It was quite a moment to be swimming that close to such a beautiful wild creature. Later that day we took an early-evening Zodiac tour around the cliffs. We saw incredible raw landscapes (including “The Bishop” a towering rock formation that resembles a praying clergyman), and saw lots of blue-footed boobies, black-and-white Nazca boobies, and other seabirds on the cliffs. But the highlight by far was the flock of shearwaters in a feeding frenzy on a school of small fish. Twenty or thirty strong, the birds took off from the water, gathering together as they flew in a great sweeping arc covering more than a quarter-mile, more joining their mission along the way. As they flew they organized, gained speed, and all suddenly dived together into an area smaller than half a tennis court, rocketing down into the water above their prey and with synchronous explosive splashes. There would be a brief pause while they swallowed their catch, then they would take off, gather again, repeating the same behavior over and over again while we watched and took pictures and video as the sun set.

Buccaneer’s Cove (James Island)

We anchored off of Buccaneer’s Cove for our deep-water snorkel or glass-bottomed-boat option. Each snorkel location was carefully selected to showcase a subtly-different environment. Here we snorkeled close to sheer cliffs, rising directly out of sea. As soon as we were out of the Zodiac, we were looking down at giant basalt blocks that had fallen from the cliff face, regular rectangular shapes easily 50 feet on a side. One highlight was swimming between rocks where they formed a sheltered underwater chamber to suddenly be among 10,000 fish, at all levels of the water and in all directions. Huge shoals of smaller, less-colorful varieties were punctuated by brightly-colored reef fish, and it felt like being transported to an animated movie. While conditions started out great with perfect visibility, as I proceeded along the edge of the cliffs there was more shade and it became harder to see. I turned to go back toward the Zodiac, thinking I had seen everything this location had to offer when I looked to see a sea lion swimming four feet away. I think we surprised each other, hovered together in the water for a moment, and then he swam away.

©Stephanie Scheffler

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