The Galapagos penguin is one of the most iconic species of the Archipelago. It is the third smallest species of penguin and the only species to be found on north of the equator and nest entirely within the tropics. On the surface, penguins swim slowly, half-submerged, but underwater – they fly through the water using their vestigial wings for propulsion.
Many people from all over the world come to Galapagos to try and get a look at one of the iconic species of the Galapagos BIG15 – the famous Galapagos penguin.
From the 20 islands in the archipelago, there are only 2 where these marine birds can be seen: Fernandina and Isabela. During the Western Islands itinerary of the Santa Cruz II Galapagos cruise, the animal that gets everyone the most excited is always the penguin. Nevertheless, as the Galapagos Islands are a completely natural ecosystem (that sometimes rather “capricious”), the presence of Galapagos penguins at visitor sites cannot always be guaranteed. Even getting the magnificent chance to snorkel next to these amazing animals is often a matter of extraordinary luck.
After the briefing that we were given the day before going to Tagus Cove on Isabela Island, everyone’s expectations were notably high. Unsurprisingly, most people signed up for the deep water snorkeling activity.
And when the day finally came to snorkel at Tagus Cove, there was a noticeable level of excitement in the air. After a short hike and panga ride, we all got ready with our snorkeling gear. The best part was that we knew the penguins were around on this day because we had the chance to see a couple of them feeding at our disembarking spot before our hike earlier that morning. As soon as we arrived at our snorkeling area, everyone had the same goal on the mind: find a Galapagos penguin to swim with.
We started swimming and we saw turtles, colorful fishes, but no penguins at first. And after thirty minutes in the water, we were worried after seeing no signals of any penguins close by. The water was pretty cold this day, so some people gave up and went back into their pangas. Then, after 40 minutes in the water, one penguin crossed our sight, swimming at full speed after a school of small dreamfish (otherwise known as salemas)! Not long much after, more penguins started to appear, shocking us completely!
What seemed like penguin after penguin started crossing our path and didn’t have a carein the world with respect to our presence, nearly bumping into us at times! There were over a dozen penguins hunting and feeding right in front of us and no one in our group could believe it!
The Western part of the Galapagos Islands is well known for its productivity. The colder water allows the phytoplankton to bloom and many species survive of this. Colder water means more productivity, and scientists have seen that when the water is below 23 degrees Celsius, penguins tend to feed in large numbers due to its efficiency.
Of course, no one liked the cold water at the beginning, but after the penguins gathered to feed in front of our eyes, everyone was grateful the conditions allowed this spectacle to happen. We were witness of how the penguins work together by chasing the school of fish, circling them to finally trap their precious food with their strong beaks and incredible agility under water.