Behind the Lens: On Bartolomé Island, the Grace of Whitetip Reef Sharks

Bartolomé Island in the Galápagos is a natural marvel with its striking Pinnacle Rock formation jutting out of turquoise waters and a plethora of fascinating marine species swimming around its shorelines.

Hiking and snorkeling are some of the best ways to absorb the magnificent sights of Bartolomé Island and to appreciate the conservation efforts in the Galápagos Islands. When on the water, one might also see some residents that have both grace and beauty in equal measure: whitetip reef sharks.

“Bartolomé is a beautiful island,” says Silversea expedition filmmaker David Padilla. “We do a hike first [here], climbing to the top to get that amazing view, and afterwards we go and snorkel. It’s such a great place to snorkel — one of my favorites, as it’s not that deep, but you get to see a lot of things.”

Staying calm in the water with sharks

David is very familiar with this location and has spent a lot of time with whitetip reef sharks. Over time, he has become accustomed to their behavior, despite his initial trepidation.

“I remember the first time I saw whitetip reef sharks,” he says. “I saw around four of them at the same time and got really scared because I didn’t know how sharks behave with humans. I told this to a naturalist friend of mine, and he told me not to worry — that sharks are very curious, so just respect their space, and they will respect you. It took me a while to get a hold of this, but now I’ve had so many shark encounters, and not once have I felt in danger.”

A whitetip reef shark, as seen off Bartolomé Island./David Padilla

The first time that he captured footage of the whitetip reef sharks — which were around two and a half meters long — was a sublime experience for David. By keeping a relaxed and gentle approach in the water, he was eye to eye with them, and was able to document a snapshot of their world and their inquisitive nature while they swam around him.

“These sharks are different from other sharks, because they have the ability to rest in a static position on the ground. I started filming them individually — keeping my distance, slowing my movements and being really calm about it — because the sharks get scared really easily,” he says.

“They started being very curious and after a while, all the sharks started swimming around me. All the shots that I got from them were amazing and it was beautiful. I strongly believe that sharks are a little bit like dogs — very playful, very curious — but normally they don’t feel that comfortable around humans because we don’t know how to behave around them.”

Want to see whitetip reef sharks and the other marvels of Bartolomé Island? Check out SIlversea’s cruises to the Galápagos Islands, and consider the different ways to pick the right Galápagos cruise for you.