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Destination: Galapagos Islands Cyber Field Trip

Sherri Steward's Expedition Journal
Day Two

Click here to see Sherri's video journal.

Click on the photo to see an enlargement.

What a day this has been! Last night Mandy and I were invited to dine with Captain Fernando Penaherrera and his first mate, Willy. Wow, did we feel like big shots!

I was sure that I couldn't top the full moon over Santa Cruz last night or the sights at Cerro Dragon on the northeast shore of Santa Cruz yesterday. I was definitely wrong. After a hearty breakfast of sausage, eggs and smoked salmon, we were awake and ready to explore by around 7:30 a.m. (we slept in today).

Marine iguanaDuring the night, Captain Penaherrera had sailed southwest for Hood, more commonly called Espanola Island. Today, we were to explore one of the most fascinating and beautiful of the Galapagos Islands, a place where wildlife is extremely abundant -- and definitely unafraid of humans.

We hadn't expected to see marine iguanas up close and personal, but they were everywhere! Mandy and I were busy filming the wildlife on the beach at Espanola, while the rest of the Scientific American Frontiers crew filmed Alan Alda with the marine iguanas. The marine iguanas walked in the middle of the trail and even over my foot! Sally Lightfoot CrabThey don't seem to mind each other's company as well. I saw a huge hermit crab, the biggest I had ever seen, walk on top of a marine iguana. In the confusion, the crab actually got stuck on the foot of the iguana and hitched a ride for a while, until the two finally parted ways. The Sally Lightfoot crabs are everywhere, and they, too, are the largest and most colorful I've seen.

The sea lions are one of my favorite animals in the Galapagos. On Espanola's beaches, we found huge males, guarding their harems and territories. We also found several mothers with their pups, whose barking could be heard all over the beach. We found one female and her week-old infant, who quite obviously couldn't nurse. Sea LionOur wildlife expert, naturalist Lynn Fowler, informed us that the infant would, perhaps, perish if he didn't learn to nurse immediately. On these islands, there is no human intervention; nature must take its course, as it has for millions of years. Although it is difficult for us to see such sights, it is the driving force behind the delicate balance of nature.

Back on the trail, we found the infamous masked booby. This bird has the dubious honor of encouraging siblicide among its offspring. The female often lays two eggs, a sort of insurance policy in case one doesn't hatch. If both eggs hatch, one of the chicks (usually the biggest or oldest) often kills the other. Dr. David Anderson, one of the world's leading experts on the boobies, has postulated that this strange behavior actually helps the species survive by allowing the parents to expend less energy in rearing the chicks. Dr. Anderson will join us later in our journey and will, no doubt, have lots to say about these strange creatures.

Sally Lightfoot CrabOne of the animals I have been looking forward to seeing is the blue-footed booby. Their name comes from "Bo Bo," or clown, and I could immediately see why after watching them today. They, like the masked boobies, are ground nesters and seem quite clumsy when they walk or try to land. They are aptly named since their feet are bright blue. I asked Lynn Fowler why their feet were blue; what could possibly be the evolutionary benefit of such a trait? It seems that scientists are not sure why the birds have developed this trait, but here in the Galapagos, there seems to be a perfectly good reason for every single animal adaptation.

Sally Lightfoot CrabAfter finishing up our video clips for the day (we got some really good discussions from Alan Alda and Lynn Fowler), Mandy and I headed back to the trailhead. Of course, we were again greeted by the marine iguanas, boobies and sea lions. The greatest thing about Espanola has been the animals' total lack of fear. The Galapagos mockingbirds even perched on my leg! It made me wonder just how wonderful the rest of the world would be if it did as good a job of protecting its wildlife as the Ecuadorians.

Read Mandy's Day Two Journal

Day 1 new entry Day 3


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.