Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Sea Lions, Part I

I had heard that you can get REALLY close to sea lions in the Galapagos Islands.  They were not kidding.  One of the very cool things about the trip was how many angles and ways we got close to sea lions.  The first day we took a panga (small inflatable raft) around an island and encountered the sleeping sea lion pictured here.  It literally kept sleeping as we were 3 inches from it - I could easily have touched it.  I took the photo without zoom, it was RIGHT next to me.

We often saw sea lions on our island walks, and they never moved away.  Though at times past they were killed by visiting sailors or pirates, the sea lions in the islands are generally very, very trusting of people.  We walked within a foot of them, often having to step over them or very nearly so on many of the islands.  Sometimes sea lions would walk past us, or even along with us.

We saw (and heard) them nursing.  We saw healthy young, and unfortunately, a few who lost their moms and were not going to make it.  We saw wet sea lions, dry sea lions, sea lions of all sizes.  We saw them swimming, sleeping, and playing.

My personal favorite was that every time we snorkeled, young sea lions would come up to us, check us out and play with us.  They brought up sea urchins from the ocean floor, and star fish.  They played with each other, zooming around and blowing bubbles.  One brushed me with a fin.  They zoom up to your snorkel mask. It's INCREDIBLE.  Living free and in the wild, they are curious - like puppies of the sea - and they want to play.

Once in awhile a big male would warn us to stay out of his territory with big deep barks.  No problem - easy enough to do.  They were never any threat.  I have been shocked that nearly every person who asked about the trip, when Is aw we snorkeled with sea lions, says "Isn't that dangerous?"  These are gentle creatures that eat fish.  They chose to approach us, we are not approaching them.  They are a million times faster than us in the water.  They come over to play and check us out - it would never occur to me to be the least bit fearful of them as long as one is respectful of their space.

Though sea lions themselves are not animals you can't see elsewhere, I don't think you could have such an extensive and intimate experience visiting with them elsewhere.

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