An archipelago located 600 miles off South America’s coast, the Galapagos Islands are a cluster of volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean. Due to their remoteness, the islands have been difficult to access for hundreds of years, rendering the life that does exist to be unique, like nowhere else in the world.
Without significant predators present, the wildlife have evolved differently than what we see on mainland continents. It is here where Charles Darwin’s observations in 1835 led to the inception of the theory of evolution.
I recently read there are seven wildlife species tourists most want to see on the islands, so I have covered them all in this two-part series (not in this order), plus more: tortoises, sea turtles, marine and land iguanas, penguins, blue-footed boobies, and sea lions. (National Geographic June 2017)
Situated in a confluence of ocean currents, and influenced by extreme weather patterns and trade winds, the islands host a variety of habitats.
Life here is like being on a different planet.
Marine iguana, a fascinating and prevalent species on the islands. They are the only lizard on earth that hunt under water.
We were lucky one day to find two males gnawing at algae on the rocks under water with us, where we were snorkeling. Much of the time, however, you see their colonies lazing upon the lava and boulders, numbering in the hundreds; for they have to soak up the sun to move.
They range in color, depending on the island where they reside; and their sizes range too. The ones we saw averaged about 4-5 feet long (1.2-1.5 m) including the tail.
Previously posted: Snorkeling with a Lizard.
Though sources vary somewhat, the Galapagos have 18 major islands, 13 smaller islands, and 42 islets.
Espanola Island is the southernmost island and often the first stop for arriving birds. Here there is an unusual landscape of breeding birds. Among the craggy rocks, hard lava, and windy flats are the nesting colonies of two seabirds: blue-footed booby and waved albatross.
Gifted with the bluest feet you will ever see, the blue-footed boobies populate this island in various stages of breeding and nesting. One half of all breeding pairs in the world nest in the Galapagos.
Previously posted: Blue-footed Booby.
Waved albatross, usually only seen at sea, also nest here. Listed as critically endangered, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be so close to this remarkable bird.
Previously posted: Waved Albatross.
Keep in mind these birds are endlessly mesmerizing to a birder like me. But the harsh sun and sour, fetid smell of hundreds of nests at your ankles can be off-putting to some people.
Another day while snorkeling, we came upon Galapagos penguins, also an endangered species. They are the second smallest penguin on earth, and because of their small stature, they are preyed upon by a long list of land and sea animals.
Speed is their lifeline. They shot past us in the water like bullets.
Sea lions abound on the Galapagos. They frequent the beaches, traverse the lava, and are seen gracing every island. But the most thrilling day was when we tumbled over the side of the inflatable boat and into the deep water.
As if we were their favorite playmates, the sea lions came bounding over to us–spinning and circling and ready to frolic. A social and playful mammal, they gave us the warmest welcome these chilly waters could offer.
Looking forward to continuing the wildlife adventures in Part 2, next Friday. Stay tuned, fellow earthlings.
All photos: Athena Alexander