Tanya Helmig has been a Galapagos guide since 1992 and knows pretty much all there is to know about the Galapagos Islands. Here she talks about her favourite surprises from her time in the Galapagos.
After nearly 25 years as a Galapagos guide I still have some completely unexpected moments. In fact I have one for practically every trip I do! The flora and fauna of the Galapagos is boundless in its ability to surprise so it was hard to stick to just five for this blog…
1. Cheeky sea lion
Playing with young sea lions is always exciting, but once I had an unusual encounter. It was my first day snorkelling with a group and an inquisitive sea lion joined us. To keep the sea lions interest and encourage the group to follow my lead, I dived down doing twists and turns, which the sea lions imitated, a lot more gracefully though. This continued for about 10 minutes, until my attention was distracted by a Stone Scorpionfish on a rock. I dived down to get a closer look. After a few seconds I felt a very gentle nip on my backside and turned around to see the sea lion floating in the water looking at me, inviting me to continue playing with him. I ignored him, came up for a breath and went right back to the Scorpionfish. He followed me down and nipped me on the backside again to tell me off for ignoring him!
2. The feast in the tide pool
The diving behaviour of the Flightless Cormorants has been studied by the scientist Carlos Valle who reports that they can dive to a depth of more than 80 metres in search of food. This makes watching a cormorant hunt near impossible for us land lubbers.
However, one day we happened upon a cormorant in a small tide pool on Fernandina Island. We watched for almost an hour as the cormorant brought up one damselfish and goby after another until the tide pool was empty. After filling his belly, he walked out of the tide pool for a well-earned rest!
3. Turtle explosion
We are not permitted to go on shore after dark on the Galapagos visitor sites, so watching turtles hatch on the beaches is not possible. But one night an excited crew member called me out after dinner to look in the water. There were hundreds of tiny turtles swimming around our boat. It was magical. The hatchlings were attracted to the lights of our boat, so after watching them for a while we turned off our lights and left the bay, leaving them to swim out to sea and begin their lives in the ocean.
4. Baby sea lion too big to eat
Nobody can resist the charms of a baby sea lion. On this occasion we were “oohing” and “ahhing” at one playing under a ledge just two metres away, when suddenly an immature hawk landed on top of the ledge and bent over to look at the sea lion. He was probably trying to figure out whether it was edible or not! He walked back and forth along the ledge for 10 minutes sizing up the baby sea lion before hopping off to pounce on a lava lizard, which it caught and gulped down right in front of our astonished eyes. It was definitely an easier meal for him to catch.
Galapagos Penguins sometime use Brown Pelicans to help locate schools of fish, looking up at the pelican to see where it plunges into the water and zipping off in their direction to partake of the same fish stock. One day whilst we were watching this spectacle, a penguin in the water saw the pelican start the dive and darted as quick as a flash to the same area. He reached the school of fish just before the pelican plunged in, only to find himself scooped up in the pelican’s pouch! The ensuing scuffle was an amusing sight for all of us!