On Monday evening we took a Zodiac cruise along the coast of Isabela Island (below), a large member of the archipelago. We couldn’t land there because of the cliffs, but there was plenty of wildlife on the steep lava rock.
Here’s Isabela, on the left, produced by the joining of six shield volcanoes. Its top is shaped like a seahorse. Wikipedia says this:
Isabela Island (Spanish: Isla Isabela) is the largest of the Galápagos Islands, with an area of 4,586 km2 (1,771 sq mi) and a length of 100 km (62 mi). By itself, it is larger than all the other islands in the chain combined and it has a little under 2000 permanent inhabitants. The island straddles the equator.
We’ve now crossed the equator three times (there was a celebration Monday night) but we’ll cross it three more times. I hope to be on the bridge the next time we cross so I can photograph the 0.0000 degree latitude.
It was hard photographing animals on the cliff from a bobbing Zodiac; the shutter speed was about 1/30 or 1/60, and I had to wait for a moment of stillness to snap the shutter. The photos I show are culled from a bunch of blurry ones.
A collocation of marine iguanas. I don’t know how they get up these near vertical cliffs, but they do. (We still need a word for a group of marine iguanas!)
More. This is a near vertical surface, but they hang out on the ledges.
A new endemic species for this trip: the Nazca booby (related to the blue-footed booby).
And two views of a native but non-endemic species, the brown noddy.
And of course our famous flightless cormorant, another endemic species. Look at those pathetic wings!
Another view. Those wings aren’t getting anybody off the ground.
A new endemic mammal for me: the Galápagos fur seal. (Photographed at a great distance.) It has external ears, so it should be the Galápagos fur sea lion.
This is what a full Zodiac looks like. They generally hold twelve people plus the driver and the naturalist.
Dinner Monday night. Caesar salad to start.
Steak (rare, of course) with red peppercorns, rice, and asparagus:
And “Ecuadorian lime pie” with meringue. It was a light dinner for me, which is what I wanted.
Yesterday we landed in Urbina Bay on Isabela, an area formed only in 1955 when tectonic movement uplifted a large section of the seabed almost instantly, stranding sea life and leaving huge chunks of coral aboveground. Here’s a huge hunk of coral stranded almost 70 years ago
The skull of a giant tortoise. Our naturalist estimated that it would have been about a century old: a youngster
And the skeleton of a different giant tortoise. It still has the scutes, or pieces of hard skin that grow over the shell. It must have died recently, perhaps of disease.
The trail went by many burrows, which are the refuges of the land iguanas that they dig out themselves.
And, lo and behold, here’s one of these monster lizards. Darwin found them ugly and had nothing good to say about them in the Voyage of the Beagle, but he was anthropomorphizing. They are remarkable animals.
A close up of the head of one of the three land iguanas in the archipelago, the Galápagos land iguana, a widespread species on the archipelago. There are two other species, the Galápagos pink land iguana, found on Isabela island, and Santa Fe land iguana from the eponymous island.
We finally ran into the species we were hoping to see, sitting right in the middle of the trail: a Galápagos giant tortoise, one of the dome-shelled variety (there are also “saddle-back morphs with an indentation in front of the shell to help them reach higher vegetation and cacti.
Some consider the different populations to be different species, usually 11, while others consider the different populations to be subspecies of a single species. (Some islands have more than one type.) This is a judgement call, as the different forms, when in captivity, can produce viable and fertile hybrids. But that’s in captivity, not in the wild. For the moment I’ll consider them subspecies, as their reproductive behavior, at least in captivity, doesn’t indicate any problems with crossing of the different forms. (That’s not a great way to judge,bthough, as species that maintain their distinctness in the wild where they cohabit can nevertheless produce fertile hybrids in the confinement of zoos, like the lion and tiger, which once lived in the same areas of India.)
A head shot. This guy is at least a century old:
The rear leg. Cowboy boots are made from this skin, and you can recognize them by the polygonal scales (alligator and croc have square scales). It is illegal to sell sea turtle boots as the species are endangered, and if you see them on eBay, often duplicitously advertised as “sea alligator boots” or “exotic reptile boots,” report them.
Note the blunt claws, used for digging holes to lay eggs.
Two endemic flowering plants. This one is Cordia lutea, also known as yellow cordia or, in Spanish, muyuyo.
And the other endemic, “Darwin’s cotton” (Gossypium darwinii), in the same genus as the regular cotton plant, but fiber cottons are diploid while this is one of five tetraploid species in the genus.