October 04, 2016

Everyone has them…the more profound experiences in your life that seem to stick with you forever. As divers, it’s often the most memorable dive sites or big animal encounters. For me, it wasn’t one particular encounter or even one site, but an entire day that seemed to be more exhilarating with each dive. It was the last day of my second trip to the world renowned Cocos Island. The first 20 days diving around this majestic island were already incredible with more hammerhead and ray encounters than any other place I’d visited.

But this day would surpass anything I’d experienced in my life up to that point. It started at Alcyone. A small school of silky sharks combed the surface at the dive site, circling around the buoy at the descent line. Whitetip reef sharks.As we dropped into the cool morning water, two dolphin escorted us down the line. I had finally seen a cetacean on a dive! It took over 300 hours underwater before I could check that off my list. Descending down the line, two-dozen white-tips slithered with snake-like grace in the middle of the water column, hovering above the thermocline. At depth, we waited patiently at a cleaning station, watching as tentative hammerheads approached with caution while the yellow barberfish scurried to clean the sharks of parasites and dead skin.

Upon surfacing with a large grin and quality photos, I was greeted by a curious manta playing frivolously in the water. We snorkeled with this gentle giant for several minutes before returning to the Sea Hunter.

The second dive was Manuelita Afuera, where we spent 50 minutes hunkered down amongst the barnacles waiting patiently for the droves of hammerhead to arrive out of the blue. One by one, they came from the deep, slowly approaching the barberfish. I shot dozens of pictures as these remarkable sharks came within an arm’s reach time after time.

After my experience at Alcyone and Manuelita Afuera, I would have been thrilled with my last day at Cocos and gladly left with a big smile and fond memories. But the best was yet to come. Hammerhead sharks.Manuelita Inside is the legendary site of the River of Sharks where hundreds of white-tips will comb the sea floor as they follow yellowfin tuna hunting along the sandy bottom. But this time Manuelita Inside was the site of the early afternoon dive- our last at Cocos- and with the sun at its zenith the lighting was ideal.

After just a few minutes on the bottom, I found myself separated from the rest of the group. Growing anxious, I decided to sort out my camera settings and catch up to my dive buddy. Just as I had finished fiddling with the aperture and shutter speed, I looked up to see 10…20…30…40…50 hammerhead appear from the blue. They swarmed past, engulfing me in their school as they moved purposefully through the water. Up to that point, I had seen many hammerheads in Cocos and even witnessed them in numbers, but this was a different experience; for the first time I was part of them, one of the numbers. As the school passed through the area, I watched in awe as the incredible animals swam gracefully overhead, moving on towards their destination. My experience at Cocos was forever changed and I knew it was only a matter of time before I returned to the fabled island to relieve the unforgettable experiences once again.

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