Success! I do not know if we are all just getting use to the boat, but everybody handled the 11 hour motor well. We arrived to our anchor spot at Punta Espinoza a few minutes before 7. We are anchored about 200 meters off the shore of Fernandina, yet we can still see the bottom of the ocean., Just in the few minutes of taking in the scenery before breakfast we saw two endemic species, the lava gull that was flying around the boat and landing on the dingy, and the flightless Comorant swimming and fishing in the water. The Comorant can really hold its breath a long time. There were also two sea turtles and a sea lion near the boat. That combined with beautiful views of Fernandina on the west and the Wolf and Darwin volcanoes of Isabela on the east made for a great start to the day.
Another boat, the Galaxy (a first class or luxury boat) had parked next to us and they set out in their dingys a little ahead of us, so when we got in our dingys we did a nice tour by boat of Fernandina's water front. We saw tons of
iguanas, some sea lions playing - one with a fish it had caught, tons of sea turtles in the water, and best of all more Flightless Comorants. The Comorants looked funny with their little non-flying wings. There are Comorants on the mainland, but they have functional flying wings there. The Flightless Comorants evolved on the Galapagos to not need wings because they have no predators.
After the boat tour, we had a dry landing and went for a little walk. On our walk we saw an absurd amount of marine iguanas, this time larger in size, due to an ample supply of food brought in by the colder water upwellings. Our guide estimated there were 500,000 marine iguanas living on Fernandina. The path wound us around the nesting site of the iguanas. We learned that after 2ish years the iguanas no longer have predators, similar to the tortoises in that if they can survive the first couple years they are in great shape. The iguanas though only have a life span of 35 or so years. The marine iguanas are kind of gross though. As they lay in a heap of 100, they smell awful and are constantly snot
rocketing all over one another. They are clearing the salt out of their nostrals.
WOW - literally as I was typing this the coolest thing ever happened - more to follow....WOW
At Punta Espinoza we also got really close to the Flightless Comorants. They have vividly colored torquoise eyes. As the walking tour wrapped up we passed by the skeleton of a Bright Whale that had been washed ashore years ago.
We were a little behind schedule when we got back on the boat so it was a quick turnaround to get back on the dingys for our snorkel trip on the south side of Punta Espinoza.
The water was really cold. A lot of people rented wetsuits for the day. There were sea turtles everywhere. One would grow tired of being followed and cruise off. No problem, look the other way and there would be another one. I watched what looked to be a very old sea turtle feed off algae growing on the rocks. He did not care one bit about me watching him. I dove down and was mere inches from him watching him feed. Really cool.
of fish on this snorkel. The main attraction, besides the turtles, is the marine iguanas. There were a number of them in the water feeding the same way as the turtles. It is interesting to watch them cling to the rocks and chomp on algae. Perhaps more interesting though was watching them swim. They really look like a prehistoric animal.
Sarah saw a few new fish, which I'll document below. I saw a big Mexican Hog Fish swimming around with a big shell in his mouth. It looked really weird with the vampire like teeth and its tiny mouth.
Back at the boat lunch was served and we began to motor across the channel to Tagus Cove. Sarah was not feeling great so she went to catch a nap after eating. I ate relatively quickly and headed up to the top deck to journal a bit and watch the ocean. I would write a sentence or two then look up and scan the waters, mostly hoping to see a manta ray.
Then something caught my eye in the distance. It looked like a water spout from a whale. But it was far off in the distance so
I was not sure. I put down the journal and stood up to see if I could see it again. Yup, there it was again. I called to Natasha, the only other person who had finished lunch and was up on the deck. I pointed out where I had seen it and we saw it again. Orcas! I am not quite sure how I knew they were Orcas, they were still a long way off. Perhaps it was the large black dorsal fin that I could also see. Either way, things were in motion quick. I ran down to the dining area and got everybody on the upper deck, woke Sarah and told the captain, hoping he would let us take a detour. At first nobody saw anything after I sounded the alarm and doubt was setting in. Then the Orcas breached again. The boat was full of excitement as the captain turned the boat south and started heading towards the whales. As we got closer it became more and more clear they were Killer Whales (Orcas) and we got some great views from the upper deck.
Unfortunately our boat is big and noisy so when we got close
they would dive. Tony asked if we could take the dingys and the captain agreed. Sarah and I hopped in the first one with Victor. Both boats motored in the direction last seen and then waited. For a minute it seemed that they may have dove deep and were gone.
But then they surfaced 3 at a time! We were able to move the dingys close and get some great views. There was a rather young Orca with the group. One of the older Orcas swam between us and the baby, checking out the boats. He was literally a few feet from the boat, on his side doing the inspection. He was huge. The dingy may be 3 meters long and he was bigger than that. And he was on the smaller side of the group. The biggest must have been 8-10 meters long, but it is tough to say.
There were two groups of Orcas relatively close. When one group would dive we moved to the other and then back again. At one point there were three Orcas sitting just below the water surface between the two dingys and they would surface when they wanted air. It
seemed they had determined we were not a threat so they swum around our boats carefree. At one point Josh stuck his head in the water with his mask trying to see an Orca under water and one swam up behind him, only a foot or two from his head, but it was behind him so he did not see it. One breached just behind the boats motor and it was as if he was going to jump in the dingy with us. Finally we were bid adue as one dove and showed us his tail.
Unbelievable! Incredible! Amazing! Again, just when I think it can't get any better it does. I can't believe we were mere feet from Killer Whales in the wild! WOW!!!
The day...shoot, the entire trip could have ended there and I would have been happy. There is just no way it can possibly get better. Still, we finished out the day.
We had given up our afternoon snorkel to follow the Orcas (obviously a very easy decision), so once we arrived in Tagus Cove we went for our owns visit. Tagus Cove was used by whalers and is a place known for
its graffiti. We saw carvings in rocks from 1836, but I think there are older ones.
We hiked a trail up the Darwin Volcano. On the way up we saw some feces and Victor asked us to guess what it was. Nobody knew and he said it would be an unbelieveably lucky day. Well, the luck of the lucky calzone lives on. Two minutes later we saw a big yellow land iguana. A female, which got Victor really excited since they had been all but erradicated from that area. A few minutes later we saw a big male land iguana. Victor said in his 20 years of guiding in the Galapagos he has only seen the land iguanas there a few times. Usually just tracks.
And here is where the luck gets even better. Had we not forgone our snorkeling we would not have been the first group on the trail and we would not have seen the land iguanas. There were at least 3 other groups that followed us on the trail and I don't think any of them saw the land iguanas. They were gone on our way back down the trail.
the trail was nice. We enjoyed a view of a fresh water lake, sitting only a few meters above the ocean. It was created when a volcano collapsed after it had built up a cone around it. And the same path that lava once flowed is now being followed by a spring of fresh water. The water does remain brackish though because at one time the crater was filled with salt water and the salt remains. No animals live in the lake. At the top of the hike we had a beautiful view of Isabela Island.
Back at the cove we hopped on to the dingys for a ride along the islands shore. We saw many penguins, Flightless Comorants, blue footed boobies, sea lions, pelicans, etc. The highlight was two couples of the boobies fighting over nesting ground.
Back on the boat we started our 10 hour motor around the north part of the island towards Santiago. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset. I did see another water spout, but just one and it was gone. I have no idea what it was, but I am guessing not an Orca since I did not see the fin.
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