We traveled to the Galapagos in search of paradise. We were not prepared to find death and suffering. Shortly after we set foot on Espanola island, we spotted a baby sea lion. “He will make it another day or two,” the guide remarked dryly. We could count its ribs and the flappy skin lay in folds around its tiny body. The sea lion cub was abandoned by its mother and could not survive on its own. They nurse for a full year before they can eat fish. The creature looked at us with big, oozing eyes. The eye infection, hunger and many flies made its short life miserable and there was nothing we could do.
The Ecuadorians are protecting the Galapagos Islands by letting nature run its course. Sick, dying, and dead animals are left alone. We saw many skeletons and cadavers in all phases of decay. Sometimes there was a stench of rotting flesh. More often other animals benefitted from the untimely death and cleaned up the mess.
A short walk down the path we met an adult sea lion, which had recently been attacked by a shark. It was dragging itself across the rocks, also trying to fend off the flies. As the waves crashed in and Nazca boobies shrieked overhead it was trying to make sense of what happened. “I think the sea lion is still in shock,” the guide explained. As the kids almost started to cry, he quickly added, “I think he might make it. I have seen worse than this.”
We also witnessed courtship, mating, and new life. We fell in love with the clumsy dance of the blue-footed boobies. You stand less than a meter away as male and female lift their feet, twist, turn, spread their wings and chirp (for the mail) or wail (for the woman). “She is playing hard to get,” WorldTripGirl observed. In four seconds the actual mating act finished, and the couple exchanged twigs to seal their bond and build a nest.
We saw stately Albatros couples, faithful to each other their entire life, which sat waiting for their partner or guarding a single egg. “After a young Albatros leaves the nest, it flies for eighteen until touching down back here to mate”, we learnt. An Albatros can sleep while flying. It locks its wings and uses a system that became the inspiration for our modern auto-pilot.
“Nazca Boobies on the other hand hatch two eggs”, the guide chimed in again. “But only one chick can survive. Usually the older hatchling will kill its younger sibling. Or sometimes he just pushes him out of the next, where predators patiently wait for the rivalry to play its course.”
On our way back to the dingy we saw the tiny sea lion again. It was still breathing, but now lay motionless. It was half hiding under a rock and had found an unlikely ally in a small lizard. The reptile sat on its back hunting for flies. Relieved of the pesky insects, the sea lion baby could now sleep and wait in peace for the mother that would never come.