Galapagos, Santiago

"This morning, stroll along the shore at Puerto Egas, SANTIAGO (James) looking for octopus, starfish and other sea life caught in the tide pools. At low tide, catch a glimpse of marine iguanas as they feed on exposed green algae. Watch for great blue herons, lava herons, oystercatchers and yellow-crowned night herons. Our walk ends at the grottos, deep pools of clear water where we encounter fur sea lions once on the verge of extinction." - Itinerary

The morning walk on Santiago Island gave us the opportunity to see Galapagos fur sea lions. There were a few pups no more than ten days old, which were just about the cutest things we have seen so far. One of them made a little bleating sound every time its mother barked; it stumbled around helpless, trying to make sense of the world, finally appearing to be content when it started to suckle. The lava formations were incredible, with numerous porous, black bridges sitting over small seawater-filled holes. Galapagos fur sea lions were everywhere, tucked away on small ledges in the middle of the walls of these holes. They are better climbers than the California sea lions are. Also around the holes was a lava heron, which looked rather squat compared to your typical heron. But it has fiery red/orange eyes, which give it a very intense look. Also here, I saw a crab (one of the really colorful ones) sitting in a bed of algae. It squirted water out of an area near its eyes in two perfectly thin streams. Bizarre!

After the walk, we boarded the pangas and went looking for whales. We had seen what looked like orcas while we were walking around, so we were hopeful that we would find them. Soon after leaving, we spotted two long, thin dorsal fins and accompanied spouts of mist: we had found two juvenile orcas! They were running along the edge of the island, chasing a couple of sea lions. The two orcas often surfaced only a meter or two away from the boats, often swimming directly underneath us, their white false-eye spots gleaming through the clear water. Wendy was sprayed twice by their spouts, and every time one surfaced, a chorus of screams filled the air. Eventually, we noticed that one of the orcas had something in its mouth, which was both black/fuzzy and white/crimson. Wendy saw some litle fins sticking out of the black fuzz, and I am sure that I saw the whiteness of torn flesh, so we can only assume that it had caught one of the sea lions they had been chasing! My own photos show some sort of critter in its mouth, but because the mouth is underwater in that particular photo, it's impossible to tell what it is. But it was really exciting! Our guide, Renato (who was on the other panga), was literally screaming loudly and pointing energetically for half an hour.

On the way back to the Flamingo, Jorge steered us into the middle of a flock of feeding great frigate birds. Again, there were many screams as the birds flew around us, literally within arm's reach. They dipped towards the surface of the water again and again, at the same time raining upon us a plentitude of droppings. My dad was hit in the head. That makes three in our group of twenty who have been hit so far! Someone said that being shat upon by a bird was a sign of good luck, but that seems rather unlikely to me. :) The ride back took a long time (against the wind!), and we were soaked with seawater by the time we got off of the pangas.