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Best dives with sharks : La Neverra, Malpelo, Colombia

La Nevera, Malpelo, Colombia, November 16, 2010

The Nevera, which means The Refrigerator in Spanish, is located on west side of the island of Malpelo, off the coast of Columbia. I dived at least 5 times at this site. You have to get to know just where the run of hammerheads lies and which area is most constant. Admittedly, you see hammerheads pretty much everywhere around Malpelo but nowhere with the same regularity as at The Nevera. At least, during my stay.

On my first dive at this site there was a bit of a current and I let myself be lead out of the most interesting zone too quickly. There is no need to cover too much distance at The Nevera. I learned my lesson later for the next time.

The drop off is fairly close to the island... around ten metres from the cliffs, at the edge of an abyss. From there, you descend directly to 25m to find the slope of the mountain which you follow as long as you wish. At 35m the slope becomes more gentle and becomes a stretch of sand which continues to descend. I don't know exactly to what depth.

I went down to 40m to notice 2 or 3 hammerheads cruising above the sand. One of them slowly approached me. He nodded his head so that he could be filmed better! In fact, he did it to clean himself better, as The Nevera, as around Malpelo in general, is a cleaning station, a resting place for the hammerheads. They do not come to the reef to feed. They can often be seen swimming in the direction of the current which is something that a shark will never do if he is in hunting mode.

I spotted some sharks a little further away and followed, still filming, for around 45/50m, accompanied by an Italian diver but leaving my wife behind as her Suunto Vyper would not allow her to dive any deeper. What happened next was like an apparition. A wall of hammerhead sharks loomed before me about 20m away. Rush hour? It was a group made up of small specimens (1m50 to 2m). There must have been between 60 to 80 of them... possibly more but it was impossible to say as visibility made it impossible to see. Unfortunately the flow of sharks dried up too quickly. So I had been put in the shoes of a pedestrian watching Pari Roller go by on a Friday evening in the summer, only to be disappointed when they passed as quickly as they had arrived. The whole event lasted only a few seconds, no more. They disappeared beyond the curtain of visibility, over the sand, like phantoms.One minute they were everywhere and suddenly... not one. They left as one solitary shark, perfectly synchronised.

Anyway, I was already around 7 minutes into decompression and it was definitely time to start my ascent. Not to the surface, I assure you, but towards the observatory. We went back up the sandy slope towards the rocky wall to the left of the reef, towards the observatory. The observatory really is the place to be at The Nevera. It is a rocky promentary looking into the blue, lying between 20 and 25, which has thoughtfully provided several rocky ledges for the use of the divers. Once in place you only have to wait to see the trafic arriving on the right. I got myself settled down, finding two other divers already installed – Spaniards who were filming a documentary. We stayed several minutes. Time enough to see two small groups of hammerhead sharks, one group of three and then one of six. What they lacked in numbers they made up for in size as they were significantly larger than those that we had met lower down. Groupers and jacks kept us company between these voyagers. The minutes of decompression were adding up and I decided to get back, leaving, regrettfully, my Spanish colleagues with a third group of hammerheads just passing by.

My Italian companion followed me and we saw our diving group disappearing (for your information, each diver had a tracking system which allowed him to signal his position to his buddy and to the boat in case of difficulty). Whilst coming up I noticed a white tip shark which did not really justify making a stop. At 10m we moved away from the wall and levelled out for 14 minutes. After around 10minutes we were rewarded with a visit from a school of yellowfin tuna. There must have been around 300 of them, parading right in front of our eyes without hanging around.

I was smiling as I left the water. I must have seen not far off a hundred sharks in just one dive.

Extraordinary dive? No doubt. One goes to Malpelo particularly for its banks of hammerheads and I had seen one. But I had expected a lot from Malpelo and I was left a little unsatisfied. How many sharks were in that group that we saw down there? Perhaps we only lacked better visibility in order to see a hundred or so more.