Greater Flamingo courting ritual, Galapagos islands

Galapagos Islands: What happens in July

Updated June 2016.

July seems to be baby time in the Galapagos Islands, on land and in the air. The seasonal migrations continue, bringing many visitors to the islands, especially in the sea.

On Land
  • The female lava lizards are blushing deeply as their potential mates do push-ups to attract their attention. All of this is part of the lava lizards’ mating rituals, which will continue until November.
  • Marine iguanas have hatched. Watch where you step with hundreds of these miniature “imps of darkness” scurrying around!
At Sea
  • Whales and dolphins are resting in the channel between Isabela and Fernandina Islands.
  • Whale sharks are swimming by Darwin and Wolf Islands.
  • Along the west coast of Isabela Island, expect to see pods of white-bellied and bottle nose dolphins.
  • Galapagos penguins begin to nest.
  • It is also the sea lion breeding season. (Watch out for those macho males guarding their harems!)
In the Air
  • Many sea birds are breeding and nesting, including Moorhens (Common Gallinules) and Galapagos Penguins.
  • The Greater Flamingo is performing its spectacular courting dance.
  • You can also witness the Flightless Cormorants’ mating rituals on Fernandina Island.
  • July is a great time to visit the Blue-footed boobies, especially on Española Island. The downy chicks are hatching.
  • Also on Española Island, the Waved Albatross are nesting and the chicks beginning to hatch.
  • On North Seymour Island, the Frigatebird babies are appearing.
  • American oystercatchers are nesting on the beaches of Santiago Island, especially at Puerto Egas.
Humans
  • Highlander Ecuadorians on summer vacation are joining the seasonal migration of the Northern Hemisphere vacationers. Booking well in advance for trips in July is highly advised.
Climate
  • The cool season continues in July, with a brisk climate.
  • The fine, drizzling mist called garúa bathes the morning and evening. Skies will be overcast, and there is a chance of light showers. Expect afternoon showers. Pack a rain jacket.
  • Air temperatures are cool: 19-26°C (66-79°F). It is also breezy. A sweater will take off the chill.
  • The sea is a bit rougher. Some landings may be tricky. If you are prone to seasickness, don’t forget seasickness medication, or you may want to consider land-based tours.
  • The sea is also cool (21-22ºC / 68-72ºF). For snorkeling, you may need a wetsuit.
  • The nutrient-rich water means marine life is more active, making for fantastic snorkeling and scuba diving.

Have you visited the Galapagos islands in July? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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Photo credit: Santiago Ron

Hancock Expedition to the Galapagos islands

Exploring the Galapagos Islands: The Hancock Expeditions


While the world was reeling from the effects of the Great Depression of the 1930s, George Allan Hancock outfitted his private cruiser-yacht to do scientific research in the Galapagos Islands and the Eastern Pacific.

In 1931, Hancock commissioned the building of Velero III, outfitted for oceanic exploration and research. It made five voyages between 1931 and 1938. The most memorable ones were in 1931-1932, and in 1934. During the first, it played vital role in the saving of a critically endangered species. During the other, it was a major actor in a mystery that unfolded on Floreana Island.

Saving a Species

The 1932-33 Hancock Expedition found land iguana populations on Baltra Island were being decimated by wild goats. The crew and scientists rounded up 70 iguanas and moved them to North Seymour Island where no goats – or iguanas – lived. Within 20 years, the iguanas had totally disappeared from Baltra due to wild dogs, cats and goats, and the construction of a U.S. military base.

In the 1980s, the Charles Darwin Foundation and Galapagos National Park brought iguanas from North Seymour to be bred in captivity. The first 35 young iguanas were repatriated to Baltra in 1991 and by the time the successful breeding program ended in 2008, 420 iguanas were sent there.

Caught up in an Affair

During the 1934 expedition, the Velero III was drawn into the Galapagos Affair. The settlers on Floreana Island – Dr. Friedrich Ritter and his mate Dore Strauch, the Wittmer family, and the Baronness Eloise von Wagner with two lovers – were often visited by passing yachts and scientific expeditions. Tensions grew in 1934. The Baroness and a lover disappeared, reportedly joining boarding a Tahiti-bound yacht. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Ritter died of food poisoning. Lorenz, the Baroness’ abandoned lover, was desperate to get off the island, and hitched an ill-fated ride with a passing fisherman.

The Hancock Expedition relayed messages and investigating officials to Floreana. They also found the dehydrated bodies of Lorenz and the fisherman on Marchena Island. It also transported Dore to Guayaquil.

Margret, the Wittmer matriarch, told her side of the story in Floreana, and Dore Strauch in Satan Came to Eden. The documentary, The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden (2013) re-examines the mystery’s evidence. The expedition’s recounting of events, with many photos, is told in Voyages of the Velero III.

Following in Hancock’s Footsteps

Several of the places where the Hancock Expedition’s adventures played out are included on Galapagos itineraries:

Baltra is the arrival point for most visitors to the Galapagos Islands. Keep your eyes open for land iguanas at the airport and on the short journey to Itabaca Canal.

North Seymour, north of Santa Cruz Island, is a popular cruise stop and good day trip from Puerto Ayora. Marine and land iguanas, and sea lions among other wildlife are easy to see. Blue-footed boobies and frigatebirds also nest here. Offshore are five scuba dive sites with the possibility of seeing hammerhead and Galapagos sharks.

Floreana, with Punta Cormorant and Post Office Bay, is another common destination for Galapagos visitors. Asilo de la Paz (Asylum of Peace) was the cave where Ritter and Strauch – and later the Wittmers – lived. At Las Palmas are the ruins of Ritter’s farm and his grave. The Mirador la Baronesa was the Baroness’ favorite lookout point. The Wittmer family still lives on the island and operates a hotel.

Marchena Island has no on-land visitor sites. Punta Espejo and Punta Mejía are fantastic offshore dive sites.

 

Have you visited any of these sites? Share your experiences in the comments below.

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Photo credit: Smithsonian Institution Archives

Volcan Chico, Isabela island, Galapagos

New Galapagos Wonders Discovered

Several new geological discoveries in the Galapagos Islands are rocking the imaginations of scientists – and travelers: a crystallized lava lagoon and lava trees.

These two fascinating and unique features, found at Cerro Chico on Isabela Island, were announced in May by Dr. Theofilos Toulkeridis, a geologist at the Army Polytechnic University (Escuela Politécnica del Ejército – ESPE), who has made over 50 research trips to the Galapagos Islands.

The lava lagoon, which measures 25-30 meters (82-99 feet) in diameter, has crystallized waves washing across its surface. Hikers to the volcano can see it from an observation point five meters (16 feet) away.

The second discovery is of lava trees. A forest of 30 trees were burnt and petrified by erupting lava, leaving behind deep holes. These trees may possibly be of a now-extinct Galapagos species. It is an extremely rare phenomenon, found only in Hawai’i’s Volcano National Park and Mount Fuji, Japan – and a lone cactus on Genovesa Island in the Galapagos Islands (this site is closed to the public). The Cerro Chico lava tree site will be opened to Galapagos visitors from May 2016.

Cerro Chico is part of the massive Sierra Negra Volcano just 22 kilometers (14 miles) northwest of Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island. Sierra Negra last erupted in 2005. It is a popular guided day hike on that island.

What do you think of these new discoveries? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
 

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Photo credit: Steve Nomchong

A Galapagos Giant Tortoise

Galapagos Islands: What happens in June

June is a fascinating month in the Galapagos Islands. Not only are some of island natives breeding and rearing young, but the seasonal migrations are bringing all sorts of visitors to the islands. The Galapagos is an important rest stop for bird and marine fauna migrating to warmer waters and weather in the northern hemisphere.

On Land
  • The giant tortoise nesting season begins. On Santa Cruz Island, you may see these behemoths coming down from the highlands in search of a suitable place to lay their eggs.
At Sea
  • Humpback whales are migrating through the Galapagos Islands.
  • While cruising through the Galapagos archipelago, also keep an eye out for other whales like sperm, blue and minke, as well as for orca.
  • Whale sharks will be swimming by Darwin and Wolf Islands.
  • These two islands – now part of a massive shark sanctuary – will be a diver’s delight when thousands of scalloped hammerhead sharks visit the area.
  • Along the west coast of Isabela Island, expect to see pods of white-bellied and bottle nose dolphins.
  • Penguins are more active, especially around Bartolomé Island.
In the Air
  • About 30 species of birds – including terns, laughing gull and common nighthawk – are migrating through the Galapagos Islands.
  • It’s mating season for the Blue-footed Boobies and their cousins, the Red-footed and Nazca boobies.
  • At North Seymour Island, frigate birds are breeding, too, with the males inflating their red throat pouches.
  • On Genovesa Island, the endemic Short-eared Owl begins mating.
Humans
  • In mid-June, the high-season starts with the seasonal migration of vacationers from the Northern Hemisphere.
Climate
  • June marks the beginning of the cold season, with southeast trade winds and the Humboldt Current’s return.
  • Seas will be rougher. Some landings may be tricky. If you are prone to seasickness, you may want to consider land-based tours.
  • The sea is colder (18-23ºC / 65-73ºF). For snorkeling, you may need a wetsuit.
  • The nutrient-rich waters will have a visibility of only 9-15 meters (30-50 feet) but draws thousands of migrating whales and sharks. This is a preferred season for experienced scuba divers.
  • Garúa, a fine, drizzling mist, is common in the morning and evening. Expect afternoon showers. Pack a rain jacket.
  • Land temperatures are cooler than in previous months: 19-26°C (66-79°F) and breezes are stronger. A sweater will take off the evening chill.

Have you been to the Galapagos islands in June in previous years? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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Photo credit: Flickr/Steven Bedard