Monday, October 17, 2011


Hola!  I'm back in Quito from a week in the Galápagos Island, an archipelago 1000 km off the coast of Ecuador.  Here it is by the numbers:

9 islands
1 boat
2 equator crossings
1500+ photos
2 lava-related injuries
3 different tour guides

El Eden, home for the week
Day 1--Isla Lobos
It is sea lion mating season in Galápagos right now, so whenever we landed on an island with sea lions, it was important to be aware of the alpha male's position on the beach or in the water.  The alpha male patrols the beach and protects his harem from other "bachelor" males.  Sea lions are very smelly and make terrible sounds as if they are throwing up.  Throughout the entire week, we saw lots of newborn young sea lions.  How cute!
the tough life of a sea lion
male yellow warbler looking for insects on a baby sea lion carcass

Here, we also saw a few nesting blue footed boobies.  A booby nest consists of a guano (poop) ring, and if the baby steps outside the ring before they are supposed to, their parents will abandon it.
juvenile blue-footed booby in a pretty awkward stage
Day 2--Santa Fe
Here, we got to see the rarest terrestrial vertebrate: Conolophus pallidus, the Santa Fe land iguana.  This iguana is only found on this island in the Galápagos; there is another species found on the other islands.  But I'm not sharing their photos because they aren't that exciting... how about some cute sea lion photos instead?
preciosa!!  a baby sea lion waits for its mama to feed it
the back-bend, my favorite sea lion pose
Crucial tourist snapshot with snoozing sea lions

This was our first snorkeling stop.  It was slightly nerve-wracking to swim with sea lions and sharks...
*gurgle gurgle*

i got to swim with my most favorite animal: the green sea turtle
I'll die happy now

Day 2--South Plazas
This is a small island off the northeast corner of Santa Cruz.  It was my favorite island because the male land iguanas (Conolophus subsritatus) were bright yellow and contrasted wonderfully with the bright red cesuvium that covered the island.  Because there are land iguanas present on this island, the cacti are taller and have spiny trunks to avoid excessive herbivory.  We also saw some swallow-tail gulls.
red cesuvium, Opuntia cactus "trees," and blue sky
look!  dinos? no, land iguanas!
it was pretty darn windy on the cliff, and red-billed tropic birds were whizzing by

Day 3--Santa Cruz, Puerto Ayora, Galápagos National Park
At the the Galápagos National Park Darwin Station, we met two famous tortoises: Super Diego and Lonesome George.  Both are saddleback tortoises, but there are also tortoises with dome shells.  The saddlebacks are found on drier islands (because, like giraffes, they have to reach for their food), and the dome shells are found in wetter environments.

Super Diego, originally from Española, was returned to Galápagos from the San Diego Zoo in 1977 to help revive his species.  He did work and is now the father of around 1500 tortoises, and the tortoise population on Española has been revitalized.
super Diego!
Lonesome George, on the other hand, has not been so successful at reproductive attempts.  He is the last remaining individual of his species, and scientists have been trying to get him to mate for at least two decades.  They have tried many females, both tortoise and human, to try and coax just the smallest bit of interest from George, but to no avail.  Whenever his mates do happen to lay eggs, they don't hatch.
lonesome George

one of Darwin's many finches...maybe a small ground finch?
Santa Cruz is also home to an extensive network of lava tubes.  A long long long time ago, lava was flowing through these tubes, but the outer shell remains and has created tubes.  We got to walk in one!
lava tube

Day 4--Isabela, Sierra Negra
Sierra Negra is a shield volcano with a huge crater on Isabela Island.  There floor of the crater is covered with lava flows of various ages.  The Galápagos is a series of volcanic islands that were formed by a hot spot.  Because the oceanic plate is moving over the hot spot, he oldest islands are in the east, and the youngest are in the west.

Day 5--Isabela, Punta Moreno
The site of the lava injuries!  First, Ali fell through the lava and destroyed her legs.  A few minutes later, I was the next to go down: the lava tripped me and I fell forward, cutting my hand and bruising my leg on the way down.
Ouch!  Lava injuries...
Pahoehoe lava
flightless cormorant drying its wings

Day 5--Isabela, Elizabeth Bay
In the afternoon, we took a panga ride around Elizabeth Bay.  Tourists cannot land here because, well, there is no land...  The area is made up pretty much entirely of red mangroves.  These trees don't need land because they grow on stilt roots.  There were loads of turtles hanging out here.

In the evening, Kelly (professor) was giving a lecture on Darwin and the captain came to inform us that there was a whale nearby.  So class was, of course, put on hold to go watch the whale.  It was most likely a Bryde's whale, and it only came up for some air every once in a while.

Day 6--Isabela, Tagus Cove
Sorry folks, no photos from Tagus Cove--they mysteriously disappeared from my memory card and I have been unable to find them anywhere.  So unfortunate because I had a lot of good penguin shots...

Day 6--Fernandina, Punta Espinoza
There were so many marine iguanas warming up in the afternoon sun.  They "sneeze" to excrete excess salt from their bodies.  So we were walking around on the beach, surrounded by sneezing iguanas.  Weird.
marine iguanas soaking up the sun after a low tide lunch
marine iguana swimming
more snorkeling
amazing and beautiful: the green sea turtle

Day 7--Santiago, Puerto Egas
Darwin reported finding many land iguanas here when he visited, but today there are none.  This is possibly a result of competition and nest predation by introduced goats or rats.  The island had a huge goat problem in the past; the goats were killing native and endemic flora and fauna.  They have now been eradicated--park officials used helicopters to spot and kill them...killing one population to save many species.

basaltic lava creates these lovely formations and the black sand beach here
baby sea lion playing with a marine iguana
blue footed booby diving
fur seal!

Day 7--Rábida

red sand beach means felsic lava--the iron has oxidized to create the rusty red color
natasia, my roomie for the week
panga ride back to the boat after snorkeling from the beach
Day 8--North Seymour Island
Last day, how sad!  But the light was perfect for pictures!  It was overcast, so the red pouches and blue feet aren't washed out in the photos.  Frigate bird mating season is almost over, but we were lucky enough to see the classic red pouches on some of the males.

male frigate bird showing off

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