Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Sea Lion Hunt

Although sea lions are not unique to The Galapagos, they are really prolific here.

Nearly every beach you come to is crowded with them and at Puerto Villamil they even occupied the sun loungers!

But my most interesting sighting was underwater. 

I was snorkelling in James Bay, on Isabela Island, when we came across a group of five sea lions in a large crevice in the reef.

Looking down, it looked like a roofless cave that ended in a point. The two youngest sea lions waited in the overhangs while the three others corralled their prey, lunging at them and herding them with their fins.

Interestingly they also deliberately blew walls of bubbles to cause confusion.

They drove the fish to the point of the triangular crevice and then caught them once they were trapped against the walls.

The fish were small, only a few inches long, and must have constituted a small snack for the sea lions, the equivalent to a bag of crisps for us.

The hunt caused so much confusion in the water that it took us a while before we noticed that all around us was an unexpectedly high number of onlooking predator fish, including pacific creole, flag cabrilla and young barracudas.

It turned out that these species were all taking advantage of the sea lion hunt and the concentration of small fish being crowded into the cave.

At times the sea lions would come up for air just inches away from us, before quickly diving back down and sometimes they even bumped into one of us. 

Most of the time, however, their movements were precise. One sea lion actually jumped over one of my guests and when another headed towards me, I opened my legs and it swam between them.

We watched spellbound for what seemed like ages and then the sea lions sped off towards the open sea.

I tried keeping pace with them, snorkelling as fast as I could. But they can reach a considerable speed effortlessly. 

Soon they lost me and I watched, frustrated, as they disappeared into the deep blue. It’s funny to think that on land our roles are reversed and they become the clumsy ones.

I noticed them suddenly veer over to the beach where my wife and daughters were playing in the surf and when I caught up with them again I was amazed to see them all swimming around Ruby who was in a yellow inflatable ring. It seems they were just curious about the ring and had stopped their hunt to go and investigate.

It wasn’t long before they began corralling shoals of small fish back towards their underwater trap again and this time I kept pace as they herded their catch a distance of about 150 yards back.

It was easier following them this time as they were so focussed on the fish and I watched as we rounded a rocky corner and the cave came into sight. One sea lion swam ahead to direct the shoal into their trap.

It was fascinating to watch and I was grateful of the opportunity to witness this hunting technique all over again.

My footage of this incredible hunt is on show at my latest exhibition of wildlife paintings at my Thixendale gallery until Sunday July 13th.

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