Saturday, April 25, 2009

Swimming with Sea Lions & Albatross Sightings! - Española Island, Galapagos


Destination: Española Island (Hood Island), Galapagos

Best of: Hundred's of Sea Lions sunning themselves and paying us little attention other than the occasional curious one "running" up to you!

Worst of: The large males, known as Bulls, are arguably the most "dangerous" animals to humans in the Galapagos. They can be territorial and may attack if they feel you are a threat. It rarely happens, and it's usually the human's fault for getting to close in the first place.

*With the islands being so diverse, we decided to post each one separately. The Galapagos Islands will be an 8 part series. Here is Part 2.

Day 02: Española: Gardner Bay / Pta Suarez.

Española Island is the southern most island of the Galapagos and is also considered the most "pristine" meaning that human impact is considered minimum here. There are two "trails" on the island - Gardner Bay and Punta Suarez.

Gardner Bay is really just the beach and not really a trail so you are free to roam about wherever you please...that is as long as a Sea Lion is not in the way! The moment you set foot on the beach from a wet landing, you are greeted by hundreds of these seemingly lazy creatures of the sea. A bit clumsy when they try and "walk" it's fun and quite entertaining to watch them attempt to move about in the sand. As the little ones return from the sea, they seek out their mom's who give them little assistance. The way they find their mom is by angrily getting rejected by all the other ones in between them and their moms. They do eventually find one another and it's fun to watch them interact. The sea lions also like to sit up on their front flippers and hold their heads up high as if they are posing for the camera.

The beach is also home to Sally Light Foot Crabs, who are afraid of just about everything, including humans. It is also home to the Mockingbird who has learned that tourist water bottles can be a source of fresh water and are unafraid to come up and "tap" on your bottle if you have it out. Sea Turtles also use the beach as a nesting area (see the "tracks" left below). Española is also home to out first glimpse of Marine Iguanas (more on them later!)

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After the fun on the beach, it was time to do a little snorkeling! Just like the islands, the waters are also regulated and controlled so ships can only snorkel in certain areas at certain times and days. The water here is much colder than one would think. We were here when the water is actually warm at around 24 degrees Celsius (about 72 Fahrenheit). This is due to the ocean currents that pass by the islands and upswellings of cold water from the deeper parts of the ocean. The colder water teems with life making it a great source of food for the many animals on the islands and is the main reason why so many are able to survive on these very dry islands.

We jumped in the water and ran across a family of sea lions playing in one of the coves! The floundering around on the beach is replaced by a much more graceful and agile movements. They seemed to be fighting over a candy bar wrapper that one of them had found. As on the beach, the young ones are curious and like to play. Here is one flipped over and blowing bubbles as if to imitate a diver. The most enthralling part is when they are charging right at you and then veer off at the last second as if to play chicken. I must admit that the sea lion won the battle every time. Aside from the sea lions, pelicans peddled by, sally light foot's scampered on the rocks and there were some colorful reef fish munching away at the coral.

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Here is a video of the sea lions playing while we were snorkeling!

After the morning snorkeling and playing with the sea lions, the afternoon hike was called Punta Suarez. The trail goes along the rocky shore to visit the rare nesting grounds of the Waved Albatross. Along the way, we saw another type of boobie, the Nazca boobie with is slightly larger than the Blue-footed ones, but far less colorful with just black and white markings. Believe it or not, the goofy looking bird with it's wings spread out below is a chick. Unlike the blue-footed boobies, the Nazca boobies only lay one egg and will not even attempt that if conditions are not favorable to raising a chick.

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The striking features on the Waved Albatross are impossible to miss. With their bright yellow long beaks and massive wing spans, you can see them from a long distance away. They are ocean birds, meaning they spend all their lives flying over the ocean and fishing except when they come here to reproduce. They are also one of the few monogamous animals in the world, meaning they mate for life with only one single partner. Sadly, however, this does not prevent the single males from virtually raping the first females that comes to nest from sea. Sadly, they are on the endangered species list. Thousands of these beautiful birds are caught in line fishing. Another problem is that they have a bad habit of rolling the egg around before it hatches. This results in some of them rolling a little to far and cracking against the rocks.

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The island is also home to the largest and most colorful Marine Iguanas in the Galapagos as well as the largest lava lizards. Aside from the wildlife, Espanola is also home to the infamous Blowhole. A hole in the rocky cliffs gives way to the rough seas and when the tide rolls in, a spray of water comes gushing out. While we were there, however, it was not very active so we didn't get a good photo, but we could tell by the water markings that it shoots pretty high at times.

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Back on board the Beluga, we set sail for the next island and the first inhabited island, Floreana.

To see more photos from Espanola Island please click here!

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