Lindblad Expeditions / National Geographic
EXPLORATIONS – A Lindblad Expeditions Blog

Galapagos

Sven Lindblad in Galápagos: Among Giant Tortoises in the Highlands

Sven Lindblad & Kristin Hettermann in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island.

Today we spent exploring the lush highlands of Santa Cruz Island and the town of Puerto Ayora, the largest human settlement in Galápagos with a population of about 18,000 people. Our time in the town included a behind-the-scenes tour of the Charles Darwin Center and a visit to Tomas de Berlanga, a bilingual, open-air school supported by the Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic fund. Our summertime expeditions often sail with large families, and this one was no exception. Our young explorers aboard had the opportunity to see a school that kids their own age attend. Some families brought along books to add to the school’s library, and the schoolchildren in Galápagos showed us their new piano, which until recently had been in the lounge aboard our ship National Geographic Endeavour.

Our CEO Sven Lindblad gets the shot with a young guest. There were over 30 kids on this summer voyage. Photo by Kristin Hettermann.

At the Charles Darwin Center we had the honor of meeting the islands’ most famous tortoise, Super Diego. The “Diego” portion of his name comes from San Diego, where he spent several years of his life living in the city’s zoo. He was repatriated to the islands when it was discovered that he was among one of the last tortoises of his kind. Since then he’s sired over 800 offspring, which is where the “Super” part of his name comes in.

Super Diego. Photo by Kristin Hettermann.

Sven Lindblad in Galápagos: Swimming with Sea Lions

Swimming with sea lions feeding on a school of black-striped salemas. Photo by Kristin Hettermann.

“There was an opportunity to go snorkel in the afternoon just off the beach. I’ve learned to never pass up an opportunity in the water, you just never know what might show up. This was one of those surprises. Initially we were thrilled with the sea turtles and occasional sea lion that would whisk by. On our last loop to head back to the beach, we saw a few sea lions and fur seals and upon closer investigation saw that they in fact we huntingdancing in and out of a bait ball. Below, two huge Galápagos sharks cruised back and forth. Blue-footed boobies dove deep to catch fish themselves, bombing into the water to our left and right. I had two teenage guests with me, awestruck as I was. After 30 minutes the show ended, and we headed ashore. The sun was setting and we were abuzz with excitement….one of my top five moments ever in the ocean observing wildlife.” Kristin Hettermann

We had two chances to swim with sea lions. First at Buccaneer Cove, where pirates and privateers once landed to resupply and fix their vessels, and also where Charles Darwin landed for his longest stint in Galápagos. He spent five weeks in the islands total and 19 days here on Santiago. Photo by Kristin Hettermann.

 

After a short sail along the coast of Santiago we arrived at Puerto Egas. Among the marine iguanas and Galápagos sea lions we also found fur seals, which live in waterline caves. Photo by Kristin Hettermann.

 

You can tell the fur seals from sea lions because fur seals have big eyes and a bigger nose and lack external ear flaps.  Photo by Kristin Hettermann.

 

The sea lions swim circles around us, literally, twisting and turning upside down taking us in from every angle. Assured that we pose no threat, they instead play with us, sometimes swimming straight at us only to spin away at the last moment or blow bubbles into our masks. Photo by Kristin Hettermann.

Sven Lindblad in Galápagos: Sea Turtle Day at Isabella Island

By Sven-Olof Lindblad

Sea turtle off Isabella Island. Photo by Kristin Hettermann.

Today was sea turtle daymorning, noon, and night. Don’t know how many we saw today but more than 30 to be sure. The guests are mad keen on snorkelingfrom 5 years old to 93, they are absolutely enchanted with everything undersea. And this week has been full of remarkable sightings from penguins to playful sea lions to wary octopus. But today the sea turtles stole the show as they grazed on algae in the shallows where the gentle surge would bring us together to within a foot or two. It all feels like slow motion, which I guess it is and it makes sense.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann.

I thought a lot today about how hard it is for a sea turtle to become an adult. From the moment a mother lays her eggs the challenges start. In some parts of the world the eggs are coveted by lizards, wild pigs, and humans. For those that are not consumed as eggs the path to adulthood is treacherous with very small odds of survival. As the babies emerge from the nest there are all manner of predators waiting for them…hawks, frigatebirds, raccoons, pelicans, and more. The few that actually make it to the water must then face small sharks, groupers, and other fish who await them. Only a very small fraction survive the first hour of life and then for those that do there are months of treachery to cope with, including human hunters who crave their meat.

And miraculously some survive to adulthood like those we saw today. Few animals face so many challenges to get here and to have the opportunity to produce their young so the species can continue. So I looked at them today with great respect and admiration.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann.

Sven Lindblad in Galápagos: Fernandina Island, a Favorite Site for 50 Years

By Sven-Olof Lindblad

Sven Lindblad on Fernandina Island. Photo by Kristin Hettermann.

On our second morning here in the Galápagos, we woke in the Bolivar Channel to a flat calm sea. This is one of the richest marine environments in the Galápagos and it was not a surprise when our expedition leader announced the sighting of whales and dolphins. We hung around with them for an hour or so. They were moving erratically and so we couldn’t get great looks. The expedition leader suggested it was a blue whale and calf, which is a rare sighting anywhere.

Photo by Sven Lindblad.

After breakfast we landed at Punta Espinosa on Fernandina Island, one of the world’s most pristine islands. Dating back to my first visit 50 years ago, it is my absolute favorite site in all of Galápagos. It’s a curious feeling being on a pristine island with no habitation and dominated by one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Lava, sand, mangroves, and cacti make up the land that supports a remarkable array of life, at least as seen at the one visitor landing site.

Photo by Sven Lindblad.

It was low tide when we landed and there was a mass migration of marine iguanas marching into the sea. Hundreds of them as if they were being called to a mission. It’s a practical idea, low tide exposes some of the algae they like, and when diving for more they don’t have to go so far. Everyone is enthralled by these prehistoric looking creaturesparticularly the kids.

Of course the show stoppers are the sea lions—a patrolling bull offshore, mothers and babies, a curious lone juvenile whose mother has gone out to fish. No end of antics and no end of oh’s and ah’s. Then off for a hike through the lava. Once you leave the shoreline it’s all lava of different ages and different forms. Every now and then a stand of cacti and the occasional shrub that somehow has taken root. It’s oddly beautiful, we even see a small inland lake fed by underground tunnels, with one lone large grouper in it. We all speculate as to how it got there and if it was now stuck. A mystery that will have to be solved the next time the National Geographic Endeavour II returns.

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Sven Lindblad in Galápagos: Day 1 Diving & The Tonic of Wildness

By Sven-Olof Lindblad

Sven Lindblad at North Seymour Island. Photo by Kristin Hettermann.

Leaving New York on June 9, there was plenty to be distressed about. It was a monumental week in regards to global environmental policy.

We were headed to the Galápagos, I was going for the the 50th time. But for the first time, a third generation of our family was contributing energy to this unique place in the world; my daughter Isabella had started for a summer internship at the school Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic has supported for many years on the island of Santa Cruz.

A special place will never get old, no matter how many times you visit it. And there is a certain inevitable value in periodic escape from the chaos and the noise of today’s constant drumbeat of woe. We had just read an article in June’s issue of National Geographic magazine entitled “Life in the Balance.” A changing climate’s tentacles have reached here as well and the article made it sound quite dire. We shall see.

It’s June 11 and our first full day here in Galápagos. The National Geographic Endeavour II is abuzz with families33 kids of all ages. It’s fun to watch them begin to find each other and prepare for what might be their greatest adventure yet.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann.

Kristin and I had made plans to go diving. We’re at North Seymour Island (hard decision as this is one of the most spectacular on land) and off we go at 7:30. The water is unusually cold (72 degrees) and we wore two thick wetsuits. Next step up would be dry suit diving.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann.

Someone had seen big aggregations of hammerhead sharks here recently. I hadn’t seen that for over 30 years. The dive yielded only one hammerhead, but plenty of other sharks, big Galápagos sharks and smaller black tips. Every time I see sharks I’m happythey are really essential for healthy marine systems, yet we kill about 30 million a year globally.

It was a great dive. The second one though was one of the best ever, huge schools of fish, resting black tips, and tremendous visibility. I think I was particularly enchanted with the parrotfish smashing their beaks into encrusted rock time and time again.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann.

Yes there are stresses here and everywhere to be sure, but today all felt good in the waters around North Seymour. As we surfaced boobies were diving in the water around us and frigates flying overhead. I can’t wait to find out how those kids reacted to this island so full of life.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann.

Live From Galápagos: Sven Lindblad

Our CEO Sven-Olof Lindblad is enroute to Galápagos right now as part of this year’s celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Lars-Eric Lindblad’s pioneering expedition to Galápagos, opening the Enchanted Isles for expedition travelers—and Sven will be sharing some of his long personal connection to these islands. Beginning Monday, June 12th stay tuned for blog updates, photos on Sven’s personal Instagram, and live broadcasts on the Lindblad Expeditions Facebook page. Check back for updates!

Here’s Sven in the Galápagos Islands last year when he shot a video of the dance of the waved albatross.