A young pup scoots along the waters edge, chasing my daughter, son and 3 other kids down the beach. The children stop, turn, bend down and giggle with delight as their eyes meet the pups’. The pup nods his head slightly as if to tell the kids to keep playing. They dutifully reply by turning and running into the shallow water. The pup follows excitedly, ready for more fun. This scene played out in front of my eyes within 5 minutes of our first shore landing on San Cristobal island in the Galápagos. I had read about the fearlessness of the animals on this remote island chain some 1,000 miles from mainland Ecuador. I must admit, I was a little skeptical, that is, until I saw my first Galápagos sea lion.
The Galápagos sea lion is a species of sea lion that only breeds on the Galápagos Islands. Much to our naturalists chagrin, the sea lions are constantly referred to as seals, although they are very different animals. 2 distinguishing features are the ears and the front flippers. The sea lions have ear flaps instead of holes, and the sea lion’s front flippers are much larger and are used to “walk” along the shoreline. The sea lions live on all of the Galápagos Islands, and can typically be found sunning themselves on the rocky shoreline, warming up after feeding in the cooler waters.
If you can’t easily spot a sea lion, you can sure hear them. The male sea lion bark is loud and can sometimes be long. The males can be very protective of their “harem.” They fight other males to control a group of female sea lions and pups, and only when challenged by another male, and losing, do they leave.
It was hard to not want to touch and frolic with the inquisitive sea lions, but as we quickly learned (before we even stepped on shore) touching sea lions and any animal for that matter is prohibited. If human scents get on a sea lion pup, for example, the mother will abandon it. This abandonment typically leads to the pups death since no other sea lion will take care of it. (Note: I did read an article from 2010 about the changing of the “no adoption” policy of some sea lions, but at this point, it’s still debatable.)
Not only were the cute sea lions playful on shore, but they also take this irresistible trait to the water as well. They love to swim with humans and whisk in and out of your path as you snorkel off shore. It’s amazing their accuracy. Even while rapidly gliding and twirling by, they will not touch or bump into you.
That little playful pup at the very beginning of our Galápagos experience will always be etched in my mind. Although we saw many more sea lions throughout our trip, my surprise of the fearlessness and affectionate personality of that specific pup paved the way for my next 8 days and showed me what a special place the Galápagos truly is.