If you are looking for the ultimate shark destination, then Darwin and Wolf islands in the Galápagos Islands may be the perfect place. There are more sharks here than anywhere else in the world.
The Galápagos Islands may be the most remote populated area in the world. A province of Ecuador, the volcanic archipelago has a population of about 25,000 people and lies about 1,000 km off mainland Ecuador’s coast. This isolation leads to the development of plant and animal life that in many cases are found only in the islands. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was inspired by his observation of Galápagos’ species when he visited in 1835.
There are 18 major islands in the archipelago and a few small ones. Only four of the islands are populated: Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Isabela, and Floreana. A fifth island, Baltra, has a small military base. All the remaining islands, as well as the unpopulated portions of the four islands, are a national park.
Wolf Island and Darwin Island are at the far north portion of the Galápagos archipelago. Wolf Island and Darwin Island are two islands of the Wolf-Darwin Lineament, which has other peaks that do not reach the surface. The islands are about 25 miles (ca. 40 kilometers) apart. Wolf Island is closer to the central islands which are over 190 miles (ca. 306 kilometers) away.
Sharks Tonnes of Them
In fact, over 12 tonnes per hectare. A multi-year study released in 2016 examined seven locations around the two islands. The paper named “Largest global shark biomass found in the northern Galápagos Islands of Darwin and Wolf” showed that the average biomass was 17.4t per hectare (about 2 acres) of that 75% were sharks. (The definition of biomass used is the mass of all species in a specified area). Studies of Cocos Island National Park of Costa Rica show they have the second largest biomass however it is half the biomass of the far north Galápagos archipelago. The highly revered Great Barrier Reef has an average of .7t per hectare.
“Probably one of the most spectacular and significant marine ecosystems that we have on the planet”. Pelayo Salinas de León, a senior marine scientist with the Charles Darwin Foundation talking about the Galapagos National Park.
The paper was from a study done by the Charles Darwin Foundation to gather data to support an expansion of marine protection around the Galápagos Islands. On March 21, 2016, Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa announced additional steps to protect the Galapagos Islands. The Galápagos Islands Marine Sanctuary was announced, a program that modified the existing zones of the Galápagos Marine Reserve (GMR) to create marine sanctuaries. In total about 1/3 of the GMR have been turned into 22 Marine Protected areas with no takes allowed. These have been named sanctuaries and there is no fishing nor are resources allowed to be mined or harvested.
The northern Galápagos islands of Darwin and Wolf has been destination part of the Marine Sanctuary. Some 15,000 square miles (40,000 square kilometers) of surrounding waters are also included. Navy patrols have been increased and a floating ranger station expanded.
Diving the North Galápagos Islands
The only way to dive the northern islands is by liveaboards. Both islands are uninhabited and are restricted, visitors are not allowed to enter the islands. Even the park rangers live on the water. The Galápagos Islands host over 50 liveaboards, however, only 8 offer scuba diving to the northern islands. Most of the dive itineraries are seven-night, however, there are a few longer ones. San Cristobal and Baltra have international airports. It is important when making flight reservations that you select the correct airport for your liveaboard departure. There is no easy transfer or connection between the two airports.
You will meet your liveaboard and generally depart for a check out dive. These are normally close to the departure point so there is a possibility that if you have an equipment failure, it could be addressed before ruining your dive trip. This is also the time to zero in on your weights. Depending on where you are departing from San Cristobal or Baltra and the liveaboard’s cruising speed, it can be a 20 to 24 hour sailing to Wolf Island. The most liveaboard will split the trip in half with a day of diving on the way.
Generally, you will have between 16 and 20 dives for the week. The number of days and dives at the north islands will depend on the itinerary. Some itineraries only allow 2 and a half days with 6 dives. You will find that most of the trips will have three of four days with up to 16 dives including a night dive. Of course, the number of dives you can do in a day will depend on your dive profile and your fitness.
The trip back may have only one dive stop and morning dives. This is so that you have enough time to meet your no-fly time before leaving the islands.
The Dive Sites
The National Park Service controls the itineraries of the dive boats. The timing is staggered so that the 8 dive boats are not at the same location at the same time. Also, not all 8 liveaboards operate year-round. Generally, only one dive boat will be at a site at a time.
The number of dive sites between the two islands is small. However, the limited choices do not mean a limited experience.
The Arch just off Darwin Island is the most icon dive site, one that many consider the best dive site in the world. The Arch is a lava formation that sits about 50 feet (ca. 15 meters) above the surface. Under the Arch is a rock table in about 20 feet (ca. 6 m) of water. While listed as one dive site, where you start and the direction you follow will give you three different experiences. Depending on your reference, you may see one, two or even three names for the different portions of the site.
- El Arco is the south side of the platform and is under the arch. Divers dropping here will find a sandy floor in about 20 feet (ca. 6 meters) of water. After a final equipment check and adjustments, divers can explore nearby mini walls that drop to 70 feet (ca. 21 meters).
- The Theater is on the east side of the arch. Divers here drop to a ledge at 30 feet (ca. 9 meters), then head further down to a shelf at 55 feet (ca. 17 meters). Divers can position themselves, so they can look out to the deeper water beyond. The current varies here. When the current is strong, this site becomes an outstanding drift dive.
- El Arenal is the drop point on the north side of the arch. This area is also called the driveway or sandy area. It is a sandy slope down to deeper water. There is normally a strong current across it. Hammerheads and other apex predators are found here. There are also a number of cleaning stations.
Wolf Island has a few more dive sites than Darwin does, with six primary sites. The position of the sites around different points of the island leads to a range of conditions. As with the Darwin sites, the Wolf sites are for experienced divers.
- Shark Bay: While sharks are seen in large numbers at all the dive sites, this site normally has the most hammerheads. Schools are often found around 75 feet.
Landslide: This popular side has a number of large boulders giving the impression of a landslide. The site starts at 30 feet (ca. 9 meters) and slopes deeper. Known for tunas, turtles Galapagos sharks and schooling hammerhead sharks.
- Pinnacle: Located on the Northeast corner of Wolf, the Pinnacle and Caves are located near each other and can be done together as a drift dive. The depth range of 20 feet (ca. 6 meters) to 120 feet (ca. 37 meters) with visibility averaging 40 feet (ca. 12 meters) to 70 feet (ca. 21 meters). The current can be heavy with sudden changes and vertical currents.
- The Caves: The dive site shows a series of marine caverns created by wave erosion and an underwater pinnacle. Current here is moderate but will get stronger closer to the Pinnacle site.
- North Islet/La Banana: Located at the north side of Wolf Island. It is a vertical wall dive with tunnels, caverns, and a pinnacle. The depth range is 30feet (ca. 9 meters) to 120 feet (ca. 37 meters) with a moderate to heavy current.
- Elephant: Located in the Southwest corner of Wolf Island. This is a wall dive with a strong current. The depth ranges 20 feet (ca. 6 meters) to 130 feet (ca. 40 meters) and visibility averages 30 feet (ca. 9 meters) to 80 feet (ca. 24 meters)
Anchorage: Located at the West leeward side of Wolf Island. The site has little or no current and a Depth to about 70 feet (ca. 21 meters).
The trip to these far-reaching islands may be time-consuming, they are the best sites for sharks.