Wildlife is wary on the whole, keeping its distance from humankind. Prey species always need to be looking over their shoulders, knowing life could be snatched away at any moment. Predators on the other hand are looking at us as food and we must be leery lest we become the prey. But there are places and spaces where the rules don’t seem to apply. Family expeditions are designed to put you and your offspring in the right place at the right time.
The Galapagos Islands have fascinated man since Darwin wrote about its finches. Diversity abounds in this archipelago, made even more special by the fact that the wildlife shows no fear. It’s not that man has never hunted here but creatures of the avian world tend to have short memories. What has been missing consistently are large terrestrial predators and so the prey go merrily about their lives unbothered by our presence. From giant tortoises, to playful sea lions and boobies, blue-footed and red-footed too, they all become our "friends" on the Galapagos cruises.
Alaska, Arctic Norway, and the Amazon are also desirable destinations for cruises with families but here the shoe is on the other foot. Danger lurks in unsuspected places. And yet we can observe these predators safely and closely by using a simple strategy long employed by hunters: camouflage. On board a ship or on a Zodiac we are no longer one man, one woman, or one child. We are an amalgam, a unit that to a wild animal looks simply like a curious object, slightly out of place in its world but neither threatening nor edible. Closer and closer we can creep to that polar bear on ice that is maybe silently hunting or stalking a seal. Silent too, we hold our breath to see what it will do.
Occasionally curiosity gets the best of the bear, and he or she sniffs its way across the ice, leaping from floe to floe until it is close enough to test the taste of our metal hull before wandering off again. In Alaska too, the brown bears continue to forage in the salmon streams accompanied by dozens of bald eagles, while black bears sit in the intertidal zone, licking barnacles from their 'fingers' while we hide in our floating blind.
And then there are the whales! On lookers crowd the rails on the bow, looking like all bottoms to the observers above on the bridge deck. Beneath us might be a huge blue whale or a humpback herding krill against the hull. Dolphins steal a ride in the wave pushed ahead of the bow, or porpoise ride in the wake from the stern giving us all a thrill.
Children discover wildlife and what it means to be wild when cruising with their elders on a family expedition. They might be somewhat surprised too when they see that their parents and grandparents "ooh" and "aah" just like their peers.
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