Day 43: 8 Million Years Later

Tue. 25th September 2012

Red footed Boobies have blue beaksThe Cachalote cruised overnight to Genovesa Island and so we crossed the equator and our now in the Northern Hemisphere for one final day until the middle of February when we leave Australia (I am assuming the Singapore is north of the Equator).

Genovesa was formed 8m years ago and the comparison with Santiago (see yesterday’s post) was fascinating. The similarity and development of the landscape was really clear. You were still crunching on lava that was only a little more eroded than we saw yesterday. There was more variety of trees and plants and hence better support for a wider variety of animal life. Nevertheless, it is very clear that in geological terms, 8m years is not long ago at all.

The wildlife that is unique to Genovesa includes:

  • Fur seals – smaller than sea lions with bigger eyes and a more pointed snout;
  • Red-footed Boobies – Blue beaks, red feet and nest in trees (unlike Nazca & Blue-footed Boobies); and
  • Great Frigates (to date have only seen Magnificent Frigates – still waiting for the AbsoFlippingLutely Amazing Frigates!)

If you can't dress properly, I'm going to ignore you!We still can’t get used to how much the wildlife and the birds in particular just ignore you. You are no threat to them and not food for them so you are not worth expending any energy on. Going bird spotting will never be the same again. We had to step over a Booby who was sitting on her nest in the middle of the path. Some of the paths we walked on were flanked by bushy trees each with half a dozen nests in – some occupied by and adult and a chick, but some just with a fluffy feathered chick.

Orca!One of the walks on Genovesa was along the cliff wall on the outside of the collapsed caldera from the volcano that formed the island, when suddenly the cry of “Orcas!” went up. We had been watching a large group of Frigates soaring in the updraft off the cliff, when suddenly they all swooped down to the surface of the sea. As we strained to see what they were doing, we saw a fin and then the body of a whale breach the surface. A glimpse of a patch of white on the body was enough to convince our guide that it was an Orca or Killer Whale (actually not a whale, but a member of the dolphin family). Over the next few minutes we saw at least 3 whales in a pod that swam back and forth along the coast. All the while the frigates and other sea birds were frantically swooping around the surface of the sea.

Mockingbird having lunchPractically the only animal missing from our checklist / wishlist is the Hammerhead shark. Today was our final snorkelling trip (inside the bay formed within the collapsed caldera) and hence our final chance to see some. Sadly, we failed on this mission but instead we had a sight that was even more spectacular – we got to see a squadron of Cow-nosed Golden Rays as they glided underneath us. Suddenly one of our group started waving and pointing down under the surface. When I ducked down to see what was being pointed at, I at first thought something was wrong. It was like looking at a floor tiled in lino or at a chess board – light and dark squares as far as you could see.

It took a second or two to realise that I was looking at a squadron of rays about 4 or 5 rays wide and stretching fore and back pretty much as far as you could see. We hung floating on the surface and watched them slide away underneath us for a few minutes awestruck by their number and by the regularity of spacing.

Returning to the CachaloteCloser to the shore, the other fish were smaller but much more colourful – my favourite was a large parrotfish that shimmered in turquoise, green and blue as it chomped away at the vegetation or crustaceans on a rock below me.

I made sure to finish the film on my disposable underwater camera – I hope that the pictures come out and that we are able to get them in digital format somehow. It was frustrating being back to a film camera after being so used to convenience of digital cameras. I must get a waterproof case for my little Sony RX100.

Red footed Booby looking after a nesting chick!We had another beach trip in the afternoon (wet landing) where we met three research scientists from the Max Planck Institute. We got talking to one of them and apparently they are on the island for 3 weeks and are studying whether or not Frigate birds sleep on the wing. What a great wheeze this is – being paid to spend 3 weeks in the Galapagos studying anything!

On our landing beach we found a pile of litter including plastic pots and plastic bags thrown overboard and then washed up from a fishing boat moored in the bay. Juan took this to be a capital crime. Prior to clearing it up, he asked me to take photos of all the rubbish (and later the offending fishing boat) so that he can include them as evidence in a report to the park authorities. I was actually encouraged a) that people cared and b) that it is likely there will be a fine for the fishing boat crew.

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