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© copyright by Photo by: Martin Kappes

© copyright by Undersea Hunter Group
© copyright by Undersea Hunter Group
© copyright by Undersea Hunter Group
Galapagos and tiger sharks were the definitive stars of our last voyage to Cocos Island. We saw enormous Galapagos sharks diving Punta Maria, which circled us CLOSE UP each and every time we went. Everyone worked together flawlessly to increase the probability of these close encounters – it’s extremely important for divers stay on the fringe of this cleaning station’s plateau (rather than right on top of it), or else the sharks might get spooked.

On one of our most unforgettable Punta Maria dives, a manta ray came by at the safety stop and spent several minutes swimming laps and playing with our bubbles. The shark action here reached its peak on the 6th day of the trip, when saw at least 6 different Galapagos sharks at once – plus 2 black tips thrown into the mix.

Even the Cocos Island night dives were packed with an extra jolt of adrenaline. In addition to the usual white tip feeding frenzy along the coral gardens, a huge Galapagos shark came along one night to join the hunt. It tried to nab several white tips for dinner, but failed with each attempt (which was rather fortunate for the white tips).

Although we were an international group of divers, we all became fast friends and at night everyone hung out in the common area sharing photos, videos and crazy stories. The barbeque night was super fun, with everyone dressing up in outlandish wigs and laughing their brains out. On the second to last day we hiked the island from Wafer to Chatham Bay, stopping to bathe in the cool waterfalls and to admire the adorable baby piglets.

Tiger sharks were abundant all week – they just couldn’t get enough of us, and we spotted them on 5 days. Most of the sightings occurred around Manuelita Island and in the Channel, their preferred territory; however the best encounter of all happened at Punta Maria of all places (this was very unexpected, as we don’t typically see tigers at this dive site).

On this unforgettable dive, a massive 4-meter PREGNANT female tiger approached us in a display of sheer curiosity. She gently swam around us, checking everyone out, for roughly 3 minutes before returning to the deep to dwell in the dark awaiting its next meal.

To top off such a spectacular adventure, on the way back to mainland Costa Rica we came across a gorgeous pod of bottle nosed dolphins. This was unquestionably a wonderful trip, and hopefully a sneak peek of what the rest of the season holds in store for divers at Cocos Island.


Dive Conditions
Currents  
mild
strong
Visibility   67 ft / 20 m
Water Temp.   80°F / 27°C
Weather
Climate  
sunny
rainy
Sea  
calm
choppy
Crossings
to Cocos Island  
calm
choppy
to Puntarenas  
calm
choppy

© copyright by Photo by: Kristi Cunningham
© copyright by Photo by: Kristi Cunningham
© copyright by Photo by: Kristi Cunningham
© copyright by Photo by: Kristi Cunningham
Day one started off with a bang for both groups. The blue team was particularly lucky; spotting a 10-foot tiger shark followed by a curious manta ray that circled everyone during the safety stop. The yellow team saw a group of adult blacktip sharks out in the blue.

Dirty Rock was the star divesite of this trip – there we consistently saw dozens of hammerheads milling about. We encountered a few Galapagos sharks at the cleaning station at Punta Maria, but they were rather shy and didn’t venture terribly close to us until Day 5 (when we could practically reach out and touch them). The first night dives of the voyage were spectacular as always, with countless white tips maniacally feeding on the reef.

Day 3 we explored the east side of Cocos Island. Schools of blue and gold snappers, grunts, goat fish and bluefin trevallies flitted about at Submerged Rock. Jumping in at Alcyone, we fell right on top of a massive school of jacks, which enveloped us inside their tornado as we descended. Watching them swirl and spin around us was downright magical. On the way back to the Argo, a pod of playful dolphins followed the boat, racing and jumping in pure dolphin joy.

On the very last day, Cocos gave us the most incredible surprise as we drifted out into the blue at Dirty Rock: an immense CLOUD of hammerheads appeared before our very eyes. Looking skyward, we could see their unmistakable silhouettes squiggling by.

It’s no shock that Cocos is known for attracting schools of hammerheads, but it’s been awhile since we’ve seen a school quite this big. They kept coming and coming and coming... it seemed like the school would never end. This is why we come to Cocos. This is shark diving at its best, and the perfect farewell to the Island.


Dive Conditions
Currents  
mild
strong
Visibility   55 ft / 17 m
Water Temp.   79°F / 26°C
Weather
Climate  
sunny
rainy
Sea  
calm
choppy
Crossings
to Cocos Island  
calm
choppy
to Puntarenas  
calm
choppy
© copyright by Photo by: Edwar Herreño

© copyright by Undersea Hunter Group
© copyright by Photo by Martin Kappes
© copyright by Undersea Hunter Group
© copyright by Undersea Hunter
Manuelita was hot right off the bat this trip – on Day 1 we were lucky enough to see a huge school of 50+ hammerheads out in the blue. Day 2 we awoke to heavy rain (perhaps nothing on the planet is more refreshing than a good Cocos Island downpour). Diving Punta Maria and Dirty Rock, we saw lots of blacktips and Galapagos sharks at these cleaning stations. To everyone’s delight, upon backrolling in at Dirty Rock we pretty much descended right on top of a giant school of hammerheads. The school was easily as large as yesterday’s – but today we got to see them up close and personal.

The waters were warm this voyage, with almost no current – meaning the apex predators mostly swam at depths of at least 30 meters. The best cleaning station action we found was at Small Dos Amigos, where a steady stream of hammerheads filed in to be cleansed of parasites by king angelfish and barberfish. This string of hammerheads was interrupted only by a pair of blacktips and a lonely Galapagos that came by for a bath.

The second-to-last night dive was as spectacular as always, but this time we were graced with the presence of a HUGE female Galapagos shark. It was at least 3 meters long and swam directly at the divemaster. The group froze, waiting to see what would happen, but the shark turned at the last minute and swam on. The shark circled the group at least 3 more times during the dive – an experience that turns out to be exponentially more thrilling at night than it is during the day.

Those of us on the Blue Team had the honor of witnessing the highlight of the trip – a bait ball. We were diving near Punta Maria, and some debris had drifted towards us. The debris had attracted a ball of small pelagic fish, which in turn attracted a mixture of 50+ silky and Galapagos sharks to feast upon them (not to mention the countless hunting brown boobies diving into the action from the surface). We watched the massacre for a full half hour. When it was all over, after boarding the skiff, we gazed in wonder as a mother dolphin and her tiny baby scouted the area for the sharks’ leftovers. Talk about a once-in-a-lifetime experience.




Dive Conditions
Currents  
mild
strong
Visibility   46 ft / 14 m
Water Temp.   80°F / 27°C
Weather
Climate  
sunny
rainy
Sea  
calm
choppy
Crossings
to Cocos Island  
calm
choppy
to Puntarenas  
calm
choppy
© copyright by Photo by: Edwar Herreño

© copyright by Undersea Hunter Group
© copyright by Edwar Herreño
© copyright by Undersea Hunter Group
© copyright by Edwar Herreño
© copyright by Undersea Hunter Group
This special expedition was as clearly defined by Cocos Island’s epic marine life as it was by the honorable ocean conservationists on board.

Led by world-famous marine biologist Dr. Sylvia Earle, the MV Argo departed for Cocos Island filled with dedicated environmentalists, all with one priority in mind: to save the world’s oceans from overfishing and destruction.

Filmographers and creative talents from Mission Blue, which just aired a film on Netflix, were eager to make movie history. Dr. Jorge Cortes of the University of Costa Rica was geared up to continue his crucial ongoing research. Actor and star of HBO’s Entourage Adrian Grenier was pumped to use his celebrity to draw attention to the cause. Record-holding freediver Hanli Prinsloo came along to represent her conservation organization, I AM WATER, as did model/marine biologist/free diver Ocean Ramsey for her group Water Inspired. Not to namedrop or anything – but Shark Angel Julie Andersen, producer Nicolas Ibarguen, Shari Sant Plummer and Bloomberg's Stephanie Ruhle were a few other star personalities on board.

The crossing was calm, and a pod of curious dolphins came to greet the Argo as we approached Cocos Island. After a tranquil check-out dive we were granted our first glimpses of tiger sharks and hammerheads at Manuelita, and the night dive at the coral garden was packed with white tip hunting action. Diving the west side of the island, we had run-ins with more hammerheads and some huge Galapagos sharks. Hanli Prinsloo free dove through the famous arch at Dos Amigos Grande – 70 feet at the top and 110 feet at its sandy bottom.

The most unforgettable dives, however, were the bait balls. Yes, that’s baitball with an “s.” As in plural baitballs. Huge quantities of apex predators like silky sharks, black tips and Galapagos sharks swam alongside yellowfin tuna (and the occasional dolphin passersby) – all of which materialized before us on several ascents. These skilled hunters deftly attacked the bait ball made of small unfortunate fish in an uncontrollable feeding frenzy, boldly claiming their stakes in the feast.

However this journey wasn’t only about the world-class diving and incredible marine beauty typical to Cocos Island. It was also about saving the ocean, and bringing news of this pristine volcanic seamount to the media. We took lots of time to visit the national park rangers, interviewing them about illegal fishing and the island’s precious resources. We even went along for an island patrol.

The crossing back to Costa Rica’s mainland was smooth. We took advantage of the downtime to enjoy presentations by Dr. Sylvia Earle, as well as to watch several documentaries featuring her incredible work and contributions to ocean science. The perfect way to end a perfect trip.





Dive Conditions
Currents  
mild
strong
Visibility   80 ft / 24 m
Water Temp.   54°F / 12°C
Weather
Climate  
sunny
rainy
Sea  
calm
choppy
Crossings
to Cocos Island  
calm
choppy
to Puntarenas  
calm
choppy
© copyright by Photo by: Edwar Herreño

© copyright by Photo by: Edwar Herreño
© copyright by Undersea Hunter Group
© copyright by Photo by: Edwar Herreño
After a quiet crossing, we arrived to favorable weather and surface conditions at Cocos Island. We dove with some impressive Galapagos sharks at Punta Maria, and saw some hammerheads at Dirty Rock – but they were deep and the diving was slow for the first few dives of the trip. Visibility and currents were changing quickly from minute to minute and hour to hour, always keeping us on our toes. In the beginning it was difficult to find the action – but when we found it, boy did we find it.

Near Alcyone, our dive guide spotted what looked like some decent shark action. We called the other team to join us, and lo and behold the moment we jumped in a baitball materialized before our very eyes.

And this wasn’t just any old baitball. This was the mother lode of all baitballs. An unimaginably intense baitball with ENORMOUS Galapagos sharks that swam extremely close to us – too close for comfort for some of the divers’ liking. Black tip sharks darted in and out of the swarming ball of fish, alongside yellowfin tunas and even a few silky sharks competing for a piece of the suspense. However, what made this baitball truly unbelievable was the grand finale – when a whale shark passed directly in the middle of it, mouth agape! At first some of us thought it seemed it had come to feed, but we quickly remembered that whale sharks only eat phytoplankton, algae, krill and other small critters. It was passing by to nab a remora or two for a good scrub down.

Everyone on the boat glowed from this experience for the rest of the trip. Scratch that. We’ll all be glowing from this experience for the rest of our LIVES. Perhaps our cruise director Edwar Herreño (who has worked as a dive guide with the Undersea Hunter for 10+ years) said it best: “Just when you think you’ve seen everything at Cocos Island, the island gives you something brand new that you could never imagine. This is the magic of this place.”

Video coming soon!

Dive Conditions
Currents  
mild
strong
Visibility   76 ft / 23 m
Water Temp.   78°F / 26°C
Weather
Climate  
sunny
rainy
Sea  
calm
choppy
Crossings
to Cocos Island  
calm
choppy
to Puntarenas  
calm
choppy
After a smooth and uneventful crossing, we were greeted by surprisingly strong currents at Cocos Island. Nevertheless, we were thrilled to encounter not one, but TWO tiger sharks on our very first day diving Manuelita.

By Day 2 the current had calmed down, and we saw lots of good shark action near the pinnacle at Punta Maria. The first night dive was charged with excitement, as an extraordinary number of white tip reef sharks scoured the coral gardens looking for dinner.

Exploring the east side of the island on Day 3 was gorgeous, as always. Submerged Rock was especially vibrant as it overflowed with blue and gold snapper, goat fish and bluefin trevallies. The deep waters of Alcyone were rather quiet on our first dive there, but a curious green sea turtle circling around us (along with an immense school of jacks) kept everyone intrigued.

By Day 4, conditions became even more calm – and they stayed that way for the rest of the journey. The hammerhead action at Dirty Rock really started to pick up, and then we saw a stunning formation of about 30 hammerheads at Manuelita Outside as we drifted into the blue. On our last day of diving, the island said “adios” by treating us to an awesome school of hammerheads at Alcyone followed by two unforgettable encounters with tiger sharks in the channel.
© copyright by Photo by Martin Kappes
Whitetips hunting by Martin Kappes
© copyright by Undersea Hunter Group
Cocos bursting with life by Avi Klapfer

© copyright by Photo by Martin Kappes
Galapagos shark by Martin Kappes


Dive Conditions
Currents  
mild
strong
Visibility   60 ft / 18 m
Water Temp.   82°F / 28°C
Weather
Climate  
sunny
rainy
Sea  
calm
choppy
Crossings
to Cocos Island  
calm
choppy
to Puntarenas  
calm
choppy
© copyright by Undersea Hunter Group
© copyright by Undersea Hunter Group
© copyright by Undersea Hunter Group
© copyright by Undersea Hunter Group
Seven days of hardcore diving – interspersed with shark and turtle tagging for research and marine conservation groups – sounds like a good time for any ocean lover. But nobody does Cocos Island like this fun-loving group from PRETOMA and the Turtle Island Restoration Network.

Six languages were spoken on the Argo last week, as the ship was filled with international researchers from the US, Costa Rica, Lebanon, France, Germany and Italy. The crossing was smooth and sunny, and conditions were gorgeous when we arrived to the island.

Our very first dives at Manuelita were unforgettable – mostly thanks to several close-up encounters with curious tiger sharks. The second day at the island, a swell brought some big waves and fresh life to the area. We explored the west side of Cocos Island and the huge schools of bluefin trevallies and jacks at Punta Maria and Dirty Rock.

The next day, we observed some hammerheads at Dirty Rock along with a gorgeous black tip, eagle rays and several species of cleaner fish. Submerged Rock was bursting with color and packed with biodiversity, as usual, and Dos Amigos proved to be a gathering place for Galapagos sharks and a giant playful manta.

Day 5 was another manta-filled day, as we spotted another enormous specimen at Shark Fin. The manta was super curious, and approached the group several times to check us out. We tore ourselves away from the action to explore the island in the afternoon, and luckily the sunny weather held out for our hike.

Perhaps the most memorable dive was when 5 gorgeous adult silvertip sharks decided to circle us at about 15 feet. Talk about an exhilarating safety stop.

I'll close this trip report with an update straight from Todd Steiner, executive director of the Turtle Island Restoration Network:

"We captured and replaced a satellite transmitter on “Georgina,” a hawksbill turtle we first tagged 4 years ago. We are collecting important information on growth rates for this species, which are generally unknown. We also placed an acoustic tag on a Galapagos shark.

We retrieved information from our 7 acoustic receivers located around the island. In the past two months, we received 8009 detections that included evidence that four green turtles, 2 hammerheads, 1 tiger shark and 1 Galapagos shark that we had previously tagged were still at Cocos.

As always, the Undersea Hunter Group crew were fabulous at taking care of our diving and research needs, assuring our safety and keeping us well fed."

Dive Conditions
Currents  
mild
strong
Visibility   55 ft / 17 m
Water Temp.   81°F / 27°C
Weather
Climate  
sunny
rainy
Sea  
calm
choppy
Crossings
to Cocos Island  
calm
choppy
to Puntarenas  
calm
choppy
© copyright by Tamarindo Family Photos www.tamarindofamilyphotos.com
© copyright by Undersea Hunter Group
© copyright by Tamarindo Family Photos
© copyright by Tamarindo Family Photos
© copyright by Undersea Hunter Group
The 4-meter tiger shark came so close that I was certain it was going to bump into me. All I could do was hold my breath and wait, trying not to let my heart beat out of my chest. Time seemed to stop, and all that was left in the universe was me and that tiger. Yes, this is what I came here for: sharks. I guess I just didn’t expect to find such an extreme brush with one of the most aggressive predators on the planet on my very first dive of the trip.

Welcome to Cocos Island.

But let’s start from the beginning: the crossing. The crossing was smooth, with several visits from both bottlenose and spinner dolphins. I finally understand what people mean when they say “spinner dolphins.” The dolphins spin sideways in more of a roll than a spin (they should really call them rolling pin dolphins). Thanks to the bright moon we watched them jump and play and dance and best of all – spin – alongside the bow of the ship. We cheered when one would jump, which prompted the next one to leap. They squeaked and chirped in response to our encouragement. What a perfect way to start our journey to Cocos Island.


After that first close encounter with the tiger shark at Manuelita, Punta Maria was the next hottest dive site this trip. The enormous Galapagos sharks there were anything but shy. About 3 minutes after we hit the bottom, the Galapagos started circling us from both in front and behind – some coming EXTREMELY CLOSE. This delighted the many photographers on our team, who came from Germany for an underwater photo safari. Four, five, then six Galapagos all crisscrossed paths underwater as we watched, took pictures and video. Fine spotted moray eels swam out in the open, like fish.

Day 5, we tried to visit Submerged Rock on the east side of the island, but there was too much current so we headed back to Manuelita Outside. The current there was very strong with waves slamming against the rocks, and the captain was hesitant to drop us there. But Edwar, with 10 years of experience on the island, knew the current would be OK once we descended to the bottom. Just in case, we sent Giovanni (the dive guide in training) ahead as the guinea pig.

After scoping out the conditions and assuring they were safe, we dropped down on top of a couple of hammerheads at the bottom. A sting ray, a couple of big tunas, and HUGE Tiger shark passed by – so big that at first I thought it was a whale shark by the way it slowly ambled through the water.

As we ascended to about 60 feet, I saw a school of what I thought were jacks glittering out in the distance. I adore jacks, so I swam closer. All of the sudden I realized they weren’t jacks at all – this was a wall of hundreds and hundreds of hammerhead sharks. I simply can’t believe fish that big school in numbers so large. They just kept coming, and coming and coming…in droves. They’d disappear for 30 seconds and then return again. The wall was so thick I couldn’t see through it to the other side. If you’ve never seen a wall of hammerheads, breathtaking is the only word to describe it.

Dirty Rock also proved to have some good shark action. My favorite dive there started when we heard dolphins squeaking in the distance. A tuna darted in and out of a big school of jacks, so we knew we were in for a show. All of the sudden I saw a big playful dolphin swim right past me, immediately followed by a muscular black tip reef shark, and then a huge Galapagos with several black jacks in tow. Back at the surface, a gorgeous rainbow awaited us just before dinner.

The night dives at Manuelita were spectacular, as usual, with a bit of a surprise visit one night from an enormous Galapagos shark. Usually white tips have the run of the reef at night, but on this occasion the Galapagos arrived about halfway through the dive and tried to nab itself a white tip for dinner. Luckily for the white tip, the Galapagos missed its target – however the bigger shark’s presence spooked pretty much all of the smaller white tips. The Galapagos spent the rest of the dive swimming circles around us, looking for white tip prey. We felt lucky to witness such unusual shark behavior.

The last day, the sun was shining so we kayaked from the Sea Hunter ship to Chatham bay – which took about 7 minutes of leisurely paddling. Gliding over the reef, the water was so clear we could see at least 100 feet down to the bottom. We drifted ashore and visited a waterfall, then we climbed over rocks etched with historical names – like the infamous pirate Captain Morgan and revered underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau. My favorite part of the island jaunt was watching the adorable little baby black tip sharks surfing the teeny tiny shallow-water waves in the bay.

The crossing on the way home was easy, with water so smooth it seemed unreal – the ocean undulated like a vat of poured oil. Since we were running ahead of schedule, we stopped on the way home for a quick swim in the clean, crystal-clear sea: a truly perfect end to a perfect trip.

Video trip report by Mau:







Dive Conditions
Currents  
mild
strong
Visibility   78 ft / 24 m
Water Temp.   78°F / 26°C
Weather
Climate  
sunny
rainy
Sea  
calm
choppy
Crossings
to Cocos Island  
calm
choppy
to Puntarenas  
calm
choppy
© copyright by Undersea Hunter Group
© copyright by Undersea Hunter Group
© copyright by Undersea Hunter Group
Bait balls are basically the holy grail of scuba diving. Jacks and other schooling fish swarm together in a doomed attempt to fool larger predators into thinking they are collectively bigger and more dangerous than everything else in the ocean. Who wouldn’t want to witness that kind of turbocharged underwater activity?

The impressive bait ball we stumbled upon on day 5 was definitely the highlight of this trip. We stared, dumbstruck, as dolphins, Galapagos sharks, white tips, black tips, tigers and massive tuna darted in and out of a huge sphere of schooling fish that had suddenly materialized before our very eyes. Turtles, marbled rays, eagle rays and mobulas turned up to add to the show.

Visibility was incredible pretty much the entire voyage, and we saw 6 different species of shark. Although we came across tiger sharks on multiple dives, each encounter was just as exciting as the next. The 3-meter long adult silvertip we glimpsed on one of the night dives was particularly special, as we have not seen an adult of this species at Cocos Island for quite some time.

Currents were unusually strong for most of the trip, but it only added to the excitement and adventure (not to mention that strong currents equal happy sharks and other pelagic predators). One of the more rough days we took a break from the current to hike the island all the way from Wafer to Chatham Bay. The views were gorgeous, and we saw curious pigs, deer and rats en route (all of which were originally brought to the island centuries ago by pirates). All in all, it was an unforgettable voyage.

Dive Conditions
Currents  
mild
strong
Visibility   58 ft / 18 m
Water Temp.   80°F / 27°C
Weather
Climate  
sunny
rainy
Sea  
calm
choppy
Crossings
to Cocos Island  
calm
choppy
to Puntarenas  
calm
choppy
© copyright by Undersea Hunter Group
© copyright by Undersea Hunter Group
© copyright by Undersea Hunter Group
This very first trip of 2015 on the Sea Hunter set an excellent precedent for the rest of the year. The Manuelita Coral Gardens and Dirty Rock were by far the hottest dive sites this time around; we spotted tiger sharks at the coral gardens and in the channel, plus huge schools of hammerheads and big-eye jacks out in the blue at Roca Sucia. The night dives were turbocharged, with hundreds of whitetips swarming the rocks and competing with each other over the same unfortunate prey.

On the hike from Wafer Bay to Chatham, we marveled at several unforgettable views of the island from the lookout points at the highest sections of the trail. Our group got up close and personal with some curious island pigs that stopped by to inspect us. These friendly pigs were brought here centuries ago by pirates that used Cocos as a place to regroup after pillaging -- and also as an ideal spot to hide their stolen booty. They wanted a relatively quick meat source that would be easy to hunt down and cook when they tired of eating fish (who wouldn’t get sick of eating fish when you live on the ocean 24-7?). The only other viable sustenance on the island were brown booby birds, which are comparatively difficult to catch and don’t make for very good eating.

The crossings both there and back were smooth and uneventful, and everyone enjoyed the downtime to relax and watch movies about Cocos Island. On the way home, we all compared stories, photos and underwater footage.

Dive Conditions
Currents  
mild
strong
Visibility   47 ft / 14 m
Water Temp.   84°F / 29°C
Weather
Climate  
sunny
rainy
Sea  
calm
choppy
Crossings
to Cocos Island  
calm
choppy
to Puntarenas  
calm
choppy
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