July 24, 2007

60 Seconds in the Life of the Galapagos Islands

Parts 22-28 in an ongoing series of (approximately) 60 second films.

I just got back from the Galapagos Islands. It was amazing. We went snorkeling with sea lions and sea turtles, saw all sorts of animals that don’t exist anywhere else, and learned a lot while we were doing it. But instead of going on and on about how great it was, I’m going to condense the experience into two simple posts. This one has videos, and this post has photos. None of them do the experience justice.

60 Seconds in the Life of the Waved Albatross

The Waved Albatross breeds only on Espanola Island. They mate for life, so when they first hook up they go through an elaborate dance to get to know each other, so they will recognize each other when they return to the Island to mate again after they go foraging off the coast of Peru. This is what their courtship dance looks like:

60 Seconds in the Life of Sally Lightfoot Crabs

These aren’t endemic to the Galapagos, but they’re fairly abundant. It wasn’t unusual to see several dozen at a time along the rocky shores. I’ve always thought crabs looked pretty cool, like little alien robots. But I had no idea crabs could jump. Watch the background and you’ll see.

60 Seconds in the Life of Blue Footed Boobies

They have a silly name, and they look kind of silly on land. But in flight and on the hunt, Blue Footed Boobies look like another creature altogether — bomber planes. They fly around looking for schools of fish, and then dive straight into the water to grab what they can, as seen in this video. It was shot from a dinghy in choppy water, so I apologize for the shakiness:

60 Seconds in the Life of Marine Iguanas

The Galapagos Islands have the only iguanas in the world that forage in the sea. They hold their breath and dive down to eat algae for minutes at a time, and then hang out en masse on shore when they’re done. I think they were my favorite animals on the whole trip. Charles Darwin wrote about them, “The black Lava rocks on the beach are frequented by large (2-3 ft) most disgusting clumsy Lizards. They are as black as the porous rocks over which they crawl & seek their prey from the Sea. I call them ‘imps of darkness’.”

60 Seconds in the Life of Frigatebirds

Frigatebirds are the ones you may have seen photos of with the big red inflated pouches that look like balloons. They fly over water, but they never land on water. Instead, they steal from other birds like pirates in mid-air. In flight, they have incredible silhouettes, with their forked tails and pointed, angled wings. These birds were filmed flying over our boat, arriving as soon as they smelled food, presumably hoping for our scraps.

60 Seconds in the Life of Flightless Cormorants

The flightless cormorant is endemic to Galapagos, and it’s the only variety of cormorant that can’t fly. In cormorant families, both parents care for the child in the nest, but at some point the mother abandons the family to go mate with someone else. In this clip, a father cormorant watches over the baby cormorant while the mother is out getting food. Either that, or she’s out “getting food” nudge nudge wink wink.

60 Seconds in the Life of Giant Tortoises

Galapagos means “saddleback” and the islands were named for the giant tortoises that live there, some of which have shells that resemble saddles. When competing for territory, Giant Tortoises extend their necks upward, and whoever’s neck extends furthest wins. The following clip is cut short because my neck apparently doesn’t extend far enough.

Unfortunately, all this video is low-res and only goes so far in doing the islands justice. Check out the photos for more.


This is fantastic! It’s my dream to travel to the Galapagos. You should check out the author David Quammen. “Flight of the Iguana” and “Song of the Dodo” give great accounts of the islands.

Thanks - this was really interesting. How populated are the islands - with humans, that is?

I feel like I was on a mini vacation from my desk at work. Ah, to be an imp of darkness sunning myself on a rock right now.

Some of the islands are inhabited with humans. I think there are approximately 20,000 people living in the Galapagos Islands, most of whom live on the island called Santa Cruz. Tourists have only been going there for about 40 years, so most of the islands are still fairly pristine. Keeping it that way is the challenge. -David

Fantastic footage. Really spectacular quality. Thanks.

I’m so jealous! I love your videos. I only wish they were taken by me. Thanks for thinking of us anyway.

I really enjoyed your little videos, particularly the mating dance…very cool!

One thing I saw when I was lucky enough to visit was some bird (a nazca booby maybe?) juggling a stone. It would toss it in the air with its beak, catch it, repeat. Alas, I have no movie to show you. Apparently they can’t eat fish directly, but have to do a similar ritual to get them to slide down their gullet, so the stone juggling is just practice.

I like the idea of “60 seconds…”.

Awesome post.

Really cool videos! Especially enjoyed the mating dance. Wish you had a shot of the iguana diving into the sea.

Beautiful. I like the waved albatross pair. keep it up!

Hello. My birding buddy, Mads, sent a link to your footage of waved albatross courtship dance. It amazed me that, while they were doing all those elaborate beak-circling etc., they never actually moved from their spots. Action and restraint displayed all at once.

what a special place these islands are, and what a privilege it must be to visit in person. thanks for sharing these shots, i hope these creatures will still be there for many generations to enjoy. might i suggest to you, that you donate whatever revver revenue you generate with these videos to help protect the source of this natural splendor, these wonders that are the patrimony of the whole world.

Your mini videos are fabulous! What type of boat did you travel in? How many different islands did you visit? Do you have any advice for someone who really, really wants to go to the Galapagos but tends to get seasick even on Lake Michigan?
I hope your videos aren’t the only look I’ll ever get at the Galapagos!

you are evil!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Whoa! When I saw ‘60 seconds in the life of a humidifier’ I thought this was going to be boring in an interesting way…but this is better than a nature film! (I mean that in the best way possible, I love nature films)