The Galapagos Islands and Charles Darwin have been inextricably linked since the publication of his “Origin of the Species” 25 years after he visited the islands as a 22-year old geologist aboard HMS Beagle. While Darwin is generally credited with conceiving the idea of evolution, the theory actually had its beginnings with a French naturalist, Jean Baptiste de Lamarck, who died in poverty and obscurity six years before Darwin arrived in the Galapagos Islands. Darwin’s contribution, however, was equally important. He explained how and why evolution occurs.
So when you travel to the Galapagos Islands, an eerie feeling comes over you as you realize that the individual birds, mammals, and reptiles you are viewing and photographing most likely are direct descendants of the very creatures that inspired one of the most revolutionary scientific conclusions in history.
At the same time, this wildlife sparks a sense of wonder regardless of its ancestry. And that is what the rest of this post will focus on.
Blue-footed Boobies Conferring
Although I rated the Sally Lightfoot Crab as having the coolest name, my overall favorite should be no surprise; it is the blue-footed booby.
Their ridiculously colored blue feet, serving as their namesake, ironically are contradicted by the steely gaze of their arresting eyes and the impeccable sleekness of their plumage. When their stare fixes you, you become grateful that you are not a small fish.
But while humans may smirk at their garishly colored feet, the color blue is a very big deal to both the male and female booby. The males take great pride in their fabulous feet. During mating rituals, male birds show off their feet to prospective mates with a high-stepping strut. The bluer the feet, the more attractive the mate. The short video clip below was filmed by our trip leader.
(Video by James Zimbelman, Smithsonian Institution)
Yet, when you watch the birds in their role as a predator, you realize why that piercing glare gave you pause. Circling high above the ocean in search of anchovies and other small fish, they will suddenly fold their long wings back around their streamlined bodies and plunge into the water at speeds up to 60 mph. It happens so quickly that I failed in every attempt to capture that critical moment of hitting the water. The best I could do was the shot below, when a successful plunge was followed by the bird as he/she was taking off.
Blue-footed Booby on Take-off Run
There are many ways to see the Galapagos Islands including larger ships (about 90 passengers), small charter vessels that may take as few as 12-16 passengers, or on-island lodging (ranging from regal to rustic). Choosing the latter may restrict your ability to visit more than 1-2 islands unless you are willing to change lodging a few times. The variety of wildlife you will see depends on which islands you choose to visit. Not all itineraries are the same. But however long you stay, you will be glad you made the journey.
Frigatebird at Sunrise, Galapagos Islands
(Technical: Nikon D810 handheld with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at 70mm; exposed @ 1/800th sec. @ f/16, ISD 400; No Photoshop trickery used in positioning the bird over the sun)