On February 8, Oceana and National Geographic launched an expedition to explore the waters off of the remote Desventuradas Islands more than 500 miles off the coast of Chile. By documenting marine life and habitat the team hopes to persuade the Chilean government to protect more than 60,000 miles surroundinig this archipelago. Below is an expedition journal entry from Enric Sala, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. Click here to view all Desventuradas Expedition blog posts on National Geographic's Explorers Journal.
19 February 2013
When we think of predators, our minds often picture large animals with sharp teeth and scary faces, animals that have evolved just to kill humans. Our collective memory makes us fearful of the night, and almost everyone has been startled by unknown noises in a dark forest. This fear has been engraved in our collective unconscious like carvings in a rock. When it comes to the ocean, many people still fear sharks (despite repeated evidence that sharks are the ones who should be scared of us) or deep alien creatures that hide in the darkness to attack unexpectedly.
The top predator at the Desventuradas is not the typical reef shark, or a grouper with a huge mouth able to swallow a diver. It is not a fearsome animal that kills at night either. The largest predator here is the Juan Fernández sea lion (Arctocephalus philippi), the cutest carnivore we have found in any of our Pristine Seas Expeditions to date. They spend much of the day hanging out on rocky platforms near the water. When we approach them, it’s like someone brought free candy to a school. The sea lions raise their heads, get indeed very excited, and drag their fat bellies from rock to rock until they jump in the water.
The Juan Fernández sea lion is the cutest carnivore we have found in any of our Pristine Expeditions to date. (Photo by Enric Sala)
Underwater, the sea lions become torpedoes of enormous grace and elegance. Their eyes are large as a Japanese cartoon character’s, and their looks pierce us as they swim very fast between us divers. After playing with our bubbles and checking us out very closely, they just hang out, their backsides on the surface and their heads hanging down like bats.
Earlier this year, Oceana and National Geographic completed an expedition to Sala y Gómez Island, an uninhabited Chilean island near Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean.
It was a follow-up to our first journey in October 2010, which was instrumental in the creation of a no-take marine reserve of 150,000 square kilometers around the island. Sala y Gómez is part of a chain of seamounts that are vulnerable to fishing activity.
And after months of patiently waiting, we now get to see some of the biodiversity that our colleagues discovered on their expeditions. NatGeo is releasing a documentary about Sala y Gómez, featuring Oceana campaigners as well as Dr. Enric Sala, marine ecologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, who has called Sala y Gómez “one of the last undisturbed and relatively pristine places left in the ocean.
Check out the trailer:
The dive team glimpses 15 Galapagos sharks and scads of slipper lobsters – and that’s just in this three-minute clip! You can catch the full documentary on January 19th at 8 pm on NatGeo WILD.