Trip Reports

Vessel
Sea Hunter
Argo
Undersea Hunter
Year
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© 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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