Valentine’s Day at the Unfortunate Islands

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala is setting off on his first big expedition of the year: to explore the remote Desventuradas Islands, hundreds of miles off the coast of Chile. Today’s post comes from veteran team member Alan Friedlander. For 30 years Alan has been examining population regulation in marine fishes throughout the Hawaiian Archipelago, the Caribbean, and the wider Indo-Pacific region.

By Alan Friedlander

14 February 2013

In spite of the names of these islands (Desventuradas is Spanish for “Unfortunate”), the trip in general and today in particular have been filled with good fortune.

The science team has been hard at work surveying the marine life around the islands and we have been astounded by the abundance of fishes, kelps, urchins and the spectacular underwater scenery here.  While the numbers of different fish species is not very high, the sheer number of individuals is overwhelming. Sometimes the walls of brightly colored fish make it nearly impossible to see your hand in front of your face. Red and white stripes, pink and orange blotches, purple spots and polka dots all grace the fish at the Unfortunate Islands.

Today was a special day. While diving at one of the many points along the jagged coastline, we were “fortunate” enough to see a rare and spectacular open water fish – the ocean sunfish or mola mola. This strange looking creature is one of the most advanced of all the fishes but looks like it was designed by committee. Imagine a disk with its back cut off and two ‘wings’ crudely attached!  At once awkward and graceful, the sunfish feeds mainly on jellyfish and rarely comes close to the coast. Seeing it up close and watching it watch me was  an unforgettable experience. (Read a Q&A with a mola mola expert.)

As if the day couldn’t get any better, our next dive was a great big love-fest, very befitting of Valentine’s Day. We were escorted throughout the entire dive by three very friendly sea lions. This species of sea lion is found only on these islands and nearby Robinson Crusoe Island. Sea wolves or ‘lobos’ in Spanish, they wanted to play, but underwater we are no match for their grace and besides, we had work to do – or at least that was our excuse!

As we continue to focus on collecting the survey data we cannot forget how special this place is and how fortunate we are to be here, at the beautiful and pristine Unfortunate Islands. Who knows what’s in store for us tomorrow.
Aloha – Alan


This expedition is supported by Blancpain and Davidoff Cool Water.

Learn More

Q&A With a Mola Mola Expert

Follow All Desventuradas 2013 Blog Posts

Enric Sala’s Pristine Seas Expeditions

Changing Planet

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Meet the Author
Marine ecologist Dr. Enric Sala is a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence who combines science, exploration and media to help restore marine life. Sala’s scientific publications are used for conservation efforts such as the creation of marine protected areas. 2005 Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow, 2006 Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation, 2008 Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum.