Galapagos: the ultimate nature adventure
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I’M A LITTLE TOO sleep-deprived to be truly excited as our flight descends towards airport in Baltra – one of the Galápagos islands – onto a strip made by the American Air Force during World War II. But the sight of the islands of Daphne Major and Daphne Minor (Islas Daphne) provides a wake-up call.
I’m reading Jonathon Weiner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1994 book The Beak of the Finch, about Peter and Rosemary Grant’s seminal, decades-long study of Darwin’s finches, for which data were mostly collected on Daphne Major. The study revealed what Charles Darwin wouldn’t have guessed at: that natural selection is happening, and measurable, literally season to season on the Galápagos.
We’re a happily diverse group of 12 on this Peregring/AG Society expedition. Western Australians Peter and Alison Jennings and Jodie Moyle and Daniel Lloyd are expert divers and snorkellers. Peter and Barbara Main, the group’s keenest birdos, vet Debby Bowe and animal behaviourist Gaille Perry all hail from Queensland. Canberrans Louise Rostron and Sandra Woolacott both have backgrounds in science and science teaching. My partner Gail MacCallum and I round out the group.
We clear customs, meet naturalist guide Roberto Naranjo, a native Galápagueño, and take the short bus ride to the dock at Port Seymour where our home for the next week, MY San Jose, awaits. We pause only to dodge a few Galápagos sea lions and some sleepy marine iguanas that are sunning on the pontoon. It seems surreal to encounter wildlife so soon and so easily – surely this is something they set up for the tourists? – but it sets the tone for the afternoon.
After lunch and a short motor we board San Jose pangas (small passenger boats) for a tour of Black Turtle Bay (Caleta Tortuga Negra), on northern Isla Santa Cruz, and immediately encounter a pair of mating green sea turtles. Sightings of other bird types including yellow warbler, brown pelicans, frigate birds – hard to pick which of the two Galápagos species at the distance – lava gull and great blue heron quickly follow.
In the quiet, mangrove-lined reaches of the bay we come across swirling schools of mullet and, incredibly, white-tipped reef sharks; but the stars are green turtles relaxing away from the bustle of the ocean, steering quietly through the cloudy waters and rising to breathily exhale and draw new air, surely one of the most distinctive sounds one can hear. On our return we watch pelicans dive for prey and see our first blue-footed booby; when we reach San Jose there’s a sea lion sunning on the transom, which crew members have to shoo away to give us room to board.
That evening, after welcome cocktails with the ship’s company, we watch several large Galápagos sharks circle the vessel. So much life in such a short time.
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Find out more about the next Peregrine/AG trip with Ian Connellan to see Borneo’s orangutans.