I could hope for.
The secret to capturing the best of Socorros is to never miss out on an opportunity. This is the ultimate wilderness, where the conditions change by the minute, like the ever-moving baitballs. If you’re not there, you’re going to miss it.