Discover Rare Tortoises, Penguins and More on the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands may be the world’s best destination for lovers of science, wildlife and history. They are the birthplace of Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, and the unique animal species found nowhere else on the planet have captivated the world for centuries. Best of all is that Galapagos is not designed only for a scholar audience; it can unfold your hidden power of observation and become a mighty-fine voyage of discovery. A cruise here in Galapagos offers a chance to experience animals that are not only completely unique but unafraid of people. Here is a look at some of the most popular wildlife.
Discover the Galapagos Giant Tortoises, unique animal species
On the island of Santa Cruz, the Galapagos tortoise breeding center of the National Park and the Charles Darwin Research Station give guests the opportunity to see these relic chelonians and its many varieties. Explorers love to see the unique animal species, adults of different islands and their different shells, and the very young individual being raised here for their first years of life, before they are released back in the wild. Because each subspecies grew up on its own island, they have grown to look very different from one another, and guests who come here are taught about the ways to tell them apart. Each has a different size and shape of head, legs, tail or shell. These differences were adapted to their local environment. For example, the species from Santa Cruz and Isabela lived in an area with a lot of shrubs, and their shells are round, just like a dome, in order to easily manage the thick vegetation in the areas where they live.
The tortoise along with the islands as a whole received conservation status in 1971, less than a year after the U.S. formed the Environmental Protection Agency. Today, the tortoise breeding center continues to be one of the highlights of a journey to the Galapagos. Guests will get to see tortoises of many different ages from incubating eggs or newly hatched babies to adults that are over a century old. If you want a guaranteed tortoise visit, and the understanding of what humans are doing to protect them, this is the place to go.
Tortoises in the wild can be a fun experience as well because they are gentle and unafraid of people. They will happily sit still while you position yourself for a selfie, provided you keep a respectful distance. No touching of the unique animal species is allowed. The best location for this to be witnessed are the highlands of Santa Cruz Island, and the semi-captive conditions at the highlands of San Cristobal Island. The word “galapago” comes after the old Castilian word referring to a riding saddle, and the fact that carapaces (shells) of giant tortoises do resemble a riding saddle. Thus, the name “islands of the Galapagos” doesn’t mean islands of tortoises, but rather islands of riding saddles. Then, the term galapago was adopted for naming the long-lived chelonians, and the islands were naturally baptized as the Galapagos Islands.
Tortoises are only the beginning of the wild creatures to be found here. If you love wildlife, here are some of the other extraordinary Galapagos inhabitants to watch for.
Frolic with Galapagos Penguins
The tiny Galapagos penguin has the distinction of being the only penguin in the world known to cross over into the northern hemisphere. Their ability to live in tropical waters instead of the Antarctic makes them a unique species of penguin. Although, the majority of penguins are found in the western islands of Fernandina and Isabela, you find them in some central islands where the strong upwelling of ocean currents occurs.
These penguins can be seen from land via some of the designated walking trails, by skiff from an expedition vessels, or underwater during a snorkel excursion. All three methods have their advantages as far as views and accessibility; however, if you snorkel or dive near them, you will most likely bring back the most entertaining stories. They are quick, make sharp moves, and will speed around you with grace and ease while you are underwater. This makes them one of the highlights of a trip to this area for diving enthusiasts. This is the only tropical location where you can snorkel with penguins next to tropical fishes. How about that for an exclusive experience?
Watch the Enchanting Dances of the Galapagos Sea Birds
The seabirds found along the rocks of the Galapagos are another fun sight to experience when you are on the islands. Discover bright-footed boobies doing wobbly mating dances and sticking each foot high in the air. The jet-black frigate bird is a graceful air pirate who is known for knocking prey from the mouths of other birds and then gracefully swooping beneath to catch it for themselves before it hits the ground. They are one of the most photographed of all the Galapagos wildlife while in breeding form with dark bodies and a large, inflatable red pouch in the shape of a heart profusely shown by males . Galapagos albatrosses and their mating rituals on Española Island are experiences not-to-be-missed.
Learn About the Diversity of Darwin’s Finches
For bird lovers or those fascinated by the concepts of evolutionary biology, a look at some of the finch species that are found here can be an enlightening learning experience. The original birds that were blown to the island, most likely through a tropical storm, found that their typical food sources of seeds and grains were unavailable. As the birds looked for other food sources, their descendants evolved specialized beak shapes to eat ants, cacti and other foods found on the islands. Some of these finches have extraordinary adaptations, like the vampire finch, which actually pecks other birds to get their blood. Consider yourself lucky if your eyes can really tell obvious differences, as this represents the species diversity of this remarkable bird group. Out of the thirteen species of finches, it is quite common to spot at least 6 or 7 different species.
Discover a Cruise
Watching the islands by water is one of the most eco-conscious ways to view the Galapagos. Boat travel requires less fuel than air travel and can provide homes for visitors instead of hotels. This saves more land for the wildlife. A Galapagos cruise also comes with knowledgeable Naturalists and crewmembers who can help you to learn more about the amazing opportunities the islands have to offer.