Aboard Pangaea Explorations S/V Sea Dragon, Expedition – Line Islands, Equatorial Pacific
Palmyra Atoll is special in so many ways; it is a wildlife refuge and a research field station; it is remote, pristine and forested. But one of the best things about Palmyra is the ‘welcome committee’. When you are fortunate enough to arrive here by boat, after a five-day sail from Honolulu, you not only revel as the islands finally creep over the horizon at sun rise, but you also experience an ever-increasing wave of sea birds coming off the land to greet you; first the sooty terns at night, flying behind the boat, evident only from their calls in the dark. Then a few fairy terns fly by, but it is the juvenile masked and red-footed boobies that stay with you all the way in, continually eyeing the railings for a potential landing.
But the ultimate welcome comes when we see a leap and splash in the distance – that was a breach! And as we scan the outer reef to verify the sighting, we soon realize we are surrounded by up to 100 melon-headed whales (or, more alluringly, Electra Dolphin); and as dolphins do, they ride the bow wave of the boat while seeming to play catch or keep-away with each other. These animals are highly social; traveling in tight-knit groups, and in most places generally avoids boats – not here. Here, just outside the impossibly green Palmyra lagoon, they stay with our boat for almost an hour, sometimes losing interest but as soon as we pick up speed, they are back at the bow riding our wave again. And as if the sight of a fully forested atoll combined with legions of sea birds and a cetacean escort weren’t enough of a welcome, our new friends lead us straight to a school of about a dozen manta rays, the whites of their wings flashing below the surface!
They all seem to express “welcome to our world,” and we realize what an honor it is to visit a place where the ocean is still so abundant and alive, even if only for a few amazing days.