A marine-only visitor site (no landings permitted), Punta Vicente Roca is located at the “mouth” of Isabela’s west-facing sea horse shape. Named for Vicente Roca, president of Ecuador from 1845 – 1849, this promontory lies on the southwestern flank of Volcán Ecuador, with 2 coves on either side of the remains of a tuff cone. Volcán Ecuador is the only volcano on Isabela that hasn’t erupted since humans began recording observations there. At Punta Vicente Roca, the cold, nutrient-rich upwelling of Cromwell Current supports a wide variety of fish.
Tuesday, May 16, afternoon
A pair of Magnificent Frigatebirds hung around the boat just before the captain headed the boat toward Punta Vicente Roca. If you’re just looking at males, a Magnificent Frigatebird can be very difficult to differentiate from a male Great Frigatebird. However, if a female is present, you have a much better chance. In the photo on the left, you can tell that the female is a Magnificent Frigatebird because the white on her chest stops at her throat. (If she were a Great Frigatebird, that white would continue up her throat and stop at her chin.) That makes it a good likelihood that the male in the photo below (female on the left, male on the right) is also a Magnificent Frigatebird. Frigatebirds get their name from their light, swift, sailing flight like that of a frigate warship.
Just before lunch, while motoring to Punta Vicente Roca, Zell spotted an Orca breaching off in the distance. The black and white coloring of this whale (as known as the Killer Whaler) and the large dorsal fin made the identification an easy one. (The photo on the right is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons—most definitely not ours!) Zell notched an even more amazing spotting from the upper deck after lunch—the much sought-after Mola mola or ocean sunfish. The Mola mola is a huge fish, weighing up to a ton. Its body is flattened laterally, which makes it look rather like a giant fish head moving through the water. It has no true tail (left, from Wikimedia Commons); so, unlike other fish that propel themselves through the water using their tails, the Mola mola moves through the water by moving its huge dorsal and ventral fins (below, again from Wikimedia Commons) from side to side in a sculling motion. Its scientific name, which means “millstone,” refers to its rough texture, gray color, and rounded yet flattened body. (The common name of “sunfish” arises from its tendency to sunbathe near the ocean surface.) A ways off, the fish jumped several times, revealing its very unusual shape to the hawk-eyed Zell. No one else saw it—and some doubted that a Mola mola would jump. However, I checked the extensive guide to fish in the boat’s library and it stated that they do, in fact, jump. Those who were keenly into fish were on high alert to for another sighting.
After lunch, we got ready for a snorkel outing. Carolina had mentioned earlier that Punta Vicente Roca was her favorite place in the archipelago to snorkel because of the wide variety of species often seen there. As the pangas neared the snorkeling spot, Carolina hollered “Mola mola!!!” pointing toward the rock wall a few dozen yards beyond us. Again, I didn’t see it but several others of our group did. Excitement reigned! And that was probably the last major sighting we had during the snorkel outing. The winds increased once we were in the water, making the cold waters really murky. After a bit more than 30 minutes, Carolina herded us all to the pangas and back to the boat. I imagine we saw a few things, but I honestly can’t remember (and didn’t make any notes). But awaiting us back at the boat—the absolutely best hot chocolate I have ever tasted. I’m sure the cold enhanced the experience, but dang—it was heavenly.
Following a quick change into dry clothes, we headed back to the pangas to tour the cliffs of the area. Wouldn’t you know—the winds had calmed considerably and the waters were really clear. Oh, well… Carolina was determined to give us a great panga experience, since we had cut the snorkeling short. One of our first encounters was with a small colony of Brown Noddies hanging out on the rock walls (above and right). One even flew right at my head, startling others in the panga. But years of working with birds in wildlife rehab made the experience nothing unusual for me. At least it didn’t poop on me!