An American's Guide to Galápagos Islands: Genovesa Island

After siesta and lunch its time for another Galápagos excursion. This afternoon we're still on Isla Genovesa The Silver Galapagos is anchored in the volcano's massive sea-filled caldera. Around the ship are the 100-foot cliffs of the caldera. It is a very warm afternoon in the Galápagos (tarde caliente de Galápagos).

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Its a short zodiac ride to shore where we disembark onto a small, yellow-sand beach crowded with sea lions and seabirds. The wildlife ignore us. Animals in the Galápagos have no fear of humans. Most of these animals have few if any predators so their peaceful existence is guaranteed and they've learned no fear.

This afternoon's itinerary included a short hike, some snorkeling and a natural history lesson. I'm pretty tired, not being accustomed to getting up at 6:00 am, so the order of events is likely confused. I also don't remember much of the lectures. I know they were mostly about the birds that inhabit this island.

The sea lions move right into all of our crap and rest there, rolling around in the sand. The guides lecture, a lot, about the natural history of the islands and the individual species. I guess for one's $15,000+ most tourists expect educational seminars. Me? I would prefer a lot more hiking and a lot less talking. I can always open a book or search the internet for information on the species in the images I've made after I've seen it all.

It seems we spend an awful lot of time standing, listening to what at times is questionable science. Most dubious would be the argument of many of the guides that humans that inhabit these islands are as important as the other species. That type of argument is not based on scientific evidence. The best way to preserve these unique islands and their endemic species would be to remove all humans, forever, and allow only very limited tourism.

I can only assume the arguments we're hearing are because all of our guides are Ecuadorian and Ecuador is a largely Catholic country where most birth control and abortion are illegal.

Galápagos Sea Lions (Zalophus wollebaeki) and Galápagos Marine Iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) ignore each other, and the humans gawking at them. Marine Iguanas are my favorite Galápagos animal. There is something very cat-like about them. They are independent and strong and completely oblivious to humans. They also have a creature-of-the-black-lagoon kind of look that is very beguiling.

Red-Footed Booby

On this afternoon's "hike" we see mostly Frigate Birds and Red Boobies. It is more like walk 20 feet, get 20 minutes of lecture. . .walk another 20 feet. . . another lecture. We're really not covering much real estate.

There are many red boobies (Sula sula). We literally walk through the Red-footed Booby rookery where the birds are actively raising their newborns. It is a very unique experience and one like you won't have anywhere else in the world.

The obvious question is what advantage is there to red feet? What caused this peculiar twist of evolution? We know that the Blue-footed Booby with the bluest feet has a mating advantage. We can assume the same may be true for Red-footed boobies. More on that in a follow-up post. First why the brown morph versus white morph that you see in the image above? Those are both Red-footed boobies but they look very different.

The Red-footed booby is the only polymorphic member of its genus, and mong the three subspecies has five distinct adult color morphs; brown, white, black-tailed white, white-tailed brown, white-headed and white-tailed brown morph.

In the white morph the plumage is mostly white the head often tinged yellowish) and the flight feathers are black. The black-tailed white morph is similar, but with a black tail, and can easily be confused with the Nazca and masked boobies. The brown morph is overall brown. The white-tailed brown morph is similar, but has a white belly, rump, and tail. The white-headed and white-tailed brown morph has a mostly white body, tail and head, and brown wings and back. The morphs commonly breed together, but in most regions one or two morphs predominates; e.g. at the Galápagos Islands, most belong to the brown morph, though the white morph also occurs. We saw plenty of both on a short hike on Genovesa.

These are the smallest of the boobies and also the ones found furthest from land. The species also has the largest eyes of its family (Sulidae) which is likely an adaptation for nocturnal feeding on squid and flying-fish.

On take off Red-footed Boobies are clumsy, but they are strong fliers and agile swimmers often seen fishing many kilometers from land in the open ocean.

After the 'twig dance' a happy couple?

It kind of looks like he's looking at a white morph over on another tree.

Photo: Marion J.

As the day draws to a close we finish our hikes on Genovesa and leave the island for ship. In this image I made with a wide-angle lens from the zodiac, the ship looks tiny in the massive caldera (aka Great Darwin Bay).

We go from rocks (or beach) to zodiacs to ship. Then its time to shower, change and dine. . . and then get up and do it all over again tomorrow at 6:00 am on another island.