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Destination: Galapagos Islands Cyber Field Trip

Sherri Steward's Expedition Journal
Day Six

Click on the photo to see an enlargement.

Oops!! As Mandy and I were tucked away in our cabin bunks, we heard a loud knock on our door. It was Andy: "Five minutes, girls!" What a scramble! We finally made it to the panga, somewhat disheveled, but nevertheless enthusiastic about today's adventure.

Dr. Anderson's base campToday we headed for Genovesa, also known as Tower Island, where Dr. David Anderson and Dr. Martin Wikelski are conducting scientific research on the masked boobies and the marine iguanas. We first boarded a small yacht, the Nortada, and I experienced my first hint of seasickness.

We headed to shore to talk with the scientists and see a new subspecies of marine iguana. The research camp was a collection of about five tents and an awning over a makeshift table. Not only did I find both scientists to be brilliant, but also quite a lot of fun and very personable as well.

Masked BoobyThis island has only two spots where tourists are allowed, but we were in a location where scientific research is ongoing and tourists are not allowed. The island is inhabited by lots of masked boobies and their nests, with fuzzy chicks everywhere. The birds (as well as all the animals) are completely oblivious to our presence and we were allowed to really get up close and personal with all of them. My favorites were the frigate bird chicks, with their cute, fuzzy faces.Frigate chick

Dr. David Anderson is conducting exciting research on the behavior of masked boobies. He discovered a behavior, called siblicide, in booby chicks. The larger chick always kills the younger chick, sometimes with the collusion of the parents. There has been considerable discussion among scientists about the evolutionary advantage of such behavior, but Dr. Anderson believes the advantage is in the success of the parents insuring the survival of at least one of the chicks.

Marine iguanaDr. Martin Wikelski is studying a particular subspecies of the marine iguanas, a much smaller version of the ones we have seen so far. Dr. Wikelski is attempting to determine why the marine iguanas on the island of Genovesa (Tower) are so much smaller than those on other islands. He has determined that temperature has an effect on the iguanas' size: it is cooler on Genovesa where the smaller animals exist. In addition, the larger iguanas of Fernandina are able to consume considerably more algae during the same amount of foraging time.

In addition to the masked boobies, frigate birds and marine iguanas, there are many of the famous Darwin's finches on Tower Island. One ground finch was captured (and, of course, released later) in order for one of the scientists to tag it for future reference, and to film the tagging with Alan Alda.

yellow-crowned night heronI also saw a beautiful yellow-crowned night heron, which I hadn't seen before on the Islands. One of the most beautiful gulls in the world is the Galapagos gull. This large gull is very delicate in appearance and has a brilliant red circle around its eyes. Like all the Galapagos animals, it is completely unafraid of humans.

After a long and very bumpy ride (the surf was very high), we finally made it home to the Polaris. Tonight's dinner on the teak deck of our ship was a barbecue feast of shrimp, chicken and pork. Galapagos gullAfter finishing my journal and posting tonight's soil experiments, I'm hoping to take a walk around the deck and enjoy the sights and sounds aboard the ship.

But before I go, I would especially like to say hello to all the students back home. I hope you will all work hard in your science classes, so that someday, I might come to visit you and your research camp! I would also like to say thank you to Trevor, Jessica, Stephanie and all the kids back home who are taking care of the raccoons, opossum, birds, etc., in our Ecology Center in Grapevine, Texas!

Read Mandy's Day Six Journal

Day 5 new entry Day 7


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
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