June 1, 2009
Sea Lions, Sharks, and Snorkeling at Santa Fe
Santa Fe, Galapagos
We awoke at 6:30 this morning and, after having some coffee on the sundeck on the top level of our boat, settled in for a 7am breakfast. After breakfast, it was time to pack our daypack (with sun block, cameras, water, and any other essentials we needed for the morning) and prepare for a wet landing at Santa Fe island.
As our panga brought us to the beach where we would disembark, the driver of the panga hugged the small cliffs that led to the beach and we received an up close and personal view of numerous pairs of blue-footed boobies and sea lions basking on the rocks. This was our first experience with wildlife outside of a controlled area and these animals acted as if we were not even there! We got within 20 feet of the rocks and the animals were completely indifferent to us being there. What an experience!!
Our panga approached the beach where we could see 40-50 sea lions sunning themselves on the sand. As soon as we were on the beach, Adam had his camera out and started capturing some shots of the sea lion colony we were now in midst of. It was absolutely amazing to be able to get within a few feet of a whole colony. I know, some of you may thinking, isn't this dangerous? Well, Jaime did a great job of letting us know what areas on the beach to avoid in order to keep away from the bulls(male sea lions) that may be aggressive.
After getting some great pictures of these sea lions and a few nesting pelicans, we headed up the rocks to the left of the beach to see if we could find any land iguanas. During this hike, we saw several large land iguanas, many lava lizards, some baby sea lions sleeping in the shade of the small mangroves, as well as many different types of birds.
Towards the end of our hike, we walked down to another sea lion beach. As we were walking down, Jaime noticed some dark objects in the water and had us climb out on some rocks that jutted out into the water. From this viewpoint, we saw that the dark objects were actually white-tipped reef sharks that were patrolling the shallows right below where were standing. As we watched these sharks, the playful attitude of the sea lions became evident. A few sea lions shuffled off the beach and into the water, where they began to circle around and tease the sharks. Now I know what your thinking, wouldn't these sharks try to attack the sea lions? Actually, these sharks were about the same size as the sea lions, hunt nocturnally, and eat small fish, so the sea lions were safe.
After staying at this beach for a while, we walked back to the original disembarkation point and headed back to the boat. We then prepared for our first snorkeling excursion. Our panga took us back to the small cliffs I first mentioned at the beginning of this day, and we were able to snorkel with an assortment of fish and the sea lions!!
When on land, sea lions relax and seem to be the least graceful animals around. When they're in the water, however, they are anything but. The sea lions were so entertaining!! They would swim at you, sometimes even upside down, and just when they were within a few inches of your face, propel themselves around you and away with unbelievable speed and ease. What an amazing experience!!
After snorkeling, we reboarded the Millennium for lunch before moving to South Plaza Island.
We just got back on board from South Plaza Island. Who says this isn't a "real" cruise; after every excursion Rambito (our bartender and server) has cold drinks and hors d'eurves waiting for us!! Anyway, let's talk about what you're really reading this for, the excursions.
For the afternoon, we had a dry landing on South Plaza Island. When we tried to disembark on the stone "dock," we were greeted by a sea lion that was just too content sunning himself on the dock to move. We stepped right over him and moved up onto the island to wait for the other panga to disembark. It was during this time that the sea lion decided to have a little fun.
Jaime was sitting on the edge of the dock, right in front of the sea lion. When his back was turned, the sea lion would shuffle up a few feet towards him. As soon as Jaime turned back to look at the group, the sea lion would lay down and give a look like, "What? I was lying this close to you the whole time..." This continued for a couple of minutes until the other panga arrived.
Once the other panga landed, we started to climb up a small hill towards the cliffside of the island. Along the way we saw numerous land iguanas snacking on various plantlife. We reached the top of the hill and were looking out over a drop-off to the see. There were so many different types of birds: frigates, red-billed tropic birds, blue-footed boobies, swallow-tailed gulls, as well as others. Adam was able to get some good pictures of these birds as they continually circled around us.
After watching these birds for awhile, we headed towards what Jaime described as the "Bachelor Colony." This area of the island was where all the male sea lions that didn't win a portion of the beach as their own retired to in order to get back their health and strength before trying to take a beach again. In order to get to the "colony," they must climb up a steep embankment to reach the rocks on which they rest. I don't think I could climb the embankment; it's amazing these sea lions can do it.
We sat up at the Bachelor Colony for awhile watching the bulls climb the embankement before heading back to our boat for the night.
Next day - Rabida Island and Santiago