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Last night we booked it down to Espanola, the oldest of the Galapagos islands still above water. It's almost completely flat, and it's relatively small. In fact, it was once much bigger, but half the caldera collapsed into the ocean, leaving cliffs. I think my favorite thing we saw here was the red and green marine iguanas. Carlos says they get that coloring from the algae they eat. He's probably right, especially if this island has more red and green algae than others, but the other marine iguanas eat algae too, so I'm not completely on board. Also, the red helps the iguanas blend in with the rocks on Espanola, because there's lots of red mud on the black rocks. However, they have no natural predators, so there's no reason that camouflage would help.
Espanola also has lots of mosquitos. Clouds of mosquitos. I guess it's the wet season and it just rained, and they were swarming. When we got to the cliffs, one guy sat down and had about twenty on just the right shoulder blade of his white shirt. Carlos slapped them to kill them, and made a handprint of blood. Other people had hats covered in them. I didn't have clouds around me, but somehow I ended up being bit more than most.
But we were really there for the albatross. These huge birds (over 6 ft wingspan) are pelagic, meaning they spend most of their lives in the open sea. They only come here to nest. They have white heads. They're so big that they have to get a running start on land, and since the vegetation hasn't died back yet (as it does in the dry season), they have to take a header off the cliff to get in the air. We saw one do that-- a lot like a hang glider-- and it really fell a long way before catching its air.
|Somehow I didn't get a picture of an albatross. That might be one over my dad's shoulder. Hard to tell.|
One thing I noticed today is how obvious the competition is on these islands. When we think about natural selection (Darwin's theory), we think about "survival of the fittest" and predation: the weakest antelope gets eaten. But really, Darwin was thinking about competition for resources. On these islands, there's so few resources, like fresh water and nutritious soil, and there are so many individuals, that they're obviously competing for food, for the best nesting places, and so forth. We saw a baby booby today whose head was very red. Carlos told us about how boobies usually have two eggs, and sometimes one doesn't hatch. It's like an insurance policy. If they both hatch, the stronger one will kill the other one. But if only one hatches, then there's some left-over hostility, and that booby will grow up mean. Probably what happened to this one is that one of those hostile boobies picked on it. It wasn't doing so well when we left.
In the afternoon we went for a snorkel at Gardner Bay (off Espanola), but the water was murky and cold and we didn't see much. We did see tiny jellyfish, and I got stung, so it wasn't the best of snorkeling experiences. (It was like a bee sting.) After the snorkel I opted out of the beach trip, which turned out to be a good choice, because they came back early due to mosquitos. I had a nice nap though.
The best part of the day was after dinner, the clouds had moved away enough so we could see the stars. There's obviously few lights out here, so it was easy to see stars, but not recognize them. I did see Orion, and the big dipper (or is it the little dipper?), and Carlos pointed out the Southern Cross, as well as the trick Southern Cross, which fools you into thinking it's the real one when it isn't. Then as we set sail for Floreana (tomorrow's destination), we could see bioluminescent squid lighting up in the wake of the boat. Awesome.
Click here for the whole day's album.
See vacation summary (with links to each day).