Galapagos Islands Day 3: Isla Española

Our third day in the Galapagos was a wildlife day. Española Island is a wild place. First, another beautiful beach. Gardner Bay is famous (as most of the Galapagos is famous, I’m sure, in one way or another) for its huge expanse of white sand and the hundreds of sea lions lounging there. And not just sea lions, sea lion pups: sleeping, feeding, mewling when their mothers left their side to go swim. One pup was so new he still had his umbilical cord hanging beneath him (we also saw a placenta on the beach).

Española Island does not have a fresh water supply so the mockingbirds here survive by drinking sea lion urine (ew!) and eating sea lion placenta (ew!). According to our guide Jose, about ten years or so ago tourists used to give water to the mockingbirds from their water bottles. Even though the National Park has stopped the practice (in its attempt to keep humans from altering the natural lifestyles of the wildlife), mockingbirds on Española still become very interested in you if you look or sound like you are drinking from a water bottle (case in point, when TC raised his long-lens camera to his face, a mockingbird flew at it thinking it was a bottle). The crackle of plastic will also get them pretty excited. Too bad mockingbirds. The Park says no. It’s back to the sea lion urine for you.

Española also has marine iguanas. At Gardner Bay we saw about three, far out towards the water and almost impossible to see against the black rocks. It’s kind of funny thinking about us all craning and zooming to get a photograph of an iguana that morning. As if we’d never get another chance to photograph one!

Having fallen in love with snorkelling at Ocha Beach the night before, I was excited to go for two short snorkels near Gardner Bay. During the first snorkel I saw a huge stingray and a speedy sea turtle. There were also, of course, nifty urchins, fish, and sea stars. During the second snorkel I SAW A SHARK! It was a white-tipped reef shark (which are rather small and not a threat to humans) but still, I swam right over a GODDAMNED SHARK. If that’s not bad ass I don’t know what is. (Between them, TC and Jose taught me how to dive with my snorkel which also made things pretty darn cool.)

Also bad ass: I cut the heel my hand on a barnacle-y rock. It wasn’t a deep cut but boy did it bleed. When we got back to the yacht it I found it a bit comical to be standing on the deck in my wetsuit while my left hand was being pressed with alcohol-soaked gauze and my right was being offered fruit juice and an empanada. I still have a mark on my hand and I hope I get a scar, so that when people ask about it I can say I got it snorkelling in the Galapagos. I can also add, with a grave look on my face, I saw a shark that day, and let them draw their own conclusions. Bad ass.

In the afternoon we sailed to a different part of Española, Suarez Point, famous for its colonies of boobies and waved albatrosses. If we’d had difficulty getting a good shot of a marine iguana in the morning we had nothing to worry about here. They were everywhere on the rocks, congregating in large groups (and all facing the same way for some reason). A sea lion approached me and brushed my ankle with her whiskers, and a little pup almost walked right into TC’s legs (see video above).

Watching the albatrosses in courtship was really pretty cool. They make a weird popping sound, flap their wings, and do a lot of clicking with their beaks. Though they mate for life, my additional research has revealed that these albatrosses don’t seem to mind “extramarital” affairs, and in several cases, a female’s social mate (i.e. the one that helps her raise her offspring) is not the biological father of the chick. Progressive, I think.

It was only during this post-trip research that I discovered that waved albatrosses are a critically endangered species. Though protected for courtship and nesting in the Galapagos, once they migrate (to Peru for example), they have very little protection from fatal run-ins with fishing boats, etc. Which made seeing them now all the more special.

I’m sure by now you want to know about the boobies. There are three kinds of boobies in the Galapagos but we saw only two during our trip: the Nazca boobies (white with black “accessories”) and the blue footed boobies (easy to recognize for obvious reasons). I’d heard about these blue footed boobies and had found it hard to believe that these birds were actually real. Well, they are real, I’ve seen them. And they are about as blue footed as I’d hoped they’d be.

Complete with iguanas, boobies, and sharks, so far this trip was shaping up to be both nifty and cool, in so many ways.

Sea lion pup, Suarez Point

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