Andes, Blue-footed Boobies, Brazil, Charles Darwin, Darwin's Toilet, Ecuador, Evolution, Fossils, Frigate Birds, Galapagos Dove, Galapagos Islands, Isabela II, Marine Iguanas, Mess of Iguanas, Noah's Ark, Origin of the Species, Religion, Robert FitzRoy, Sally Lightfoot Crabs, Santiago, Sea Lions, South America, Strait of Magellan, Swallow-tailed Gull, The Great Flood, The Praying Monk, The Voyage of the Beagle, Transmutation, Yellow Warblers
Thurs., Feb. 7 – Santiago
This morning we woke up, ate another delicious breakfast, and returned to our cabin to prepare for a panga ride around the coast. We heard the 15-minute warning and started to put on our sunscreen and pack, but we never heard the last call for some reason. After feeling like it had been much more than 15 minutes, we wandered out to the lounge and realized everyone had already left us! The manager called back a panga from the shore, and thank goodness it was filled with people we knew who just gave us a hard time, rather than being really angry at us.
The ride was nice, but bumpy! The water was choppy, which made for some beautiful photos near the rocks, but not for some peoples’ stomachs. Both Matt and another person had to miss the following lecture about Darwin because they weren’t feeling well.
On the rocks we saw nesting Blue-footed Boobies (the way you can tell if they are male or female is by the size of the pupil in their eye, so you have to be close!); more frigates; the Swallow-tailed Gull, the only nocturnal seagull in the world; and fur seals who were somehow finding a comfortable resting place atop the jagged rocks. We even stopped for a minute to watch one attempt to jump up to a very high platform.
We saw in the documentary the night before that boobies hunt in groups, overwhelming their pray by flying high in the sky and all at once diving into the water into schools of fish below. We saw a few birds diving individually, but it was difficult to get a video. Hopefully I see a group fishing before I leave!
On our ride we also learned that pirates and buccaneers used to arrive at these islands as well. They had rocks they used to have as way points, which included a very tall rock in this cove called the “Praying Monk.” It was an awesome formation! Tomorrow we will be able to see some graffiti from these pirates as we hike to Darwin’s Lake.
Since the water was too choppy to snorkel this morning, the crew decided it was best to wait to see if conditions get better in the afternoon. Instead, Socrates gave a fascinating lecture on Darwin, his life, his discoveries, and his contributions to science and the idea of evolution. (Actually, Darwin never used the word “evolution” in his diaries, but “transmutation,” as that is what they called it back in the 1800s.) Obviously it is very well known that Charles Darwin is THE most important figure around here. However, I wasn’t aware of the details, and was interested to know more.
What is most interesting is that Darwin was a very religious man. His father wanted him to become a physician like he was, but Darwin couldn’t handle blood, so he dropped out of school. Then, his father decided he should become a clergyman. While he was in school for that, he met a professor who was also a scientist, and they became very good friends. He also had a good friend who had taught him how to dissect birds and other animals, which as you know, would come in handy later. His professor was invited to finish a voyage to the New Land, but could not go because he had a family. In his place, he suggested Darwin, and the journey began.
The captain, Robert FitzRoy, a scientist himself (and the inventor of weather forecasting), wanted to bring a smart man of his class with him for conversation. The previous captain who started the voyage commit suicide, and FitzRoy thought it was because he was so lonely (because of class differences, a captain would not speak to his crew, only through the first and second officers). When FitzRoy first met Darwin, he didn’t like him. A phrenologist, he believed he could tell if people were smart by the shape of their head, and Darwin’s didn’t have the right shape. After some convincing by the professor, he finally agreed to sail with Darwin, and they eventually became great friends.
On their journey, they traveled to South America, down through the Strait of Magellan, and up along the Andes. While in Brazil, he found a giant skeleton of a sloth, with a head the size of an elephants! He discussed this with FitzRoy (also a very religious man), and he said this animal obviously didn’t make it onto the ark before the Great Flood. While in the Andes, Darwin found shells on at the top of the mountains. When he questioned FitzRoy about this, FitzRoy he replied that the Great Flood had covered all land on Earth, so the flood had of course brought shells from the beaches up to the tops of mountains. They eventually made their way out to the Galapagos Islands, where Darwin started questioning the differences between the animals he saw on the islands, and the animals he knew on the mainland. He wondered why God did not put some of the animals on these islands that he put on the mainland. FitzRoy didn’t have an answer for this, and Darwin’s hunch that the fossils and shells he found may not be related to the Great Flood advanced with the questioning of how the animals on the islands came to be. After five weeks of exploring San Cristobal, Floreana, Santiago, and Fernandina; as well as FitzRoy’s mapping of the islands by simply sailing around them (extremely accurate, by the way—and the map used until the 1940s), the ship traveled home.
Darwin studied the samples he brought back, and poured over his findings. In a series of five secret diaries, he questioned his faith and mulled over the thought of transmutation. Then, his youngest—and favorite—daughter became very ill. She was very interested in his work, often staying up with him late hours of the night while he studied. She knew almost everything about his work. She ended up passing away, despite all the medical treatment they sought. It was then that he wrote in his diary that if there was a god, he would not have let this happen to a little girl. It seems in that moment that he completely gave up on his religious views.
At the time, it was very taboo to talk of transmutation, or evolution. The church still had much control over what people believed, but luckily for Darwin, many people were ready to take science more seriously and look for other explanations. Darwin was still nervous to publish any of his papers, when one day a young man sent a paper to him for publication. Darwin couldn’t believe his eyes—it was everything he believed—and he had been brave enough to seek publication. He discussed this with the young scientist, who agreed to let him publish first. Darwin published Origin of the Species, and dedicated it to Captain FitzRoy (still extremely religious). The captain was horrified, and felt like he had had a hand in creating a monster. He eventually committed suicide (no one knows if the publication was why).
Anyway, it is truly amazing that we have had the opportunity to come to the place that set off a whole new belief system. These animals gave proof so scientists could prove that evolution is real, and give us better understanding of the natural world and ourselves.
Later in the afternoon, we disembarked onto Santiago and took a nature walk to see large “messes” of marine iguanas. They are so cool!! In the afternoon sun, they were warming up and preparing for their next hunt. These iguanas are the only lizards in the world that can survive in the water. When hunting, they can stay in the water for 20 minutes feeding on algae until they have to come back to the rocks to warm up again. They get rid of the salt out of the water similarly to the boobies, but instead of draining the salt from their glands, they shoot it out of their nose! They also lie all over each other to conserve heat. There were so many of them that you really had to watch where you were going, because they blend in so well with the lava rocks, and they weren’t going to move out of the way.
We also saw a ton of Sally Lightfoot Crabs, which really stood out on the black lava rock. They were also feeding on algae. Fur seals were lying all over the place as well. Dennis says that by the end of the week, we will say, “Oh, it’s just another sea lion. No big deal.” But I don’t think that could ever be true! All of us have been just as excited to see every one as we were on the first day.
At the end of the nature walk, we saw a funny rock formation called “Darwin’s Toilet,” where the water would drain as the waves receded.
On our walk back, we spotted some Yellow Warblers and the Galapagos Dove, and talked to Jose about his work schedule, time off, and soccer. In addition to being a contracted naturalist, he is also studying Italian and Portuguese, and usually spends his time off in Brazil. What a life, these guys have! A dream job for someone who has a passion for wildlife.