Behind the Lens: Swimming with Curious Cormorants in Galápagos

The seahorse-shaped island of Isabela in the Galápagos is home to a unique marine ecosystem and wildlife encounters that travelers cannot experience anywhere else on Earth.

Just one of the endemic species is the flightless cormorant – a bird which rather unusually has lost the use of its wings, but instead boasts exceptional underwater capabilities. These extraordinary birds with stunted wings reside on the coastlines of Isabela and Fernandina, spending their days diving beneath the waves where they dart through the water to catch fish.

Silversea Expedition Filmmaker David Padilla swam alongside one of these curious characters on the western side of Isabela to document its fast-paced hunt, an adventure beneath the waves which took an unexpected turn.

Swimming alongside a curious seabird

“That day was a little bit calm and tranquil compared to what [usually] happens in that area, because we tend to see a huge group of penguins fishing along the way or sea turtles or cormorants. [Yet] on that day there weren’t many animals,” says David, who used his GoPro to capture the footage.

“Then I saw this bird trying to catch different fish, going beneath the rocks and diving very deep  – and he wasn’t very good at it! Cormorants are very agile and move graciously. They’re very hard to follow, because on land they have a very funny walk and are not very fast, but in the water they are like a torpedo. They have this very elongated beak that they use to break the water.”

Flightless Cormorants in Galápagos are endemic to Isabela island/David Padilla

Eight tentacles, one beak

David was journeying through the water with this determined novice hunter and was exhilarated to be able to film the cormorant’s mission to catch a main meal that day, which was an octopus.

“When I saw the octopus floating around, I thought that’s weird because octopus are normally  hidden on the rocks with very good camouflage. There was this strange image of an octopus floating in the middle of the ocean. Then the cormorant appeared out of nowhere and started fighting with it,” he says.

“The octopus was very weak at that moment so I imagine the struggle went on for a few minutes. I tried to call all the guests and the guide but they didn’t hear me, so I was the only one looking at this. I didn’t want to scare off the cormorant so I just kept on filming and thought, I must capture this to show everyone else. Unfortunately, this octopus didn’t make it, but it was a great moment to film and maybe one of the craziest like catch prey sequences I’ve witnessed.”