Top 5 Galapagos Islands Experiences: #4 Everybody Loves Boobies

Pelican on pier at night Puerto Ayora, Galapagos
A pelican sitting on the pier at night – Puerto Ayora, Galapagos

Boobies are commonplace in the Galapagos Islands, and people come from all over the world to photograph them in their natural habitat.

Now, before you start wondering just what kind of a blog this is, get your mind out of the gutter. I’m not talking about a booby of the human mammary variety, I’m talking about the awkward, feathery, goofy-looking Galapagos blue-footed booby. And, judging by the vast number of “I Love Boobies” t-shirts on the islands, I’m not the only one infatuated with these kooky looking birds.

birds at fish market Galapagos
Pelicans hoping to snag a free meal at the Puerto Ayora fish market – Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos

Of course, there are lots of different types of birds in the Galapagos. I mean Darwin’s finches basically helped write history, and seabirds are abundant at local fish markets.

Pelicans at Puerto Ayora fish market - Galapagos

But the blue-footed booby is the star of the show, and seeing them for the first time was an experience I will never forget.

It all started on a boat, as every good adventure does in the Galapagos. Feeling the wind whipping through my hair, I was hanging on for dear life as the driver of the motorboat my friend Adele and I were on, navigated the choppy ocean waters.

We were part of a small tour group heading to a rocky island a few kilometres from the much larger Santa Cruz Island, the home base for our week long trip in the Galapagos.

This spot was supposed to be a great place to snorkel and see different types of rays, penguins, sea lions and, of course, blue-footed boobies.

As we pulled up alongside the very sharp looking rocks, the boat driver had a hard time bringing us in close as the waves seemed to be larger than expected. He found a spot that looked suitable enough and dropped the anchor.

“Ok, now snorkel!” our driver said. I watched a particularly large wave crash onto the rocks beside us and I thought he must be joking. Turns out, he was quite serious. To drive the point home, he pointed to the water and began making swimming motions, as if that was the only motivation we required to hop into the turbulent waters.

I looked down into the churning deep blue ocean, and could feel it beckoning me into the void below, daring me to jump in. I looked at Adele and advised her I was going to sit this one out. Sometimes traveling is about finding your limits, and today, I had found mine.

Adele wholeheartedly agreed with my decision, and we were content to watch the one brave soul in our group hop into the blue abyss to try his luck. Bless his 20-year old heart.

After about 5 minutes, the lone swimmer gave up his fight and returned to the boat. He confirmed that indeed the water was pretty rough, and swimming was a bit scary this close to the rocks.

He also advised that the large waves were making the water incredibly murky, and visibility was low making it hard to see anything. That made me feel a lot better because if he had returned with a tale of an amazing synchronized swim with a penguin, I would have cursed myself for not being brave enough to jump in.

With no more takers for snorkeling in the vicinity of jagged lava rocks, our driver took us to another side of the little island to show us some animals, and it was here that I saw him.

He was standing on a rock by himself with two sea lions sunning themselves on the ledge just below. The booby was much bigger than I expected and looked to be about 3 feet tall. A decent height for a bird.

Boobies are known for their goofy looking faces and staggering, drunken walks, but this guy was just chilling on the rocks. The best look I could get of his face was a side profile, but his feet were the brightest blue I had ever seen, a byproduct of their fresh fish diet. He was gorgeous and I regret now not taking more pictures of him.

My second booby experience occurred during another ill-fated snorkeling trip, where I had to waive the boat over to rescue me after a particularly sudden bout of sea sickness.

Rocking gently in the tiny boat, I hung my head over the side and attempted to will my stomach to calm itself, silently wishing the other snorkelers would hurry up so I could get my feet back onto solid land.

Suddenly there was a commotion to my left and I turned just in time to see a flock of boobies dive into the water from high in the sky.

Another group quickly followed suit, looking like missiles as they dive-bombed straight into the water.

Boobies can reach speeds of 60 mph, so you would not want to be the fish on the business end of that beak. They feed like this twice a day, and we were lucky enough to be in the right place for their afternoon feed.

It was mesmerizing to watch them as they flew along then suddenly decided to plunge into the ocean en masse. Such an incredible sight! I felt like I was in the middle of a nature documentary and in a way, I was.

The Galapagos Islands are full of incredible wildlife, and I didn’t know it at the time but the best was yet to come.

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