“Macro Photography” and “the Galapagos” are not two phrases you would commonly hear in the same sentence. The majority of divers and underwater photographers travel to the Galapagos Islands for the abundance of hammerhead sharks and other large pelagic fish species. With the focus of attention on the wealth of life out in the blue, there is a tendency to overlook the smaller creatures, but on a recent trip aboard the Galapagos Master I decided to put my new TG4 camera to the test and do a bit of critter hunting.
Before you all start hollering in disbelief, I of course had my time gazing in awe as schools of hammerheads came in to be cleaned by the king angelfish. I, like the rest of our dive group, excitedly snapped away as a whale shark cruised by us at Wolf Island and diving with Mola Mola at Punta Vicente Roca was a dream come true. Yet in between all that action there was a good deal of waiting around holding onto the rocks, so it was easy to spend some time checking out the cute blennies or marveling at the curious hawkfish.
Like most dive sites, if you look hard enough at the reef or rock wall there will always be something of interest to photograph. At Darwin and Wolf islands the blennies were happy to pose and an easy, fascinating distraction whilst waiting for more hammerheads. My favourites were the large banded blennies, due to their gaping mouths and attractive cirri, but also the ability to photograph them in different settings.
Along the reefs wall of Cabo Douglas and Isabella Island amidst black coral bushes and seafans there were dozens of Long-nosed and Falco hawkfish. Now anyone who has ever tried to take a photo of the long-nosed variety will know they are tricky little critters who like to hop and hover about, flitting off just as you got the focus set. But not so with the ones seen in the Galapagos. Perhaps they were unused to divers and flash photography but they seemed happy enough to hang about and pose for me. I experienced the same action again at Cousin’s Rock where 3 of the Falco variety happily stayed in place, turning occasionally to give me a different angle – how very obliging!
Possibly the most odd looking fish to be found during the trip, the Red-lipped batfish is a flattened pancake shaped fish with protruding “lips”, beady eyes and pectoral fins adapted into walking appendages. We found our first ones at Wolf Island, resting down on the sandy seabed at 27-32m. These fish can be approached by divers but you need to be cautious as they can swim pretty fast and tend to head directly to deeper water. Positioning ourselves between the deep and the batfish the photographers among us were able to get some cracking shots. We also discovered that we had seen the lesser known Rosy-lipped batfish too. These can be identified by the small white hairs under their chins! Another one was found at Cabo Douglas too.
Red rock crabs could be found scurrying over the rocks at almost every dive site and were easy to photograph both in and out of the water. But it was during our batfish hunting dive that I managed to spot a tiny shrimp exhibiting symbiosis with its seastar host – admittedly my photo is pretty bad but i was happy to find it in any case. Though the most surprising find was whilst drifting over the sandy reef at Darwin’s Arch. Our guide, JC, spotted two Harlequin shrimp busy tackling their seastar meal. This was totally unexpected; I’ve only seen a few harlies in the Philippines so was in no way anticipating finding any in the Galapagos. I think JC was as surprised as we were!
I read about the possibility of seahorses on the Galapagos Master itinerary, so upon arrival at Cabo Douglas we asked about the opportunity to look for these critters. The majority of us have seen seahorses of many varieties but for one of our group it was a first time experience. We found 2 curled around a coral frond in the shallow water. These pacific seahorses are far larger than their Indo-Pacific cousins and gigantic when compared to the miniscule pygmy seahorses of Raja Ampat.
Aside from these fascinating tiny critters we were able to closely approach both turtles and the Galapagos horn shark for a bit of eye candy, we found numerous lobsters and scorpionfish and it was relatively easy to get up close with the marine iguanas as they were feeding on the algaes. The shallow water with surge and low visibility made photographing them a challenge but certainly everything was possible. The anemones at Punta Vicente Roca also provided colourful macro subjects.
There are so many interesting creatures to see and photograph in the Galapagos Islands that no dive, even if lacking the big fish action, will ever be dull. Consider bringing a macro lens with you and dedicating at least 1 dive to a bit of critter spotting.
Susie took a 10-night trip aboard the Galapagos Master Liveaboard, departing from San Cristobal Island.