Pondering the Creatures of the Galapagos

Trip Start Apr 17, 2001
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Ecuador  , Galápagos,
Saturday, February 12, 2005

Could a group of animals gather themselves together on a raft, or maybe an ark-like craft and make their way 1,000 kilometers to a few islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? How long ago would they have come here? Ten thousand years ago, a million perhaps? And why? Would it be to escape their two legged cousins, the humans? And why would they choose such a place as this? It's hot, there is no shade and it almost never rains.

Whatever history doesn't say these friendly Galapagonians seem not to fear us in the slightest. And they harbor no resentment towards us for following them all this way. The Galapagos mockingbird for example thinks nothing of landing on your arm or head to say hello or have a poo. The grayish, red blotched marine iguanas who look very much like Creatures from the Black Lagoon as they swim, arms and legs at their sides, tail swishing, would graciously let you pet them if you were allowed. Touching the animals is prohibited.

Then there's the sea lion, happiest, smartest and all round most socially adjusted of all Galapagos animals. Sea lions live for play, sun bathing and messing around with humans. They like to play tricks on the marine iguanas. They come up slowly behind the marine iguanas as they swim to shore. Just as the iguana comes within reach of land, the sea lion will grab it by the tail and pull it back out to open water. And it's all in fun. The iguanas don't seem to mind at all. In an attempt to get even closer to us, they've taken up body surfing. Whenever you see a surfer riding a big wave you'll likely find six to eight sea lions right along side.

Sea lions have no arms or legs. For arms they have paddle-like appendages that extend about half a meter from their upper body. Most of their swimming power comes from a couple of fin-like body parts that look as though they've been improperly placed at the bottom end of their bodies. Ugly in a beautiful sort of way, clumsy, but graceful I twice asked fellow passengers if they'd trade their arms and legs for the life of a sea lion. Both times I caught them off guard. Their first impression smiles soon gave way to a nasty looks. They'd compose themselves and most likely say under their breath, īDamned Canadian with his stupid questions.
One day we watched then followed a big old male sea lion as he grunted and hobbled towards a cliff edge. He then made his way along the ledge to an area of steep, loose boulders. He slowly climbed down the boulders until he reach a spot where he could go no further. A suicide we wondered? Was this the way old tired sea lions end it all? Suddenly we heard a big wave come crashing against the rocks far below. This was his key. He plunged the final five meters or so towards the jagged rocks and churning waters. Moments later we saw the old lad playing happily in the foamy waters of the surf below.

Later we came across several sea lion cadavers in varied states of decomposition, untouched by bird or any other animal. An iguana lay looking almost perfectly intact. Closer inspection showed that its insides were missing. Only its overly exposed teeth gave indication that its skin had slightly shrunken. It looked now like a plastic tyrannosaurus rex.

We continued across a lava field of iguanas to another cliff edge. In the waters below someone in our group spotted a couple of sharks. They cut along the surface making wide, sometimes short turns. Everyone stared down at their speed and sleekness. A quiet fear seemed to grip us all as we watched in awe. The next day we all threw ourselves into the sea equipped only with mask, snorkel and fins in search of these very same creatures.
The animals of the Galapagos must think we're a strange, strange species.

Foot Note: In spite of our fears about choosing an unknown boat, all bad thoughts evaporated as soon as we stepped aboard. The Monseratt is a 30 metre, all teak, 16 passenger first-class cruising vessel. Since we booked only 12 hours before setting sail, space was limited. Our room was in the basement - Ellen calls it the Lower Deck.
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