Galapagos part 1

Tue 1 Apr 2014 16:29
Wreck Bay in the evening light, with a yellow water taxi on the left.

It's like living in a Sea Life park...

Sitting on deck with a cup of coffee in the mornings there's a series of sudden splashes from under the boat: some big predator fish, silver with a black tail, about 2 or 3 feet long, have decided to use us as a base for hunting. They streak out from under cover of the hull, leaping out of the water at times, then retreat to wait for another likely meal to come by. Morning and evening, around 8am and 5pm, they're there every day. The sound of a big bubbly breath heralds the approach of a sea lion, lazily crossing the bay. He won't bother going around us, he'll just duck under the boat when he gets here, the bubbles from his breath flowing up the hull as he goes, then he'll pop up for another breath on the other side. We hear it at night, along with the soft bumps when their play makes them knock into us. Now and again youngsters race past, ducking and diving, jumping over each other as they come. The other day a big old chap came by lying on his back, both front flippers held high up out of the water, head back and under the water. He just popped his nose out for a breath every now and again and floated along, hardly moving his flippers. He was in no hurry, why not relax whilst you travel?


Some strange type of puffer fish have made our boat their home too, about a foot long, with patterns we've never seen before. Like the Garfish in Trinidad, the first day there was one, now there are 4 or 5. 

This one has been eating the weed from our boat's bottom - keep at it puffer!

As you sit watching a sudden "Thwump!" disturbs the peace - a Booby has dived for a fish. They hang in the air an instance, then fold themselves up like a paper aeroplane and drop like a dart into the water (pausing for a moment just before they hit to cover their eyes with their wings of course!). A few seconds later they bob up with their prize. Frigate birds, the males' red throat pouch dangling, come by to see if they can steal some of the prize, judging their flight to within a centimetre of the surface.  

Blue Footed Booby diving and a male frigate bird on the wing.

Storm Petrels dance on the water alongside us. Flapping their wings to keep themselves up they dangle their little feet in the water, stooping every now and again to scoop up the little crustaceans that they disturb by doing this. It's an amazing sight, especially when you see them face on, they look for all the world as if they are doing a dance for us.

We've seen huge spotted Eagle Rays fly silently under our boat and the other day, when I was swimming with my face mask on, a shark came by about 6 feet underneath me. He was big, 8 feet or so, no black or white tips so maybe a Galapagos Shark. It's cool, I told myself, they're not interested in you, he'll just go by about his business. But he didn't. He turned his head and looked at me, then turned himself and came towards me.... At this point I stopped watching and swam as fast as I've ever swam. I was the wrong side of the boat for the ladder so I headed for the anchor chain and climbed up it in double quick time. There I was, clinging on for dear life, wondering if it was safe to come back down. When my heart had slowed down a little I yelled for Phil, who was on board "Phil! Shark!" I wanted him to look and see if the shark had gone, but Phil didn't hear. After a while of hanging on there I realised one of my feet was still in the water. I figured if the shark hadn't eaten that then it was probably ok to come back down, but I lost no time making for the ladder....

I never knew sharks jump - waiting for a water taxi I saw a big one jump and spin in the air, like a spinner dolphin, before dropping back in again with a huge splash.  Maybe they were trying to imitate the surfers catching the wonderful point break that rolls in at the entrance to the the harbour.

When we go ashore the sea lions are everywhere. The water taxi drivers help us get them off the dock so we can get ashore but some are quite determined that it's their dock, and that we have no right to it, barking at us and refusing to budge. They pop up unexpectedly too, for example they like the shade under benches, one comes along innocently to sit on a bench and a sea lion explodes in a cacophony of barking from underneath it! I screamed the first time. But they are such a delight to watch. The youngsters play with anything they find: a feather, a twig, a plastic bottle.  Playing tag, they steal it from each other, chasing and jumping one over the other. The little ones are so cute: curled up all sandy waiting for their mum to come back from fishing. When sea lions come ashore they simply clamber over any others peacefully sleeping or nursing, leaving a wake of squeaks and barks of complaints behind them. There's a beach which is totally covered with them at night, perfect for sea lion watching, which is even better than people watching! Sea lions declare their territory by yelling at each other, quite aggressively at times. However, I think it is actually the intensity of fishy breath that drives their rival away, not the volume.

Heaps of sea lions at night and a big daddy mid roar!

One evening, waiting for the water taxi at the dock, we saw a school of mustard rays (flap nosed rays) coming into the floodlight. We'd seen these rays in La Playita, all sticking one wing tip out at the same time and I found out why: they stick a wing up when they turn so when the whole school turns they all put up a wing, like synchronised swimmers. I saw a pelican catching a fish right up close at the dock too. He made an amazingly quick strike for such an ungainly creature, filling his pouch, then sat there, with an almost furtive look on his face: "Who me? Got a fish? No, not me!" until he judged it safe to very slowly let the water drain through his beak. Then it was a matter of a quick flip up and a swallow, which is the bit the frigate birds wait for as, indeed, one of the fish he caught was flipped out when he completed the manoeuvre.

Mustard rays in the flood light:


The thing about all these creatures that make this place unique is, although they aren't tame, they are unafraid. We can stand two feet from a Yellow Warbler singing on a tree, amble past a Blue Footed Booby under a bush, come within a few inches of a Marine Iguana, watch male frigate birds puff out their red throats to try to win a mate just a few feet away and get within a couple of meters of a giant tortoise and none of them seem to mind.



I've split this blog post into two, as we have so many pictures; so go to the next post to read more...