We saw flocks of penguins feeding. The little birds “flew” in groups through clouds of very tiny reddish fish to catch their meals, using their front flippers to power them along. In between they would surface to rest inches away from surprised snorkelers, before rejoining the flock again. While flightless cormorants may resemble skinny ducks when they’re on shore, underwater they barely look like birds. They stretch out their necks and bodies, vestigial wings tucked tight to their sides, and use their webbed feet to kick this long, narrow shape efficiently through the water. They dove down to about 30 feet below the surface (though their limit is around 80 feet), shoals of the black and white fish opening 3-foot passageways to let them through as they hunted among the rocky underwater crags. They’re so strangely constructed they hardly look real, more like puppets without strings than actual functioning organisms as they stretch and swim below the water, until they finally shoot to the surface and again take the form of long-necked sea birds, like the penguins completely unconcerned about surfacing and floating right next to humans. We had a few hours to sail before arriving at Fernandina Island for our final hike. We met on the top deck where we were served another excellent lunch as we watched the island landscapes slide by as we sailed.

©Charles “Shay” Brantigan

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