Saturday 21 July 2012

Espanola Island, Gardner Bay

Sea Lions Basking in Sun at Gardner Bay, Espanola Island

Espanola Island is the home to several spectacular visitor sites, one of which is the exquisite white sand beach at Gardner Bay. It's a beach perfect for walking and watching the frolicking and resting sea lions, hundreds of which may be seen here at any given time.

To me, this is always a special place. Always, loud guttural barking is a first indication that we have arrived at Espanola Island’s beautiful Gardner Bay. Be prepared for the amazing welcoming committee made of literally hundreds of sea lions lazing on the beach, playing in the surf and soaking up the sun.

Galapagos Sea Lion pup at Gardner Bay, Espanola Island
Please - just a little rub on my nose.  It would feel so good.
Typically, on your cruise, it's likely that you have seen a lot of sea lions by now, but nothing quite like this.  There are hundred, all unafraid and content to have us in their midst; oblivious to the fact that they are the subject of our videos, photos and inquiries. To the contrary, the sea lions seem to like us around – the pups certainly do. They come up eagerly looking for little rubs on their noses. We do not oblige this natural curiosity. A pup who returns to his mother with the scent of a human is likely to be rejected and starve to death as a result.

While we love how social these little guys can be, they are much better off being social with each other. In fact, watching the pups play with each other and cavort around is part of the charm of Gardner Bay.

Galapagos Sea Lion mother and pupThe cacophony of sounds made by these placid seeming animals may startle you. The male adult sea lion’s bark is loud, long and repetitive. I love to imitate them for my group and before too long my group is barking along with me. It makes me laugh as I know this means that they are loving their time here and really feeling a part of the Galapagos experience.The pups don’t bark so loud, but a mother sea lion is able to recognize the distinctive bark of her pup in a crowd. We do not confuse them one bit!

Gardner Bay also is the home to Espanola Mockingbirds and three species of Darwin finches.  Early in the year, green sea turtles populate the beach as well.

Mockingbird at Gardner Bay on Espanola Island, Galapagos
Here's a special video Hooded Mockingbirds engaged in a mating dance at Gardner Bay.  Notice how well they are camouflaged and adapted to their surroundings:

Sea Turtle Nest at Gardner Bay on Espanola Island, Galapagos
Sea Turtle Nest
A very important aspect of Gardner Bay is that it serves as a nesting site for the Green Sea Turtle. According to Galapagos National Park Service studies, the tortoise population had been greatly reduced by human interference. Only 12 females and 2 males were found on the Island in 1965. All were transferred to the breeding center at La Galapaguera on Santa Cruz Island. Within 20 years, and after the addition of a few other male tortoises, baby turtles were bred.  Then,in 2991, the first of these tortoises were released back into their natural habitat. Now, about 1500 tortoises have been released back onto Espanola, a major success story of conservation and preservation. It is essential that the tortoises be allowed to breed peacefully and that no one interfere with their breeding sites and nests. Notably too, human are not the tortoises's only predator as frigate and other marine birds often feast on the babies before they make it into the ocean waters and sharks and other fish are also predators.

Gardner Bay is a favorite site for many Galapagos Island visitors. The range of possibilities on beautiful Espanola Island is infinite.

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