Favorite Wildlife Encounters in honor of Darwin’s Bicentennial

AUTHOR Doris Welsh

Galapagos Small Ship Expedition Company Ecoventura Lists Clients’ Favorite Five Wildlife Encounters to Honor Darwin’s Bicentennial

In honor of Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday observance and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his Origin of Species, the visionary, small ship Galapagos cruise company, Ecoventura, announces its clients’ favorite Galapagos wildlife encounters. Four exotic birds and a giant tortoise make the final cut. With 27 species of reptiles, 29 types of land birds, 19 different sea birds and dozens of land and marine mammals to choose from Ecoventura passengers recommend these top five favorites: Red-footed Booby (Sula Sula Websteri) – The smallest of the three Galapagos boobies can best be seen on the northern Island of Genovesa (Tower) where over 100,000 come to nest in the trees.

Only vessels carrying no more than 36 passengers are allowed under National Park guidelines to visit Tower Island where bird-loving guests also may spot such species as the Great Frigate, Nazca Booby, Red-billed Tropic, Lava Gull, Storm Petrels and Short-eared Owl. Flightless Cormorant (Nannopterum Harrisi) featured in the movie Master & Commander is the only grounded cormorant in the world having lost its ability to fly. It is found on the western-most island of Fernandina and is endemic to Galapagos. They swim to hunt for food and do an aquatic dance while mating. Nesting takes place on the beach, just above the water line and the nests are made from flotsam and jetsam, held together by seaweed.

Uncharacteristic of Galapagos sea birds, the flightless cormorant does not mate for life. In fact, after the eggs are hatched and the chicks partially raised, the female often takes up with another male, leaving dad to raise junior on his own. Fernandina is the youngest and most pristine island in Galapagos and also home to the largest marine iguanas found in these islands. Galapagos Penguin (Sphensicus Mendiculus) inhabits the islands of Bartolome and/or Tagus Cove, Isabela. It is one of the world’s smallest penguins to breed entirely in the tropics and the only penguin found in the northern hemisphere. Technically they do fly but most folks see them darting about while snorkeling underwater. Their total population is thought to number around 1000-1300 pairs in Galapagos and they do mate for life. Bartolome offers an excellent snorkeling opportunity around Pinnacle Rock, the most photographed site in Galapagos. Galapagos Giant Tortoise (Geochelone Elephantophus) – Of all the wildlife, it is the giant tortoise that most symbolizes the Islands and has given them their name. Found on several Islands in Galapagos, 11 or the original 14 sub-species still exist. Lonesome George from the Island of Pinta and the last of his race came from Charles Darwin Station in 1971 and was penned with two females from a different subspecies. Attempts to mate him were unsuccessful until 2008 but then the eggs were all infertile. Tortoises live to be 150 and take 40 years to be sexually mature, so there is still hope that George could produce offspring.

Passengers on the Ecoventura yachts spend a full day on Santa Cruz and get to see the tortoises (and endemic land iguanas) in their corrals and also in the highlands at a tortoise farm where they can roam freely. Waved Albatross (Diomedea Irrorata) is the largest bird in the islands, weighing up to 10 pounds with a wing span of eight feet. Starting in April the entire adult population (over 10,000 pairs) arrives on the Southern Island of Espanola (Hood). They immediately create offspring that need to be fledged by December when they migrate back to the mainland due to changes in the food supply. Only a single egg is laid, and it is rolled around by the parents even though it risks cracking. After a 60-day incubation period the chick is hatched and then takes 167 days until fully fledged. Regarded as elegant and efficient fliers, Waved Albatross need to jump from a cliff to get airborne. This bird performs an elaborate courtship ritual of circling and clapping, a dance that is more like a waddle that ends with an upraised bill and “moo” noise. These beautiful birds mate for life which is called a “pair bond.” On Hood are also found the largest colony of nesting Blue Footed Boobies, the Nazca Booby, Galapagos Dove, Hawks and Mockingbirds. Sea Lions may often join guests while snorkeling off Gardner Bay. Sea lion bulls also guard their territory here.

With special lectures, books, posters, DVD’s, maps and certificates, Ecoventura plans to mark and celebrate several milestones during the 2009 season including: -The 200th birthday or bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s Birth (Feb 12, 1809) -The 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species (Nov 24, 1859) -The 50th anniversary of the Charles Darwin Station and National Park Service -The 30th anniversary of the Galapagos being declared as an UNESCO World Heritage Site -Ecuador’s 200th anniversary of independence (on Aug 10, 2009) About Ecoventura: Ecoventura is a family-owned company based in Guayaquil, Ecuador, with sales offices in Quito and Miami. In operation since 1990, the cruise company transports 4,000+ passengers annually aboard a fleet of three expedition vessels; identical, superior first-class 20-passenger motor yachts with 10 double cabins.

The company also operates the Galapagos Sky, a 16-passenger dedicated dive live-aboard offering 7-night weekly itineraries visiting the northern islands of Wolf and Darwin. All of its vessels have been purposefully retrofitted to meet or exceed the highest possible environmental standards. To reserve a cabin or private charter, please call toll-free 1.800.633-7972, or e-mail

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