Stories from the Galapagos Islands

  • young sealion on a rock
    A Galapagos Sea Lion suns itself on a rock.

    The Galápagos Islands are Full of Natural Beauty

    "We will have wet landings and dry landings in the Galápagos Islands," said Juan Salcedo, naturalist and owner of our boat, the Samba.

    He explained some landing locations have a dock for the zodiac (inflatable boat) to dock; however, most locations generally didn't, which meant we would be landing on the beach. It was early in the morning when our zodiac arrived at the beach.

    "Time the waves and jump out of the boat when the water is shallow. Otherwise, you are going to get wet," Salcedo said.

    With expensive camera gear on my back, getting wet was not a good idea. I watched the waves, timed my jump off the boat into the shallow water and walked ashore.

    It felt good to be on the island. At first the land felt like it was moving, a side effect of being on the boat all night. But that feeling soon left as I approached my welcoming party, a Galápagos sea lion.

    The Galápagos sea lion is a species of sea lion that breeds only in two locations, here and on Plata Island near the coast of Ecuador. Galápagos sea lions range from 5 to 8 feet in length and weigh between 110 to 550 pounds. They feed mainly on sardines. The sardine population dramatically decreases during El Niño, which directly decreases the sea lion population. The immediate future for the Galápagos sea lions will be challenging because of a current El Niño.

    The sea lion I approached was sun bathing on the sandy shore. It opened one eye briefly before slumbering again for its morning nap. This is one of the great joys of the Galápagos Islands; most animals on the islands lack a fear of humans. This offers encounters with nature that are remarkable and incredible.

    blue footed boobie with chick
    A blue-footed boobie with it's chick.

    On an elevated bank, high enough where the waves couldn't reach it, was a nest of a blue-footed boobie. A parent stood guard over a single white fuzz-covered chick. Both birds gave me a look of curiosity before ignoring me to watch the sky.

    They were more concerned about a frigatebird that soared high above their heads than a group of camera-toting human beings a few feet away.

    Frigatebirds are known for circling over seabird colonies, waiting for parent birds to return with food for chicks. Then, they fly in and snatch the meal before the chick has a chance to eat.

    frigate bird
    A male frigrate bird soars through the sky above the Galapagos Islands.

    Our destination was further inland, a shallow coastal lagoon. "We came early to beat the other groups, which can sometimes cause the birds to walk away if the people are noisy," Salcedo explained. "Plus the early morning light is best for photos."

    As we walked through the bushes, we came to a shallow lagoon about the size of three football fields. In the lagoon, several pairs of flamingos with their long necks and long legs walked gracefully through the water. The flamingos stood 3 to 4 feet tall.

    Some flamingos had their heads submerged under the water as they moved their long necks back and forth. Flamingos have the ability to pump water through their bills 20 times a second.

    As they pump water through their bills, they filter out things to eat such as algae, larvae, insects and crustaceans that live in the saline water. It is the crustaceans that provide the pink pigment for the feathers. Far on the other side of the lagoon was a nesting site where several chicks waited for parents to return with food. They were easy to pick out because their feathers were gray, which is a clear sign they were immature.

    "It is said the Romans once considered the tongues of flamingos to be a delicacy," Salcedo said.

    For those of us who stood on shore, it was a delicacy for our eyes to watch the pink flamingos move across the shallow lagoon in the Galápagos Islands.

    group of flamingos feeding in the water
    Flamingos feed in a coastal lagoon in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador.

    Fremont Tribune

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