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Inside The Galapagos Islands Menagerie (PHOTOS)

Posted: 06/19/2012 7:00 am


Charles Darwin wasn't the first visitor to the Galapagos Islands, but he became the most famous. Darwin's five year journey on the HMS Beagle, charting and surveying the South America coast, helped him form his research for "The Origin of Species" and the twin theories of evolution and natural selection.

My journey to these remote islands, which sit 600 miles west of Ecuador's mainland, was a little shorter, but still many years in the making. Truly, it started with a grade school obsession. Cut to the present and I had to book my trip 10 months in advance. I finally set foot on the islands' volcanic soil in May, becoming one of the more than 100,000 visitors that will arrive this year.

But even with the tourists and locals on the islands, the animals still have relatively little fear of humans. The number of visitors to the park is regulated and it's not atypical for huge land iguanas or sea lions to be laying on your path or grasshoppers and mockingbirds flying all around and between you. In the water, Galapagos sea lions are curious and playful as they swim and almost dance underwater for you.

At one point, in a 45 minute snorkel off Isabella Island, I swam with sea lions, penguins, sea turtles, marine iguanas and countless other fish and birds.

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  • Galapagos Islands

    A Galapagos Penguins, marine iguanas and sally lightfoot crabs at Punta Moreno, Isabela Island. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    Sea Lions underwater at Champion Island, near Floreana in the Galapagos. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    A Sally Lightfoot Crab at Punta Cormorant, Floreana Island. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    A sea lion playfully chases a marine iguana into the ocean at Gardner Bay, Española Island. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    A finch on a cactus at Dragon Hill, Santa Cruz Island. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    A Waved Albatross in flight near Punta Suárez, Española Island. The Waved Albatross breeds almost exclusively on Española, the oldest island in the Galapagos. They can have a wing-span of more than 7 feet. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    A Galapagos sea lion rests on top of the "Bachelor Pad" on South Plaza Island. This stretch of the island is a cliff, that sea lions climb to rest in the sun. The name comes from the frequent visits of only male sea lions. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    A flightless cormorant at Punta Espinoza, Fernandina Island. The Galapagos Flightless Cormorant is one of the world's most rare birds, with an estimated population of 1500 and is the only cormorant that has lost its ability to fly. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    A Galapagos mockingbird sits on some lava rock at Punta Espinoza, Fernandina Island. Fernandina is the youngest of the 18 islands. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    Blue-footed Boobies sit on a cliff at Punta Vicente Roca, Isabela Island. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    A Black-necked Stilt at Dragon Hill, Santa Cruz, Galápagos Islands. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    A Lava Lizard eats a bug on Punta Suárez, Española, Galápagos Islands. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    A Galapagos Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron with Sally Lightfoot Crabs in the background at Punta Cormorant, Floreana Island. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    A Yellow Warbler with a snack at South Plaza Island, Galápagos Islands. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    A sea turtle near Fernandina Island, Galápagos Islands. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    Stormy skies and a rainbow near our cruiseship, Celebrity Xpedition, at Punta Espinoza, Fernandina Island. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    A Large Painted Locust at Dragon Hill, Santa Cruz Island, Galápagos. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    A Galápagos female medium ground finch at Punta Cormorant, Floreana Island. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    A male Frigatebird harasses a swallow-tailed gull (not seen) for lunch at South Plaza Island, Galápagos. Frigatebirds won't eat the adult gull, but shakes it to try and get the gull to regurgitate their last meal for the Frigatebird to then eat. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    A Galapagos hawk about to eat a small marine iguana at Punta Espinoza, Fernandina Island. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    A Land Iguana carries a Cactus Flower in it's mouth at South Plaza Island. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    A Land Iguana rests at South Plaza Island. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    Marine Iguanas sun themselves on lava rocks at Punta Espinoza, Fernandina Island. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    A Marine Iguana snacks on algae underwater near Fernandina Island. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    Sea lions rest on a beach as tourists ride in a panga at Punta Suárez, Española, Galápagos Islands. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    Sea Lions bask in the sun as their fins touch at Gardner Bay, Española Island. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    A tourist photographs sea lions at Gardner Bay, Española, Galápagos Islands. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    Sea Lions at Punta Suárez, Española, Galápagos Islands. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    Sea Lions play near Champion Island, Galápagos Islands. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    A young sea lions follows an adult sea lion out of the water at Punta Espinoza, Fernandina Island, Galápagos Islands.(CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

  • Galapagos Islands

    A Pelican is seen from the water near Fernandina Island. (CREDIT: Carrie Niland)

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