Route map (click on map for a larger version)
(Note:You can skip the text and just see photos of the wildlife with brief descriptions here. The photos from Santa Fé begin with the 9th photo; click on any to see a larger version.)
Tuesday, 9/15, afternoon
We motored during the lunch break—a short but rather choppy ride—from Plaza Sur to Barrington Bay at the northeast corner of Santa Fé. This beautiful cove is protected by a partially submerged peninsula, a row of rocks, and a small island (Islote Black; named for Juan Black, one of the first directors of the Parque Nacional Galápagos). A shallow turquoise bay, it offers a delightful spot for snorkeling. And snorkel we did. This time, we hit the water from the pangas and—lo and behold!—I struck out as if I’d been doing it my entire life. No panic, no warm-up, no nothing—just stretched out and started kicking. I was even comfortable enough that I figured out how to look around to see who was where without completely stopping, pivoting to vertical, and treading water vehemently with my head out of water. So much easier to just lift your head a tiny bit out of the water and look across the surface. Carlos led the snorkelers around the bay for a while, pointing out lots of the sea life: spotted eagle ray, sting rays, golden cownose ray, white-tipped reef sharks, just to name a few. About halfway across, he hopped into the panga and showed the group that wasn’t snorkeling some of the sea life that we were seeing in the water. After about 45 minutes, we “flippered” our way back to the Tip Top II and the crew helped us climb the boat’s ladder out of the water. This water seemed considerably colder to me. From this point on, we’d be at more southerly islands where the water was colder still. (Since we were below the equator, more southerly meant closer to the origins of the cold Humboldt Current.) As a result, this would indeed be my last snorkeling of the trip, although Z went every time the opportunity appeared. Those with wet suits—even just half suits—were better equipped for the colder waters. Some boats stock half suits for the travelers, but ours didn’t.
After changing into dry clothes, we headed in for a wet landing at the beach. We were greeted by legions of female Galápagos Sea Lions and many, many of their pups. The photo on the left shows the turquoise water of the bay. (The Tip Top III —our slightly larger sister ship—is on the left and the Tip Top II, on the right; Islote Black stretches off to the right.) The photo on the right offers a different angle on this “harem”—a large group of females and their pups on a stretch of beach that is guarded by a single male. Males can be differentiated from females rather easily; males have a prominent “bump” on their heads and they are much larger. These guardian bulls are referred to as “beachmasters,” because they will defend their piece of beach against all comers—sea lion, human, whatever. There is indeed a male in the photo on the right; below is an enlarged portion of this photo, where you can see the dark male in the midst of the ladies (just a bit right of center), pushing himself up—looks like a Cobra yoga pose to me—from the harem. Because he has his back to us, this view doesn’t show the identifying head shape. But you can clearly see the size differential. And of course, the attitude of power and entitlement practically leaps off the page (um, monitor). One of our fellow travelers took the photo below of a bull male, which clearly shows the different skull shape (sort of a live-action shot with the sea splashing around him). Thanks for letting me post your photo, Ann!