Today we are featuring a guest article from the Happy Gringo tour company, who coordinated all of our tours while we were in Ecuador. They helped make our trip one that we will cherish for a long time to come:
The Galapagos Islands, like the creatures that call them home, are a rare breed. The archipelago is far away from land, making the animals found there an amazing sight-one in which the wild and marine life are the stars of the show.
It’s widely published that the animals of the Galapagos Islands have no fear of humans. This fact often gets skipped over when researching trips in lieu of tour dates and destinations, cruise itineraries, and time restraints.
To put things in perspective about the incredible wild and marine life found within the borders and waters of the small cluster of islands, here is a list of five different species that you can find in the Galapagos Island and where to find them.
At the head of the list as they are known as the un-official hosts of the islands, Galapagos sea lions are found on inhabited islands resting on benches, alongside fish merchants, and even in port side restaurants.
On uninhabited islands like Española, North Seymour, and Bartolome-sea lions gather in colonies and along the landing beaches. For those on land and in the water- the curious, friendly creatures are a fun part of the day-partners for lounging in the sun and snorkeling and diving in the waters offshore.
The Galapagos Marine Reserve has the highest percentage of sharks in the world. Thirty-two of the 400 species of sharks in the world are found here, some visit annually, while others call the islands home base year round.
When snorkeling around the archipelago white-tipped reef sharks become an everyday sight-resting in the shallows during the day before heading out to hunt at night. These sharks show little fear of people, but are typically non-aggressive unless, well, stepped on!
Hammerhead sharks are among the marine life that both visits annually and live year-round in the archipelago. Seen in the hundreds at dive sites including Gordon and Kicker Rocks, the Galapagos are one of the few places that you can see these graceful creatures together in large numbers in the world.
Whale sharks, while technically the world’s largest fish, are one of the most exquisite underwater creatures found in the Galapagos and the world. The slow-moving polka-dotted whale shark grows to the size of a bus, and can weigh as much as 15 tons.
The filter feeders visit the Galapagos Islands annually during the months of June to November, when the prevalent Humboldt Current is rich is plankton and brill. The waters surrounding Wolf and Darwin Islands, only visited on live-aboard cruises, are the place to see the giants of the ocean alongside hammerhead sharks, rays, and sea turtles.
If sea lions are the hosts of the islands, giant tortoises form the royal court that watches over the archipelago. Different species of the lumbering giants have seen pirates and whalers come to the islands and deplete their numbers, watched as the archipelago grew with settlers from the mainland and abroad, and today hold court over the thousands of people who visit their realm each month.
Ten species survive today- found in the highlands of Santa Cruz, in reserves on San Cristobal and Isabela, and in small numbers on Floreana Island.
Many of the giant turtle populations on other islands such as Santa Fe were driven to extinction be hunters and those who sold tortoise oil over the centuries to fuel lights in the cities of the mainland.
The Charles Darwin Foundation in partnership with the Galapagos National Park and other conservation organizations have ongoing programs throughout the islands to reintroduce new populations to areas where they are extinct. You can find out more information and see giant tortoise breeding programs at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island.
Twenty-nine kinds of whales call the Galapagos waters home at various times during the year. During the period when the Humboldt Current has the upper hand, squads of whales are seen on cruises, while diving, and in the channel off the western shore of Isabela Islands.
Humpback whales are spotted in the greatest abundance between the months of June and September. The mammoth creatures migrate to the cooler, more fertile, waters of the Galapagos to breed and hunt. Humpback whales travel in groups, teaming up to drive smaller fish into snares, and feeding as a group before headed north to give birth.
Orca Whales, like Humpbacks, are spotted in open waters breaching the waters in spectacular acrobatic displays before diving deep in search of fish. The predators sit on the top of the Galapagos food chain, and commonly feed on sea turtles, large fish, and even sea lions.
Blue-Footed Boobies finish this list, representing the winged member of the Galapagos wildlife population. The clumsy birds are the clowns of the islands, greeting hikers on islands including Bartolome, Santa Fe, and North Seymour.
The aptly colored white-breasted bird stands on top of bright-blue webbed feet, with a matching beak and brown wings. Their mating ritual is one of the sideshows of the islands, captivating all ages of travelers with an intricate and humorous back and forth exchange that incorporates strutting their feet, head tilts, squawks, and gift giving into a courtship that can last for life.
While the above cast of characters alone is ample reason to take a trip away from modern life, they are joined by hundreds of other animals that set the stage for an incredible immersion into nature. The Galapagos Islands are a special place where nature takes precedence, bringing the fragile eco-system into focus while exploring a one-of-a-kind destination that seldom fails to exceed expectations.
Author: Jon Jared – Happy Gringo Travel