Journal (Part Five)
Writer, adventurer and three-time Guinness World
Record holder Dan Buettner recently spent some time studying the
ecologically challenged Galápagos Islands. Here, from
his journal, are some ongoing impressions.
a distance, the beach in Gardner Bay, on the southernmost island
of the Galápagos, looks like it could be any one of a number
of American beaches.
The long white strip of sand is littered with hundreds
of overweight sunbathers and their kids. Some frolic in the water,
others snuggle with their mates, while others just snooze and catch
rays. It's a scene you might witness on a hot day in Santa Monica,
Atlantic City or Fort Lauderdale.
The difference is that none of the unshapely bodies
here are human.
By 10 a.m. we had dropped anchor in Gardner Bay. After
a breakfast of cornflakes and kiwi fruit, we boarded a small dingy
("panga"} and motored into shore. The sunbathers on the
beach turned out to be Galápagos sea lions a subspecies
of the California sea lions all warming up in the morning
Determined to observe these lumbering beasts on my
own terms, I took a long walk along the coast, past some lava boulders,
to a spot where 21 sea lions had staked out a patch of sand.
walked to within 10 feet of a sleeping bull and sat down. Nothing
happened. I crept closer, to within five feet. Nothing. Finally,
I nudged up until I sat less than three feet in front of the bull.
He opened his eye and flung up his head. Startled, I leaped back.
For a long moment, we stared at each other. Bull sea
lions have been known to bite intruders. Since their mouths are
so full of bacteria, the bite almost always infects the surrounding
flesh and takes a long time to heal. Moreover, this animal must
have weighed 500 pounds it was like confronting an angry
But this bull wasn't in the mood to attack.
This sea lion's face looked amazingly like a dog's
face. He had a long snout, wispy whiskers and a cute, rounded forehead
that made me want to pet him. Unlike a dog, he had tiny ears set
far back on his head that looked like chewed cigar butts.
But what most caught my attention were his eyes, which
were big and brown and regarded me with supreme indifference. He
plopped his head down into the sand and resumed his nap. He couldn't
care less about me or that I had stopped by to visit him.
I began to feel mildly insulted.
I'm so used to animals running, flying or swimming
away from me that I was startled to have an animal just ignore me.
For all he knows, I could be an animal catcher from the zoo. If
he isn't careful, he could end up spending the rest of his life
balancing a beach ball on his nose for five year olds.
his Web site.)
The presence of people in the Galápagos is
but a blink of an eye in the island's five-million-year history.
But in the brief 300 years that humans have occupied the Galápagos,
we've managed to cause the extinction of eight of the 14 mammal
species here. Another three species are endangered.
Part of the sea lions' charm is that they haven't
learned to fear humans. You can sit down right next to them and
watch them nap.
Is this a good thing, or could their charm spell their