Natural wonders of the Galapagos

Photographing wildlife on Ecuador's Enchanted Islands

As a student in ninth-grade science class, I learned just enough about the Galapagos Islands to know that the archipelago likely would be an answer on a multiple choice test about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Beyond that I had never given the Galapagos another thought…until I became a professional traveler.

Then, one day, during a chat on Twitter, participants were posting photos of wildlife encounters from their travels, and someone’s pictures from the Galapagos changed my perspective forever. I suddenly realized that as a nature enthusiast, my photo collection was seriously devoid of quirky and exotic critters. So I moved Galapagos to the top of my travel Bucket List. I knew I had to get there, no excuses. So I set out to make it happen.

As I started my research, I learned that visitors to the Galapagos are prohibited from visiting 97 percent of the islands without the guidance of a licensed naturalist. You can’t just rent a boat and explore the islands on your own. Fortunately I was able to hook up with International Expeditions for an adventure aboard a ship. The ship appropriately was named Evolution, and regular briefings brought to life the significance of our daily hiking and snorkeling experiences.

If my ninth grade science teacher had been half as knowledgeable or entertaining as our expedition leader, I would have visited the Galapagos years ago. Maybe she just should have mentioned that Darwin saw boobies.

In all seriousness, what struck me most on this adventure was how unafraid of humans the animals seemed. Here on the mainland, it would have been impossible to get close to them without them fleeing or attacking. On the islands, however, due to the absence of natural predators, the animals don’t spook. Here are some images from my once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

 

Blue-footed boobies

Blue-footed boobies

This is a pair of blue-footed boobies on North Seymour Island. What I thought would be a cute video of their funny walk quickly turned into an uncensored boobie sex video. (Don’t worry, the video is safe for work.)

Sea lions

Sea lions

Mosquera Beach is inhabited by scores of sea lions. This baby sea lion threw-up on its mother’s head right after nursing.

Galapagos land iguana

Galapagos land iguana

Iguanas are everywhere in the Galapagos Islands. This creature appeared to be a little over four feet long and didn’t seem the least bit camera shy.

Male frigate

Male frigate

Frigates are unusual birds with a wing span of about 7.5 feet. This male is puffing out his red “male puffy thing,” also known as a gular pouch, in an effort to impress the ladies and get a date.

Galapagos sea turtle

Galapagos sea turtle

While snorkeling around Floreana Island I happened upon this huge sea turtle. The turtle measured about four feet long. She didn’t seem to mind me following her around while she foraged for lunch.

Marine iguana

Marine iguana

I saw hundreds of marine iguanas on Sombrero Chino Island. They are hard to spot because they blend in with the rocks so well. This one caught my eye as he hiked his leg like a dog passing a fire hydrant.

Red-footed booby

Red-footed booby

Genovesa Island is one of only three volcanic craters in the world where ships can anchor. It is also the only island in Galapagos where you will find red-footed boobies.

Baby frigate

Baby frigate

North Seymour Island is home to one of the largest frigate bird colonies in the world. Here’s a baby frigate waiting for its mother to feed it (which basically means it’s waiting for its mother to regurgitate some food down its throat).

Sally lightfoot crabs

Sally lightfoot crabs

The islands are teeming with Sally lightfoot, or Red rock, crabs. Against the black lava rock of the islands, the brightly colored adult crabs are easy to spot and fun to watch.

Galapagos giant tortoise

Galapagos giant tortoise

Santa Cruz Island has a wild population of more than 2,000 of these giant critters. The animals grow to weigh between 500 and 600 pounds. I was lucky enough to get a mouth-open action photo of this one eating grass and ignoring the need for a napkin.

 

What are the most unusual animals you have encountered in your travels?

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