As we headed out, a young Giant Tortoise ambled down the path in front of us (below right). In addition to its small size, the easily seen ridges on its carapace (shell) let you know that this is a youngster (below, left). (As they age, the ridges wear off from years of moving beneath low brush.) Since we were at the foot of Volcán Alcedo, thistortoise was a member of the species Cheolonides vandenburgi, found only in the area of Volcán Alcedo. The dome-shelled Alcedo tortoises are the largest single population of tortoises in the archipelago, with an estimated 5,000 individuals. The release of goats on Alcedo in 1968 resulted in an estimated 100,000 on the northern volcanoes of Isabela (Alcedo, Darwin, Wolf) by the mid-1990s, threatening the survival of all of the Giant Tortoises in the area—and especially those on Alcedo. Project Isabela, undertaken by the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galápagos National Park Service, eliminated the entire feral goat and donkey populations on northern Isabela between 2004 and 2005. You can read more about this dramatic and important conservation project—which also eliminated invasive, destructive feral goats, pigs, and donkeys from Islas Pinta and Santiago—on the Galapagos Conservancy’s Web site.
As our group attempted to move around the tortoise, it pulled its head into its shell (below), indicating that it was uneasy about our presence. Carolina hustled us all cautiously past the youngster so it could go on about its day.
A bit further down the path, we encountered a large Land Iguana. The Land Iguanas on Isabela are among the largest in the archipelago. Since these animals are cold-blooded, this one (left) was soaking up the sun, to warm up before starting its day. I would guess that it might be a female (could I add any more qualifiers there?) since her head isn’t very yellow. Land Iguanas spend the night in burrows (right), to conserve body heat. Another Land Iguana we met later (below) was more colorful; I’m guessing that that one might have been a male. Neither one had very long spikes along their backs, so that second clue about sex didn’t help. Alternatively, they could both have been females. And it doesn’t really matter—they were both really big! (The 2nd Land Iguana looks a bit as if he were smiling at us. Probably not…)
While we were admiring one of the Land Iguanas, a Galápagos Dove (below) strolled by. (Click on the photo to see a larger version; the dove in the middle of the photo is a bit hard to see in this smaller version.) This one looks like a recent fledgling, given how scruffy its feathers looked and how much white was on its wing.
Rounding a bend, we spotted a number of hermit crabs scurrying away from an area under bush. Surprised, Carolina stopped for a closer look and discovered the remains (right and left)—picked pretty clean by the crabs and other scavengers—of a young Giant Tortoise. While she was investigating this unusual occurrence, Maja and her group from the Angelito approached from the other direction. Carolina and Maja conferred about the finding for quite a few minutes—Maja had heard nothing about this occurrence either. Knowing that the National Park Service would want to know about it, Carolina took many photos of the remains and the area before we moved on.
We headed back to the beach and donned our snorkeling gear. Several Galápagos Green Turtles swam in the water near and under us as we snorkeled; a Devil Ray leapt out of the water in the distance. After we had been meandering around the bay for about 45 minutes, under the watchful eyes of the panga operators, Carolina—already back on the beach—signaled us to start heading back. As we reluctantly moved her way, she snatched up her communication radio and spoke intensely with the crew. Suddenly, she started motioning us more vigorously and the pangas moved quickly toward the beach. The crew on board the Mary Anne had called her to let her know that they had spotted a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins entering the bay (left–with one of the dinghies from the Angelito in the background). We were going to head out to try to follow them! We spent perhaps 15 minutes on the pangas among them. You can see a far-too-short video clip of that delightful experience here. (In the last few seconds, you can see the dinghy from the Angelito pull up to enjoy the adventure too.) Up close and personal, indeed!
During lunch, the captain motored us across the Bolívar Channel to Punta Espinoza on Fernandina. Click here to join us!