Memories From Malpelo

After receiving the news of yesterday’s massacre of as many as 2,000 sharks at Malpelo, a World Heritage Site off the coast of Colombia, Guy Harvey Magazine Editor-in-Chief Fred Garth was moved to write about his experience diving with the island’s resident hammerheads and whale sharks during a photographic expedition 10 year ago.

Most scuba divers never have the chance to swim with a whale shark. For me, I’d been diving for 20 years before I saw my first one. I was at Cocos Island – 350 miles off of Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast – when this giant puppy dog of the sea cruised by. My dive buddy and I spent 30 magical minutes gliding with her.

A few years later, I led a photographic expedition to Malpelo Island, a foreboding rock that juts out of the ocean offshore of Columbia. We were there to photography schooling hammerhead sharks for a magazine article. Malpelo is notorious for horrible currents, gut-wrenching swells, and nowhere to anchor a boat. There is no harbor; just sheer cliff faces that rise out of crushing waves. It’s like the Everest of diving. People die there.

But King Neptune smiled on us. We cruised in on glassy seas, zero current, and blue skies. Strange but true. On the very first dive, we had two whale sharks mingling with us. Then two more visited on the next dive. And so it went for three days: One, two, or three whale sharks on every dive. Strange again, but true again. Nobody cared about searching for hammerheads. We had our cake and ice cream, who needed a milkshake? Eventually we moved locations and found hundreds if not thousands of hammers schooling and showing off their impressively muscular torsos and wicked-weird heads. We got more pictures than we could publish.

But it was diving with whale sharks that was awe-inspiring. These friendly Goliaths grow as large as 40-feet long and seem to genuinely enjoy hanging around divers. We had strict rules against touching or riding them, although it would have been easy to do so. We only took pictures and they stayed until our bottom time ran out.

Tragically, shark fishermen have been targeting Malpelo even though it’s a wildlife sanctuary. It was just reported that 2,000 hammerhead, Galapagos and silky sharks were slaughtered there a few days ago all for money tied to Asia’s insatiable appetite for shark fin soup. They hack off the fins and throw the shark overboard to die. All for a bowl of soup. Tragic.

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