Sunrise at the Galapagos Islands.
Sunrise at the Galapagos Islands. Rae Wilson

Nature on show at Galapagos Islands

SHARK! Shark!

When someone yells shark in Australia, it's a signal to scurry out of the surf lightning fast.

Here, in the Galapagos Islands, it's code for 'head down, bum up, keep your eyes peeled'.

If anyone spots a ray, shark, turtle, penguin or dolphins everyone rushes to the side of Yate Darwin, my home during a Galapagos tour, or flippered over to the spot of the sighting in the water.

We rarely call out for a sea lion sighting. They are cute but everywhere.

People on the eight-day tour swore they would never take another sea lion or marine iguana photo unless they were in a tuxedo and wedding dress getting married.

For the rest of us who joined the boat for a four-day tour, we were still excited by nearly every species we saw.

But there are just so many animals you can literally stand on them if you are not watching your step.

The sea lions rarely bother to acknowledge our existence on the countless times we had to step over them.

Those we woke from a peaceful slumber gave a moan, not unlike a human male with a hefty hangover would.

But the pups never cease to be adorable, especially when they play.

They love to mess about with the thousands of bright-red satellite crabs and marine iguanas that dot the black lava rocks.

The latter blend so well with those shoreline rocks they scare the living daylights out of you when the 'rocks' move.

While marine iguanas are frequently spotted, the more impressive golden land iguanas, which can weigh up to 30kg, are only found on certain islands.

Similarly, the fur sea lions are much rarer than the galapagos sea lion.

The fur sea lion, which were hunted almost to extinction, total only about 9500 and weigh up to 85kg.

The galapagos sea lion, of which there are hundreds of thousands, can way up to 300kg.

The galapagos penguin is a little more elusive.

Some of us caught glimpses in the water as they darted about in wild abandonment, usually after a feed.

But my lone up-close penguin sighting occurred while snorkeling off China Hat island (Sombrero Chino n Spanish).

It was just sunning itself on a rock when I looked up from the water.

Its friends were swimming about below me apparently while I was checking out the action, or lack of, at the surface.

The galapagos is well known for the giant tortoises, including the famous Lonesome George, which we saw at the Charles Darwin centre on the main island.

Lonesome George is estimated to be more than 100kg, though there have been sightings of some weighing more than 300kg.

Apparently, they can survive a year without food.

The Charles Darwin Centre have been trying to mate him to continue his species but he seems to have no interest in the females they provide.

Not so for a male in a nearby enclosure who I saw chase a female down to launch himself upon her.

We also saw the blue-footed boobie bird and the frigates trying to attract females to mate.

Our naturalist guide spent the whole time on and off the yacht giving us great tidbits about the species we were seeing.

While on Seymour Island she demonstrated how the blue-footed bobbie lifted each foot in turn, like a dance, to attract the female.

As if on cue, one nearby started his dance. He and the female started mating calls to each other.

We also saw dozens of black frigate birds who puff out their red chests like a balloon and squawk at the females circling above.

The males are responsible for making the nests and sometimes wait up to two weeks for a female to choose them.

I like this on so many levels.

The galapagos penguins are the third smallest, the fairy penguins found at Phillip Island are the smallest, and will only mate in the right conditions.

We also saw cactus trees everywhere and nests formed by the Darwin cactus finch.

We walked over numerous lava flows and saw how tubes had formed when the lava hit water.

Some of the beaches we landed on were red or black depending on how old the lava was that had broken down.

The most recent eruption in the Galapagos, which are partly on the equator, was in 2009 but we did not go near that island.

We snorkelled and walked twice a day.

I swam with sea lions, sharks, rays, penguins and loads of colourful fish.

From our boat we saw dozens of pink flamingos in a water-filled volcano and watched plenty of Galapagos sharks swimming around our boat.

We saw rays launching themselves out of the water every few minutes as we cruised through the islands on the yacht and were joined by a large pod of dolphins at the bow one dusk.

On our last night we were treated to a great show from some sharks and sea lions competing for the same fish off the back of our yacht.

The sharks would try to chase the sea lions away but as soon as the sea lion turned, the shark fled.

A great display for our final evening.

My tour was booked through Geckos, an Australian company.

The guide, Fabi, and crew were exceptional and the food was amazing every day.

There is nothing better than kicking back with a cocktail on the back deck watching the sun go down after days exploring truly unique islands.

A Latin Affair is a travel column written by Rae Wilson.


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