When you live and work in a natural paradise such as the Galapagos Islands, there are many things to consider. But when you work at the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel – one of the world’s leading GREEN hotels – you know things are done differently. We strive to be a leading example of sustainability and environmentally-friendly practices not only for the people of the Galapagos, but for our guests as well. This month, we went deeper into what sustainable Galapagos food ought to be like and even welcomed the visit of a very interesting guest. Read on to learn more about what’s cooking at the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel!
Investigation & Sustainable Galapagos Food
Our team at the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel dedicates itself to numerous different projects in order to protect the amazing environment of the islands. One of these is our sustainable Galapagos food project, which sees us continuously investigating the diversity of local produce and ways of encouraging farmers to grow more sustainably. At the Finch Bay, we try to buy local as much as possible in order to lower our environmental footprint. We also send our teams out to investigate the fruits and vegetables that are grown on the inhabited islands. We even talk to fishermen and learn about their fishing techniques, along with the species of fish, crustaceans and/or mollusks that they catch. Once we’ve gathered all this knowledge, we bring it back to our kitchen and put it all into our creative efforts that help develop our menu that represents the best of Galapagos food and Ecuadorian cuisine. We know that we can only grow as a restaurant and a company so long as our community grows with us.
As part of our ongoing efforts to leave less of a carbon footprint, we have even created our own organic vegetable garden. The “Chakrita,” as we call it, is home to a varied selection of flowers and herbs that we use in all our recipes, either as garnish or the main ingredients. To have all these amazing and fresh greens at our disposal allows us to develop our creativity, which is a crucial component in allowing our “crazy” chef minds to continuously grow.
During my time here, I have seen a growing interest and curiosity from our guests, cooks, and chefs, about all things organic and local, especially when they come directly from the islands. It’s something we look forward to working on constantly!
A Visit From a Gastronomic Icon
Last month we were fortunate enough to receive a visit from famous chef Juan Luis Fernandez and his girlfriend Dolce Nida, owners of the restaurant “LÚ Cocina y Alma” in Jerez, Spain. They stayed at the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel, during which time they cooked with us, experimenting with our ingredients and updating our understanding of cooking techniques. Juan Luis, also known as JuanLu, spent several years working at the famous “Aponiente” restaurant (3 Michelin stars), where he himself learned the latest gastronomical techniques for preparing seafood in the best way possible.
After spending a day looking for the best ingredients and sharing our expertise with JuanLu and Dolce, we were delighted to share our kitchen with them. They couldn’t have been more generous! They taught us about the techniques they use at their restaurant, and we even got to learn about new cooking methods that we can apply to our own recipes and products here at Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel!
We Are All Cooks
I love how the world of food and cooking has no frontiers or barriers. In life, we are all cooks! However, when you are a chef, and so long as you cook with passion, it doesn’t matter where you are – you always have to give it your best! At the Finch Bay, we give each meal and plate our best, every single day, so that our friends and guests learn and fall in love with our products, our country, our people and our cuisine.
My team and I, we never get bored: We are always improving and looking forward to coming up with new and magnificent flavors, using all the wonderful natural ingredients that the Galapagos Islands has to offer us.
Join us on our journey! We love to cook, we live to cook and we cook to live!
The Galapagos Islands have something for everyone! Explorers, adventurers, curious travelers and even those who are just looking to relax and unwind (or a combination of both!) will fall in love with this magical place. The archipelago has it all, and the way you decide to discover it is entirely up to you! Whether it be aboard a Galapagos expedition vessel or a land-based option, you can rest assured you’ll have the adventure of a lifetime! For a land-based option, head to the only beachfront hotel on Santa Cruz Island – Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel – and unravel the mysteries of the islands with your friends and family! If you are looking to explore the amazing highlands of Santa Cruz and do some sports while engaging in a fun and safe activity, then biking in the Galapagos Islands is the activity for you! Read up and ride on!
Biking in the Galapagos Islands: How to do it?
Biking is an activity available at the Finch Bay upon request. Depending on how much time you’ll be spending in the archipelago, you can make this activity either a full-day or a half-day activity. Biking in the Galapagos presents a unique opportunity to discover the highlands and enjoy some amazing views of Santa Cruz Island, in our case. Once you book the activity, we take care of everything else!
Bikes and helmets will be waiting for you at the dock. Our Naturalist Guide will be in charge of the activity, and a car and driver will take you all the way up to Bellavista – the highlands’ biggest town and where your adventure begins. Once there, we’ll bike down to the beautiful beach of El Garrapatero, so remember to put on your swimming suit at the hotel before leaving, as there are no changing rooms at the beach! The Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel will provide you with water and a beach towel for you to take with you in your backpack!
When do we go biking in the Galapagos?
We leave in the morning at 9 a.m., giving us time to enjoy the Finch Bay’s delicious breakfast buffet. Load up on pancakes, omelettes, fresh fruit, coffee and other local delicacies and get ready to roll!
Once your car drops you off at Bellavista, you will gear up and, following your guide’s instructions and briefing, you will begin your biking journey in Galapagos! Enjoy the view, feel the refreshing wind in your face, let endorphins flow as you pedal to the beach, and anticipate an invigorating dip in the Pacific Ocean! That’s the proper way to end a biking trip in the Galapagos Islands! You will hang out at El Garrapatero for about an hour or an hour-and-a-half. Afterward, you’ll hop in the car and head back for lunch. Whether you choose to eat in the town of Puerto Ayora or back at the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel is entirely up to you!
How physically demanding is biking in the Galapagos? Is it safe?
Our biking activity is designed to be enjoyed to the fullest by both young and old guests. The whole activity takes around 3 to 4 hours to complete. We drive you up to Bellavista, and from there all you do is bike down towards the coast. We pedal on a flat asphalt road that descends to El Garrapatero beach. We take safety very seriously, which is why, before beginning the activity, your Naturalist Guide will brief you on all safety measures. We will remind you to keep to your right at all times (to let eventual cars pass by), and to wear a helmet. We also have knee pads for anyone who might want a little extra protection.
Your Guide will accompany you during the entire trip. While biking, he or she will sometimes be at the front of the group and sometimes at the rear, making sure that everyone is doing OK. If, for whatever reason, you feel a little tired or unwell, our driver will pick you up as our car will be following the group all the way from a safe distance, ready to assist anyone who should require it. You will be pedaling for about an hour downhill. How fast or slow you go is totally up to you. In the Galapagos – as you will see – there is no need to hurry! You don’t have to be the fittest person in order to partake in this activity, which is why we always recommend biking in the Galapagos to families traveling with children, or couples and groups that want to discover the islands in a different way!
Traveler’s tip: Remember to wear sunscreen at all times, as the sun on the equator is really strong! Also: keep your eyes open while you bike, as Galapagos giant tortoises are frequently seen crossing the road or ambling alongside it!
Other Biking Options
If you are looking to find an amazing view of Santa Cruz Island, we recommend that you visit Cerro Mesa. This viewpoint that’s located atop a crater is the perfect spot for photos. On a very clear day you can see all the way to Itabaca Chanel! Just like with our Bellavista-El Garrapatero biking excursion, a driver and Naturalist Guide will pick you up in town and drive you up to the viewpoint. From there, you will bike down to El Garrapatero beach.
If you opt for a full day option on either of our Bike Tours, lunch will be included at the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel. On our Bellavista-El Garrapatero full-day tour, you will also visit El Manzanillo, a Galapagos giant tortoise reserve where you will be able to get close and personal with these gentle giants!
You also have the option to explore Santa Cruz Island on a bike on your own. Let us know and will make all the arrangements!
Are you up for it? Let us know in the comments below!
There are different ways in which to explore the magnificent Galapagos Islands. When it comes down to planning, travelers usually base their decisions on budget, time or specific interests. Be it through a Galapagos expedition vessel or a land-based option, there’s no doubt you will be amazed by the wonderful world you will encounter in the archipelago. The unique and tame wildlife, the rare vegetation, the hospitality of its people (yes, for those of you who didn’t know, 3% of the Galapagos are inhabited), they all add up to a one-of-a-kind experience. When choosing a land-based option, make sure you go for the one that will transform a regular vacation into an unforgettable one. It’s all about the details, service, and exploration choices!
Day Tour or Bay Tour in the Galapagos?
A beach-front hotel in a secluded location, like Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel on Santa Cruz Island, is the perfect place from which to discover the Enchanted Islands. Once there, visitors are highly encouraged to try to visit some of the archipelago’s most beautiful beaches and its most iconic neighbouring isles in order to get a more in-depth understanding of this wholly unique place. To do so, you will find two highly popular options that are in Puerto Ayora: a Day Tour or a Bay Tour. Read on to learn the difference between a Day tour or a Bay Tour in the Galapagos and choose the one that will make the most of your time in this unique destination!
Bay Tours are usually operated by small motor boats that do not have permitsfor disembarking on the uninhabited islands that make up the Galapagos National Park. This means they only visit the surrounding beaches of Puerto Ayora and passengers are only allowed to snorkel around the boat in open water. Bay Tours also don’t include a Naturalist Guide as part of their trips and it’s usually the boat’s owner and “chauffeur” that are in charge of everything, from explanations to safety. Most of the time, Bay Tours don’t include snorkeling equipment and they may or may not include a box lunch, depending on the package visitors decide to go for. The boats are usually small and have no indoor space or air conditioning to help cool down from the intense Galapagos sun.
A Bay Tour, as its name implies, focuses on observing Santa Cruz’s coastline and bays without disembarking at National Park Visitor Sites (remember that inhabited areas are not considered part of the Galapagos National Park). On a Bay Tour, passengers would have the chance to observe some of the Galapagos BIG15 and other wildlife from a distance, but no close-up observation and understanding of their behaviors is possible or even explained. As mentioned before, Bay Tours in Galapagos do anchor in specific places, but only out in open water to let their guests swim and practice snorkeling directly beside the boat. As safety measures, Bay Tours are required to provide their passengers with life jackets.
A Day Tour is the other option that you can choose for exploring the archipelago if you decide on opting for a land-based excursion. Day tours are provided by yachts that do have permission to disembark at iconic islands – North Seymour, Bartolome, South Plaza and Santa Fe – and are done in the company of a professionally-trained Naturalist Guide. It’s an excellent way to experience the Galapagos National Park and the uninhabited islands. If you want to have the best coverage of Galapagos BIG15 iconic species and see a plethora of wildlife in its natural habitat (without the disturbance of human civilization!) a Galapagos Day Tour is the way to go. Witness blue-footed boobies nesting or doing their silly courtship dance, walk by huge colonies of frigatebirds and Galapagos sea lions, or observe marine iguanas basking under the equatorial sun. A true and fulfilling Galapagos experience comes from being able to observe these beautiful creatures up close.
It’s also important to note that Galapagos Day Tours on yachts, as is the case with the Finch Bay’s own Sea Lion Yacht, usually take care of everything for those onboard. Not only are all safety measures considered, but also lunch and snorkeling masks are included. On our Sea Lion Yacht, a delicious buffet-style lunch awaits guests that are coming back from swimming, hiking or snorkeling. This lunch is prepared fresh and on board by the yacht’s own cook. If you require a special meal or have dietary restrictions, be sure to let us know at the Hotel’s reception – we’ll be more than happy to accommodate our culinary fare to your specific needs. The Sea Lion also has an indoor, air-conditioned space where guests can sit comfortably and an open, covered deck from which to observe the amazing Galapagos landscapes!
Aboard the Sea Lion Yacht, a 5-member crew is at your disposal, making sure you are safe and comfortable at all times. Our Naturalist Guide briefs the group prior to disembarking at a specific island or before partaking in any activity. That way, they talk the group through all safety procedures as well as informing them on what they are about to see: animal and plant species, geology and history. Each island has its own particularities that make it unique and special. Without a doubt, they are all worth a visit, which makes a Galapagos Day Tour a superb choice!
NOTE: According to the National Park’s latest count, there are only 11 yachts authorized for Day Tours on the island of Puerto Ayora, so make sure you don’t have the wool pulled over your eyes!
Dr. Stephen Maturin: “Marine iguanas can’t swim, they’re land animals.”
Boy: “Well these ones can.”
Dr. Stephen Maturin: “My God, two new species in as many minutes…”
~Master & Commander~
Galapagos marine iguanas – they’re dark, bold and look like miniature Godzillas that crawl around on their bellies. They’re also seen practically everywhere throughout the Galapagos archipelago. But what is it that makes them such a unique creature in their own right, exactly? Find out in this blog, where we detail just what it is exactly that makes marine iguanas a must-see and a part of our BIG15 group of iconic species in Galapagos.
Scientific Name: Amblyrhynchus cristatus Type: Reptile Family: Iguanidae Order: Squamata Diet: Herbivore (occasional carnivore) Avg. Lifespan: 5-15 years. Sexual maturity is reached at 2 years. Avg. Length: 60 – 150 cm (23 – 59 in) Avg. Weight: .45 – 1.3 kg (1 – 3 lb)
What are Galapagos marine iguanas famous for?
Galapagos marine iguanas are believed to have diverged from their land-based cousins around 5.7 million years ago. The adaptations they have grown since diverging are what makes them so remarkable.
Galapagos marine iguanas are famed for being theonly marine lizard in the whole world. In addition to this, their eating habits while underwater are another remarkable feature of theirs, as these aquatic iguanas feast extensively on the algae that grows atop submerged rocks.
A distinct physical characteristic of these is found in their:
Color: As black as charcoal and the lava rock they walk across and amass over. Their dark scales also absorb much of the sun’s heat for their cold-blooded bodies and also have the remarkable ability to change colors during mating season.
Claws: Longer, more muscular claws have allowed them to easily cling tenaciously to algae-covered rocks.
Tail: They have laterally flattened tails to help them swim and steer their bodies when in the water.
Snout: Flatter snouts with protruding teeth that are tricuspid, allowing them to get these sharp shears next to the rocks and tear away the tenacious algae that sticks to them with relative ease.
As a result of their subaquatic behavior, Galapagos marine iguanas have evolved to have a desalination gland that’s located right behind their nose. This is used to expel the salt from their bodies in an unmistakable manner – often making look as if they’re sneezing or even hissing at you.
“Shrink only in case of emergency” Adaptability
Unlike the feathered creatures that soar overhead in Galapagos, marine iguanas can’t simply fly away from their harsh environment should they be confronted with tough times (in terms of nutrients and food). For Galapagos marine iguanas, it’s a matter of adapt or die. As a result, these incredible reptiles can actually shrink their bodies so as to be less dependent on larger quantities of food. It’s a fascinating characteristic that allows them to improve their survival odds and pass their genes on to the next generation.
Galapagos marine iguanas are located on the main islands of Galapagos Guests will often see them hanging out along the multitude of shorelines in Galapagos. Some of these main islands can even be accessed aboard our Sea Lion Yacht.
Interested in experiencing this mesmerizing and fascinating iconic species during your trip to Galapagos? Look no further than the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel to see them hanging out around the numerous beaches in Puerto Ayora, including our beachfront slice of paradise – Playa de Los Alemanes!
Snorkeling in Galapagos is sure to be one of the most magical experiences you’ll have during your time in the archipelago. The biggest reason why? Because of the vast amount of fauna you’ll have surrounding you, almost as if you’d summoned them for yourself! Being a source of curiosity for other creatures is almost like a superpower unto itself, such that with just a little bit of patience and fearlessness, snorkelling in Galapagos will have creatures swimming within arms-length of your snorkelling mask, ogling your presence to try and “figure you out.” It’s an incredibly fun experience, which is why we recommend making it a core part of your Galapagos experience while staying at the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel! Read-on and get stoked by finding out what animals you’ll get to swim with while snorkelling in Galapagos!
Both majestic and lethargic in their demeanour, sea turtles are a treat to swim beside while snorkelling in Galapagos. Their slow and ridiculously laid-back style of movement underwater makes them an easy target for us human to get up close to (but remember, not too close!) and snap a beautiful picture of their worn and wise-looking shells and long flippers.
Perhaps one of the most playful creatures of the sea when it comes to snorkelling in Galapagos, sea lions truly are a spectacle to revel in and even become a part of (when they’re curious enough)! These adept swimmers won’t hesitate to get incredibly close to you to check you out! They’re quick and skilful with their movement and will swim at you full speed before doing an underwater “somersault” of sorts and swimming away reluctantly. They’re even curious enough to nibble at your flippers if you let them! Extra cute points for swimming next to a Galapagos sea lion pup (just watch out, as the mothers of these pups are highly protective)!
Bold, rugged and beautiful in their own right, snorkelling in Galapagos with these “imps of darkness” (as Darwin himself saw it fit to call them) is a pretty cool experience. Bonus points if you get to see them feasting on their main diet – nutritious algae that cling to the rocky shores in Galapagos waters. Their giant claws and tenacious grip are a sight to behold. If you’re hanging out in shallow waters, you can even walk beside one as they slither like snakes just below the surface of the water, with their heads poking out like miniature dogs. Getting next to them while snorkelling in the Galapagos means you officially have the bragging rights to say you swam with the only species of iguana that can swim in the world!
Slick and daunting with their greyscales and pointed fins, sharks seen while snorkelling in Galapagos are incredibly deceptive in the sense that they erroneously portray a dangerous image. Fun fact: they’re super docile! Sharks, in fact, are highly misunderstood creatures and are actually much less threatening than many people believe. The importance of sharks in Galapagos, too, is highly overseen. While snorkelling in Galapagos, you’ll get to swim over a school of white-tip sharks and silky sharks.
Snorkeling in Galapagos with Penguins
Flapping, zipping and propelling themselves around underwater like superfast mini-submarines, Galapagos penguins are one of the rarest species of penguins given they’re the only ones to live north of the equator! In Galapagos, the relatively colder waters are what allow them to thrive in this unique environment. Note: These can only be seen on the western side of Galapagos, available via Western Islands Galapagos itineraries.
The Santa Cruz Fish Market is a lively place in Puerto Ayora, and it’s not all that far from the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel – the only beach-front property on the island. Walking there makes for a pleasant and amusing stroll along the bay in Puerto Ayora, and guests often have their senses stimulated by a number of things throughout the walk. Stop for a refreshing cocktail or cold beer, and look around the city’s many souvenir shops to find a perfect gift to take back home. Everyone is sure to find it’s easy to melt into the Galapagos Island life. From the number of rays that glide underwater to soaking up the laid back island vibes that surround the town, guests are sure to enjoy the walk and get a special treat that’s located not all that far from the Charles Darwin Research Station.
When guests arrive at the Santa Cruz Fish Market, it’s often the case that newcomers don’t just hang around to get a look and what’s being cleaned and sold – they often stay for the spectacle surrounding it.
The Santa Cruz Fish Market: Fresh from the Sea
There is no fresher fish than the one that’s caught in the morning and cooked in the afternoon. Living on an island has this exact advantage. Because of the Galapagos’ location on the equator, where both the Cromwell and Humboldt currents meet, seafood is as diverse as it is delicious. Always abiding by the strict Galapagos National Park regulations on when and where to fish, artisanal fishermen go out every morning and afternoon to catch some of the islanders’ most common and favorite fish. At the Santa Cruz Fish Market, you will find beautiful yellow-thin tunas (bonito), groupers (bacalao), and endemic fish such as camotillo, scorpion fish (brujo), and red snapper (pargo).
And come the lobster season, you will find two species of this crustacean served everywhere, the smaller-sized slipper lobster and the famous red-lobster. Restaurants are located just minutes away from the Santa Cruz Fish Market and these prepare the fish with their very own recipes every day. Try the Finch Bay’s fresh red snapper in a reduction of Andean mushrooms or its famous grilled tuna seared with a sesame crust. Your mouth is sure to start watering the moment you look at the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel’s restaurant menu!
The Action Surrounding the Santa Cruz Fish Market
Frequent fans of this informal attraction at Puerto Ayora are the pelicans that waddle all over the counters and the sea lions that poke their heads up beside the sellers, sniffing at the coveted treasures that they’re slicing up. Among this audience: the random iguana just hanging out on the side, passively watching the whole thing unfold – again giving guests the chance to visually see how such a diverse number of species manage to peacefully co-exist with each other and us, humans!
If you decide to go for a morning stroll down Puerto Ayora’s boardwalk, make sure to stop and admire this scene that truly depicts “organized chaos,” and have your camera ready to capture a sneaky pelican trying to steal a fish!
When you hear about the Galapagos Islands, various images come to mind. Charles Darwin’s name appears written in elegant cursive handwriting. Perhaps an exploding volcano is heard in the distance, and you picture a sort of flying-reptile hybrid with blue feet, a turtle shell, and black scales. If the latter is the case, you are probably a little bit confused as to who the inhabitants of these islands are. But if visiting the Galapagos is on your bucket list (and if it isn’t we can’t insist enough that you do include it), you’ll probably want to learn a little bit more about this magical place. There are many ways in which this archipelago can be visited, either by land or sea – or a combination of both (which is our personal recommendation) – and wildlife adventures are simply a part of everyday Galapagos routine. So in order to get you even more excited about what this exotic place has to offer, let us introduce you to our three favorite Galapagos species that you will not find anywhere else in the world: Galapagos giant tortoises, marine iguanas and blue-footed boobies (all BIG15 species).
Imagine waking up to a view of a white-sand beach, mangroves, and the Pacific Ocean. That is just a normal day in Santa Cruz’s only beach-front hotel at the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel. Now, add about a hundred finches flying around while scoping out the day’s breakfast. Not far from your room, a black iguana calmly walks towards the sea. In fact, right in front of the hotel, in a small patch of sand that’s protected by ropes, these same iguanas have their nest. This endemic species of the islands – once given the humorous name “imps of darkness” by the one and only Charles Darwin – is an example of how land iguanas adapted themselves to the harsh conditions of the archipelago many thousands of years ago. They are the only reptile that finds nourishment in the sea, diving up to 9 meters underwater to find it. They have a supersized supraorbital gland that helps them release the excess salt from their blood flow. This is why you’ll constantly see them doing something that looks similar to sneezing or spitting and a lot of white liquid coming out of their nostrils. It looks disgusting, but it’s just salt.
Galapagos Giant Tortoises
During your stay on the island of Santa Cruz, you will have the ability to come into close contact with these very gentle giants. Be it while visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station’s Breeding Programme, or up in one of the highland farms (where they actually roam around freely), you will almost automatically fall in love with their ease. They are the largest tortoise species in the world and can live up to 100 years. To recognize specific species of Galapagos giant tortoise, you only need to notice the shape of their shell, as it varies from island to island. Even though their numbers were dangerously reduced due to hunting by pirates in the 17th century and then whalers in the 18th century, they are now slowly recovering thanks to breeding programs and the eradication of invasive species, such as rats, feral cats, and dogs. Take your time to appreciate these amazing animals in their natural habitat and try to follow its example by taking things calmly.
This colorful bird is an everyday sighting in the archipelago and a local favorite. Not only because of the beautiful blue hue of their feet and beak but also because of their funny movements on land and amazing flying and hunting abilities. It’s common to see it during excursions or just casually sitting at docks. This bird is known for its comical mating ritual in which it puts on a full show to impress the female by displaying its feet in front of her. It’s known that the more turquoise the hue of the feet is, the more successful it will be in finding a mate. The blue color is actually an indication of how well-nourished the male is. Blue-footed boobies are also known for their diving technique, plunging into the water like torpedoes, which is why their nostrils are fused and they breathe through their mouth.
If you dream of immersing yourself in nature in its purest form, the Galapagos is the place to go.
Wildlife can be observed all year long in the Galapagos. Because cold winds and water currents get intertwined in the archipelago, the amount of life you see on the islands doesn’t vary much. A more visible difference is seen with Galapagos vegetation. Come the hot season, everything becomes a beautiful shade of green thanks to the refreshing tropical rains. On the other hand, during the dry season, the vegetation turns a light brownish-greyish tone to guard itself until the rains come back. Even though mating and nesting can be seen throughout the year, animals do try to time their pregnancies to when the land and sea are filled with more nourishment, perfect for the Galapagos sea lion pupping season. This timing is an example of just how wise Mother Nature is when it comes to surviving and thriving.
When Is the Galapagos Sea Lion Pupping Season?
August and September – sometimes as late as October – are the months when the dry season is at its peak. It is also the time when most sea lions are born, which is why these are also called the “pupping months”. During this period, some guests have even been able to watch Galapagos sea lions give birth. It’s an amazing experience to be able to see the beginning of life out in the wild, with no restrictions. The dry season brings cold water currents and fresher air currents that fill the sea with life and nourishment. This means mother sea lions will have more food at their disposal, making for a more productive breastfeeding period. This is why most sea lions are born during the dry season.
Sea Lions Control When They Give Birth
Galapagos sea lions – a Big15 iconic animal – have a gestation period of 9 months. After giving birth, something interesting happens when sea lions enter what is called estrus stage. This means they are very likely to get pregnant again only a week or two after giving birth. Let’s do the math: if the sea lion mother just gave birth in August and then gets pregnant a week after, after nine months, that means the pup would be born around the month of May. May is a tricky month for giving birth-given it’s the hot season when nourishment is still a little scarce due to warmer sea currents. Consequently, it’s not an optimal month. But adaptation works in mysterious ways (not really, though, for it is scientifically proven), as sea lions have managed to delay the time of birth until conditions are optimal again.
This process is called delayed implantation – or embryonic diapause – and it is a reproductive strategy used by Galapagos sea lions and other mammals, like bears, rodents, marsupials, and others. What it does is that, instead of immediately implanting the embryo in the uterus right after reproduction, it instead maintains it in a state of dormancy – a state in which it will remain until the mother times the birth of the pup with more favorable conditions. This means the gestation period can be postponed for as long as a year and that sea lion pups can be feasibly and conveniently birthed around the dry season.
Get ready for the pupping season in the only beach-front hotel in the Galapagos!
If you are planning to come to Galapagos during your summer vacation, make sure you make the most of your time in the islands. Book a relaxing and exotic experience at Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel that you will never forget. Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel, located on Santa Cruz, is the only beach-front hotel on the island. Ask the hotel about their day trips on their private yacht, the Sea Lion. You are guaranteed to see some unbearably cute pups!
The Galapagos tortoises are native to seven of the Galapagos Islands, a volcanic archipelago that is about 620 miles west of the mainland of Ecuador. The islands were named by Spanish explorers in the late 16th century. Because of the giant tortoises found there, they were named Insulae de los Galapagos, which means Islands of the Tortoises in Spanish. Learn about the Galapagos Islands tortoises, the most impressive creatures in the archipelago.
History of Galapagos Tortoises
The Galapagos tortoise is thought to be an ancestral relation to tortoises from mainland South America. There is DNA evidence that the closest living relative to the Galapagos tortoise is the Chaco tortoise that is native to Argentina and Paraguay. It is believed that the tortoises floated from the mainland to the volcanic islands over 5 million years ago. They were able to survive the 620-mile ocean journey because they are buoyant, can extend their necks up for air, and can live for months without fresh water or food.
Over time, the tortoises evolved to meet the needs of their new environment. They populated the other Galapagos Islands by traveling “stepping-stone style” from one to another.
Species of Galapagos Tortoises
Scientists have identified 15 different sub-species of the Galapagos tortoise, although there are only 10 species alive at this time. An 11th sub-species, now extinct, had one member nicknamed “Lonesome George” until he passed on in 2012. Of the 10 remaining species, five inhabit the largest island, Isabella, while there are six subspecies that are on separate, smaller islands. Many of the living subspecies are currently endangered or threatened species, but conservationists are working hard to increase their numbers.
Why are Galapagos Tortoises Endangered?
It is believed that when these giant tortoises were discovered in the 1600s, there were over 250,000 of them. While the lowest numbers were seen in the 1970s at about 3,000, there are currently approximately 20,000 Galapagos tortoises living in the islands. Conservation efforts have had great success with breeding programs to increase the populations.
It is believed that many of the tortoises were hunted by humans for meat and oil. Others may have died off when non-native animals such as pigs, goats, and rats were introduced to the islands. In the past 50 years, many subspecies were bred in captivity and released to their native habitats to repopulate those areas.
Learn about the Galapagos Islands Tortoises Size
Galapagos tortoises are quite large, and even their legs and feet are large and thick, resembling that of an elephant. Another important fact to note is that their front feet have five claws while those on the back have only four. Despite their size, the tortoises can pull all four of their feet and their heads inside of their shells for protection.
The actual measurements and weights of these tortoises can vary depending on individuals and subspecies. Some of the smaller tortoises live on the island of Pinzon. The largest of these smaller tortoises weighs in at about 168 pounds with a shell size of about 2 feet. Many of the tortoises on the other islands, however, are much larger. The largest recorded Galapagos tortoise weighed in at approximately 880 pounds, and its shell measured over 6 feet across.
The Shells of the Galapagos Tortoises
The shells, scientifically known as carapaces, are fused with the ribs and are a protective part of the tortoise’s make-up. The shells are dull brown in color and have characteristic patterns that remain the same throughout the tortoise’s life.
Two different shell types are common, depending mostly on where the tortoise lives. Some tortoises have saddleback shells, which are longer than they are wide and arch upwards at the front. When a tortoise brings its front legs and head inside of a saddleback shell, there is a gap, which denotes to scientists that these tortoises have few, if any, natural predators. Other tortoises have a domed shell that is totally concave in shape.
About the Galapagos Islands Tortoises Behaviors and Eating Habits
An important fact about the Galapagos Islands tortoises is that as cold-blooded reptiles, they like to warm up each morning before heading out in search of food. They will often lie in the sun for several hours. In the evening, when they are ready to sleep, they often lie in a shallow pit or in the close quarters of rock caves.
Giant tortoises are herbivores, eating many plants and fruits that are native to the islands they live on and spending a good part of their days foraging for food. As for water, they get most of this from the dew in the grasses and the moisture in the vegetation they eat. They can go for six months to a year without any food or water, living on the fat stored in their bodies.
Life Cycle of Galapagos Tortoises
Mating rituals require males to dominate over other males for the right to mate with a female. The actual process of domination and mating can be somewhat aggressive. Typically, tortoises mate from February to June, but it can occur at any time.
Several months later, the females search for a dry place to build a nest and lay their eggs. They can lay up to 16 eggs per nest. The temperature will determine the gender of the hatchlings. Eggs near the surface, incubated at a slightly warmer temperature, will yield mostly females, while the slightly cooler-incubated eggs, will take longer and will produce mostly males. After digging their way out of the sealed nest, the hatchlings emerge four to eight months later, weighing less than a pound. They stay in the warmer, dryer climates for the first 10-15 years of life, not reaching sexual maturity until possibly 40 years old. As hatchlings, they face much adversity, from encounters with the Galapagos hawks to the possibility of falling into cracked earth. However, those that survive live to be over 100 years old in the wild.
Read more about the Galapagos Islands tortoises here, or be enchanted by the Galapagos Islands
In comparison to the remarkable underwater scenes and towering cacti forests that stretch across the Galapagos Islands, the dull little bird that pecks its way around the archipelago is really quite unremarkable in appearance; nevertheless, this bird has played an extremely important role in society’s understanding of evolution and man’s position in the world. Galapagos finches, also known as Darwin Finches, are a key piece of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection and are one of the most iconic animals in the Galapagos Archipelago.
There are very few physical differences between the 13 or 14 species of Darwin Finch, a reminder of the birds’ common origin. In general, the birds have small rounded wings and short tails and are covered in either a dull black, olive or brown plumage. Neither can the color of their beak help differentiate species from each other, as all Galapagos finches in their non-breeding stage have yellow/orange beaks, and those of breeding age have deep black beaks. However, the key to their differences lies principally in their beaks, more specifically their size and shape, which varies according to the specific niche in which the bird lives.
At first Charles Darwin took little notice of the Galapagos finches, which are very similar in appearance to the common garden finch. In fact, it was not until he began to study his collections (with help from specialists) back in England that he realized all 13 species were related. Upon further study, he recognized that these birds are endemic to the islands and that each species displays only slight variations as if the “species had been taken and modified for different ends.”
The modern understanding of evolution, which is heavily influenced by Darwin, is based on the idea that a new species evolves when one population is divided into two or more. The now separated populations undergo distinct natural selection pressures as a result, and consequently different evolutionary processes, resulting in a new species. Galapagos finches are an exceptional example of this process.
There are 13 or 14 species of Darwin finch, and each one evolved from the same ancestor that arrived to the archipelago only a few million years ago. Because the finches have only had a relatively short amount of time to evolve, they are strikingly similar and experts have yet to determine one method of classifying the birds. In general, the finches can be divided into tree-dwelling seed eaters and tree-dwelling insect eaters (Tree Finch), ground-dwelling seed eaters (Ground Finch) and the cactus-dwelling seed eaters (Cactus Finch), but there are a few that cannot be sorted into any of these categories, such as the Warbler Finch and the Woodpecker Finch.
However, similarities between the species are exactly what makes them such an excellent subject to study. As we have noted, the general differences between the species lie in their beaks; the beaks of finches that consume medium-sized seeds differ from those of finches that consume large seeds and those of finches that consume insects, etc. The beaks are a key tool in their diet and a direct reflection of what they eat, i.e. if they eat large seeds they will have large, powerful beaks to break open the husk, while those that eat insects have smaller, pointed beaks to quickly snatch up the insect.
The variations that exist between finch populations (beak, behavior, etc.) are a result of natural selection. In this process, random and ever so slight differences occur between individuals, which produce either unfavorable or favorable results for the individual and may potentially determine the reproductive success of the individual. If the trait is successful, it will be passed on to future generations, and over time proliferate throughout the population. All of the finches in the archipelago evolved from a seed-eating, ground-dwelling finch, but over time as populations were divided and faced different habitats and circumstances, they evolved to favor that circumstance.
Geospiza magnirostris (1) adapted into three other species of finches that are found in the Galapagos Islands. Photo Credits: Jackie Malvin via Wikimedia Commons.
Extensive research has been carried out on finch populations in the Galapagos Islands, but two works of literature stand out in particular. Ecology and Evolution of Darwin’s Finches by Dr. Peter R. Grant is an excellent read and helps in understanding the importance and complexity of natural selection. His most recent work, How and Why Species Multiply: The Radiation of Darwin’s Finches is also a masterpiece. The second, The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner, has won the Pulitzer Prize and provides a clear explanation of natural selection. They may be easily located at Powell Books, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.