Darwin and Wolf’s enchanted sharks

14 Feb 23 /

Author: Dennise Arévalo

As a graduation present, my parents fulfilled one of my big dreams: ¡A trip to the Galápagos! During my one-week stay in this paradise I could appreciated and enjoyed each site and the wonderful species that this beautiful place has. One afternoon, when I was swimming on the Tortuga Bay beach, I had my first encounter with baby blacktip shark, which caught my attention and a feeling for this fascinating species was born. Thanks to this trip, I was able to recognize how important it is to conserve and protect nature, and that is why I decided with great emotion to study biology at the university.

Throughout my university career, my focus area was the ecology and conservation of marine and terrestrial species. During university, I loved traveling to the enchanted islands very much and was always looking for a way to return. I was volunteer three times in the marine turtles and marine ecosystems project of the Galapagos National Park Directorate, which I enjoyed in every way.

However, my great dream has always been to be part of the shark ecology project at the Charles Darwin Research Station. I didn’t get tired of dreaming it, until I got it. I am grateful for this opportunity, which has been extremely rewarding for me, both professionally and personally. Each of the activities carried out in the office and in the field have managed to form me as an organized and attentive person. To work as a team and be collaborative at all times and circumstances. Since not everything in life is rosy, there are always challenges at the beginning. At the beginning of the volunteering, the identification of fish and sharks was a bit complex, so much diversity to become familiar with. However, I can now easily identify these species along with their scientific names.

De izquierda a derecha: Alberto Proaño (Guardaparque de la DPNG), yo, Javier Mahuad (buzo del CCR), Ana Victoria Moya (Científica de Tiburones de la FCD), Dr. Pelayo Salinas (Investigador principal del proyecto de tiburones de la FCD), Mikel Goñi (vo
From left to right: Alberto Proaño (GNPD Park Ranger), me, Javier Mahuad (CCR diver), Ana Victoria Moya (CDF Shark Scientist), Dr. Pelayo Salinas de León (CDF shark project PI), Mikel Goñi (CDF Shark project volunteer), Dr Gabriel Vianna (CDF shark project Co-PI). Photo by Capitán Taipe of MY Danubio Azul.

Another of my dreams was to visit Darwin and Wolf, furthest islands to the north of the archipelago, and enjoy the biodiversity that this place harbors. These islands are recognized worldwide as a biodiversity hotspot, since they are home to different unique species of birds such as red-footed and masked boobies, and a great abundance of marine species, but above all sharks. At the end of September 2022, I could fulfill this dream, the shark project team undertook a scientific expedition to Darwin and Wolf islands, to obtain data through the different applied methodologies such as BRUVS (remote video with bait) and DOVS (diver-operated cameras), taking biopsies for genetic studies and stable isotopes, and placing satellite tags to study the movements of hammerhead sharks. During this trip, I had the opportunity to interact with different marine species such as dolphins, fish, and sharks such as blacktip sharks, hammerheads sharks, Galapagos sharks, tiger sharks, and silky sharks. It really was a wonderful experience in this magical place.

Gran hembra de tiburón martillo entrando en una estación de limpieza de peces de arrecife. Foto: Pelayo Salinas de León, FCD..
Large female sacalloped hammerhead shark entering a reef fish cleaning station. Photo by Pelayo Salinas de León, CDF

Previously, I had the opportunity to dive with sharks in the Galapagos; however, it was the first time that I was able to live the experience of swimming with dozens of sharks underwater. These moments will remain in my mind and heart forever!

Sharks are incredible and very important to the marine ecosystem. Thanks to them, the ocean remains healthy and balanced. It is very important to encourage the local population of the islands to conserve these great species, and in turn, continue to protect and care for the Galapagos Marine Reserve. I encourage young people from Galapagos and Ecuador to be part of this great project, and in this way, they can live this pleasant experience with sharks.

Andres Cruz

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