Santiago Bejarano is the co-founder of Think Galapagos and personally accompanies every small group tour that we organise to the islands. He is a well-known naturalist, guide and wildlife photographer and has worked in the Galapagos for more than 23 years. Here he describes six Galapagos species that hold a special place in his heart and the reason why some of them are endangered.
1. Ocean Travellers: The Waved Albatross
These magnificent and graceful birds, which mate for life, nest almost exclusively on the Island of Espanola in the south-eastern corner of the Galapagos Archipelago. The male and female Waved Albatross share the duties of incubating and feeding their chicks, flying long distances to find feeding grounds along the coast of Peru.
During these journeys they run the risk of becoming trapped in long line fishing nets outside the protected waters of Galapagos. If one partner does not return the nest is abandoned and the chick will most likely die. This is a regular occurrence and Waved Albatross are now considered critically endangered.
2. Underwater flight: Galapagos Penguins
Galapagos Penguins have the smallest breeding range and population size of any penguin, with less than a thousand breeding pairs in the world. They live only in Galapagos, with 90% of the population living in the western islands of Fernandina and Isabella.
Feeding on small fish which flourish in the cold waters around the islands means they are very vulnerable to increases in the water temperature and with the warming of the world’s oceans this could make it difficult for them to find the food they need to flourish.
3. Red-footed Booby
With its bright red feet and pink and blue beak, the Red-footed Booby is the world’s smallest booby. Both the male and female take care of the nest and raise a single chick together. They are what’s known as a ‘pelagic feeder’; this means they travel long distances to find food, taking them outside the protected waters around the Galapagos. For now the Galapagos population is stable, but they frequently get caught in fishing nets outside protected waters.
4. Evolution in Action: Flightless Cormorant
The Flightless Cormorant is one of the world’s rarest birds with a population of less than 1,000 pairs. This highly unusual bird lost its ability to fly as it had no predators on land, nor does it need to fly for food as it gets all the nourishment it needs in the waters around the islands of Isabela and Fernandina. This makes it vulnerable to changes in water temperature; as water gets warmer, there is less food for them putting this fragile population at risk from rising ocean temperatures.
5. A Sad Tale of Over Fishing: Red Spiny Lobster
Old fishermen who lived in Galapagos in the 1950s remember being able to scoop lobsters out of tidal pools, they were so common. In 1992 when I started working as a naturalist in Galapagos you still could see them all over the islands when snorkelling. It is now several years since I have seen one. Indeed the only photo I could find of the lobster is one caught by a fisherman. It is with great sadness I have witnessed the huge decline of this wonderful animal, whose story provides a clear example of the urgent need to have strict management of fisheries in and around Galapagos.
And lastly, to finish on a positive note…
6. An unforgettable encounter: Galapagos Sea Lion
Swimming and rolling with these playful sea mammals over the last two decades has been a highlight of my time working in the Galapagos. When you are in the water with them it seems they have as much fun swimming with you as you have with them, with their acrobatic spins and turns.
Their playfulness is contagious. Only slightly smaller than their Californian cousins, Galápagos Sea Lions range from 150 to 250 cm in length and weigh between 50 to 400 kg, with the males larger than females. These incredibly inquisitive animals are a highlight of most people’s trip to the Galapagos Islands as they share the beaches and sea with their visitors.