Wildlife of the Galapagos Islands, Part 1 of 2

Swallow-tailed Gull, Galapagos

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)

 

Galapagos Island Wikipedia overview

 

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, Galapagos

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.

 

Marine Iguana, Galapagos

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.

 

Blue-footed Booby, 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.

 

Waved Albatross pairs, Espanola Island, Galapagos

 

Previously posted: Waved Albatross.

 

Blue-footed Booby mating dance, Galapagos

 

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.

 

Galapagos Penguins

 

Wikipedia Galapagos Penguin

 

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.

 

Sea Lions, Galapagos

 

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

 

Marine Iguana, Galapagos

 

Galapagos Islands, center. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

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103 thoughts on “Wildlife of the Galapagos Islands, Part 1 of 2

  1. I love the colours and patterns on the iguanas and they are certainly the most ancient looking of creatures with their arrangement of horns and spines. I can’t see me getting there soon myself so I shall have to rely on your wonderful descriptions of the place, its birds and other creatures. I love the way you get about so much Jet, even if I cannot 🙂

    • Those horns and spines, and their colors and patterns, are indeed so very beautiful. Next week I’ll highlight the other iguana, the land iguana, they are also wonderful. Another crazy feature of the marine iguana: they shoot salt out their nostrils. Thank you, Alastair, for your visit and interest and kind words; I always enjoy your visits and posts.

  2. Oh what a delight to travel back to the Galapagos via your post Jet. Athena has gotten some gorgeous captures. Just yesterday I contributed a piece to another blogger on marine iguanas. The poor things that ran into me are likely now deaf. Their camouflage so perfect I almost stepped on them time and again letting out shrieks at the thought of stepping on them. Likely is anyone spots marine iguanas with little hearing aids I can take the blame.

  3. What an astonishing collection! I love the variety and uniqueness of the species found on the Galapagos, and how you described them. This earthling is very happy you and Athena took the trip and shared your experiences. Can’t wait for part two!
    Thanks, Jet – and have a great weekend!
    (If I come back as a bird, I’d like to be a blue-footed booby, just for the feet…)

    • Got a big smile on my face, pc, enjoyed your comment. What a joy to share the Galapagos planet with you. If you come back as a blue-footed booby, my friend, be sure to head for the Galapagos. They have a good life there. Many thanks for your great visit and comment, always a pleasure. Enjoy your summer weekend.

    • We have so many photos of the picturesque blue-footed booby, Mike, it was tricky to pick out two. I’m glad you enjoyed them. I never thought about it, but they DO look like gymnasts on a beam, with that head high and straight back. Many thanks–

    • They are such a delight to watch, Ingrid, it would be worth the trip just for them. But fortunately there’s so much more. Thanks so much for your visit and comment, much appreciated.

  4. Another wonderful post. It makes me wonder what species lived on other island formations that never got documented before man showed up and wiped them out. We don’t have great records of that stuff from the age of exploration.

    • With your vivid imagination, you can imagine what wildlife once stalked this planet, Craig. That’s what makes these islands so special–many of the species that Darwin saw are still there, in all their uniqueness. Thank you so much.

    • There’s so many tour companies that go there, and interests differ a lot. If you ever get the slightest bit seasick, I recommend taking a large boat over a small boat. We were on a boat that hosted 12 people plus 3 staff, relatively small; and were seasick every single day. Once we hit land or snorkeled, we were fine; but I never did eat dinner that whole week. Thanks Jan, always fun to “see” you.

  5. These bird capture are so special and beautiful, Jet! A different planet, indeed.
    We only see the beautiful part of your adventure. 🙂 Thank you for sharing with us.

    • Thanks so much, Amy. It’s easy to see you’re a traveler, you know there is more than just beautiful parts. There’s always a mishap or two as well, as you know; but I never dwell too long on them. Glad you liked the Galapagos, hope to see you next Friday for more.

    • Yes, we were very happy to have this opportunity, Dina. I’m glad you enjoyed the blue-footed boobies and albatrosses, they are great fun to share. Thank you for your visit.

  6. awesome photograps, Jet! i just love the blue-footed boobies! thank you so much for taking me to the Galapagos Islands! very much looking forward to part 2 🙂 have a great weekend 🙂

    • I would guess a 3D David Attenborough experience is very wonderful. Thanks so much, Tom. I’m glad I could accompany my hero Sir David in bringing the wonders of this unique land to you.

  7. Oh my goodness, those iguanas are something else! And as for the blue feet – I admit I did a double-take as I saw the first photo of them! Perhaps you will be like Darwin and have a major light-bulb moment for a theory upon your visit to Galapagos 🙂

    • I’m really glad you enjoyed Part 1 of the Galapagos adventure, Christy. No theories yet, but maybe something will roil up this week in anticipation of Part 2. Your comment gave me pause to think, and smile — thank you, Christy.

  8. Oh yay! My favorite travel blogger “does” my favorite place (although I have yet to go there)! This is fantastic. Athena’s photos are so lovely. The booby’s mating dance is great to see! Thanks for sharing. I love your life 🙂

    • I have a big smile on my face, Melanie, from your kind and cheerful comment, thank you. I’m happy you enjoyed the Galapagos visit and a few of its wonders, and there’s more to come. Many thanks, and have a great week.

  9. Galapagos Islands resembles a living natural museum, where exceptional animals roam as they have, most likely done through millennia. I hope that it will be that way for eternity. Great post as always my friend. 🙂

    • Ecuador is doing a good job of maintaining the wilderness of these ancient islands, and it is not easy. And there is a huge contingent of environmentalists, scientists, and concerned well-wishers like you and me, HJ, who are strongly moving toward continued preservation. We tread lightly and hope fervently. Many thanks, my friend–

  10. i’m happy you were able to go there
    and respectfully bring back these special images, Jet!
    i’m glad that most of these animals
    continue existing despite their contact
    with tourists & other hazards 🙂

    • I am glad too, David, that the animals continue their existence; although there are many problems, there are many strong efforts too. It is a joy to share the marvels in this post, and the next one too — and always a pure joy to receive your warm visit.

  11. These pics are great and I enjoyed your story! Thank you Jet for taking me to that special place. It was last week I took a closer look to a journy to the Galapagos Islands. Did you plan the trip for yourself or did you have an agency? Warm wishes Simone

    • Hi Simone, wonderful to “see” you. Ecuador requires that all visitors to GI be accompanied by an Ecuador-appointed guide, so there are no tourists who can visit here without a guide. So it is all basically done through agencies for most visitors. We went with a small group (12 people) on a small boat; but there are many choices. There is no wandering around in the wild on your own, ever, which is a shift for those like you and me who like to be independent, explore, and wander. But this is part of the conservation efforts, of which there are many, and an understandable one. Please feel free to contact me via email if you have more questions, see “Contact” tab above. More photos and stories next Friday for Part 2. Cheers and happy planning.

  12. This amaxing Jet! I love all the photos and your descriptions but am particularly enamored with the blue footed booby! I cannot believe how bright their legs are. Swimming w sea lions? Oh my, how perfectly glorious!

    So incredible to observe wildlife in its natiral habitat. Incredible.

    Peta

    • Thanks so much for your visit and comment, Peta. There is nothing I like doing better in this world than observing wildlife in its natural habitat, and the Galapagos are certainly one of the most unique adventures for this. I am delighted you enjoyed the blue-footed booby, and the post. More fun awaits next Friday. Lovely, as always, to have you visit. I’m heading your way right now to see what’s up in your beautiful Sri Lanka.

  13. Wonderful photos by Athena to go with your commentary Jet. The lounging lizards reminded me of a Dali painting. The islands are just as extraordinary! Thank you for sharing 💛

  14. Fantastic post and amazing photos! How wonderful to have the sea lions greet you upon arrival, but I’m not so sure about swimming with the marine iguanas. Loved the photos of the blue-footed booby and thanks for sharing the out of this world adventure!

    • Great fun to share this adventure with you, ACI. The marine iguanas were not the least bit interested in us, they had to hurry and feed; conversely, we were absolutely fascinated and enthralled with them. lol. Thanks so much for stopping by, it’s always fun to “see” you.

    • Wonderful news, Indah — I’m so happy you have the opportunity to visit GI. This coming Friday you’ll see the concluding part to this series, including land iguanas and many other beauties. Many thanks for your visit and comment.

    • I am there with you on that, Dave — it’s a big and beautiful planet, and the possible adventures, well, we’ll just never get to them all, but we can certainly try. Thanks so much.

    • It is indeed an amazing place, and I truly loved being there. We were on a constantly rocking boat every night, so I really was in my element during the day when I could get on land and stop rocking. So much incredible and unusual wildlife. I’m delighted you enjoyed it, Jo, thanks so much.

  15. What a trip Jet! I’ve watched a show on the islands.It was saying that the islands are being threatened by too many people? Did you hear or see anything like that there? I also heard that the locals were kept off the main island due to too many people coming & going.I was curious what you heard?

    • Hi Wayne. There is a phenomenon with islands, because the land is small and finite and disconnected from a land mass, that renders many species threatened by humans over the eons. The Galapagos were threatened in the 1700s and 1800s by pirates and whalers and tortoise hunters who nearly wiped out numerous species. In the early 1900s this pattern continued, and people began to settle there. Fortunately, in 1959 it became a national park; which turned the tables somewhat. But yes, there are continued problems as more people settle and visit there. There are many rules, laws, restrictions to limit the people; and there are many conservation efforts in place to help the native flora and fauna survive. It is a constant balancing act, as you can imagine. As for locals being kept off the main island, I don’t know about that; but I do know that we were not allowed to take accommodations on the islands, only on a boat, so every night was spent on a boat, something I would not have chosen, but accepted as part of the many rules. Great question, and many thanks for your interest, Wayne–always a pleasure.

      • Oh thank you Jet for the explanation! Very interesting history! When I explain to folks buying my Bear prints on Vancouver,I always use the Galapagos as an example. How a island isolates the gene pool & creates a unique species!

      • Your bear discoveries on Vancouver, Wayne, are following the footsteps of Darwin. I am happily becoming more familiar with your extraordinary photos and the bears, but I didn’t know your friends the bears are evolving into a slightly different species, and of course it makes sense, given the island habitat. This is a wonderful thing. Thanks so much.

  16. OMG!!! Yes, I am a mere Earthling. How wonderful that you adventured to The Galapagos, and we are all the beneficiaries of your adventure.
    The Marine Iguana all have awesome Mohawks, wow.
    Red feet have always been a fave of mine, as I buy up red sneakers. I’m switching to blue, immediately! Have a fab weekend, Jet!

    • Love the idea of switching to blue sneakers, Resa, but you might be happy to know there are also red-footed boobies. lol. Great to get your spirited comments, they are much appreciated and make me smile.

  17. This made me want to go to The Galapagos Islands even more! It’s a dream destination of mine, lovely pictures 🙂

    • There are so many unusual creatures here, it was a pleasure highlighting some of my favorites. And I am happy you enjoyed vicariously visiting the Galapagos, until that day when you set sail. Thank you Rebecca.

  18. Thanks for these special posts. It was fun to see the creatures from previous posts all gathered together in their homeland. Beautiful photos. The BFB mating dance was incredible!

    • I’m glad you liked the links to previous posts. I included them because they offered more information and more photos than I could do in the overview. The BFB mating dance was really fun to watch, and then imagine it multiplied by 25, going on all around, mixed in with the dozens of albatross mating dances. A crazy scene! Thanks so much, Nan–

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