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Galapagos Expedition Journal: Swimming with Sea Lions

This is the second post in my account of a ten-day exploration of the Galapagos, on board the National Geographic Endeavour. In the first post, I described our arrival on the island of San Cristobal and our first visit to a Galapagos beach.

You can read all posts for this expedition here.

NASA image courtesy of MODIS.


Photo of blue-footed booby  by David Braun

We awoke on the first full day of our expedition to find we had been transported during the night by the Endeavour‘s crew to the island Espanola. After a grand buffet breakfast, we were issued with our snorkeling gear for the week: wetsuit, flippers and mask. Explorers were offered the choice of deep-water snorkeling, beach snorkeling, or a walk on the beach. My son Anthony and I opted for the deep-water experience.

A Zodiac took us to Gardner, an islet off Espanola, where we were to snorkel along the steep cliffs of a submerged canyon. Falling backward off the Zodiac, as we were taught to do by our accompanying naturalist, we were plunged into a colorful world of tropical fish and sea stars. But as we approached the rocky sides of Gardner, we became aware that we were not alone. Sea lions swarmed around us, stopping to peer into our faces, and occasionally giving us a friendly nudge or a painless nip on a flipper or leg as if inviting us to play with them. A turtle glided beneath us.


The snorkeling was the first of half a dozen opportunities to explore the submerged paradise of the Galapagos. I came to realize that the islands had as many natural wonders below the water as they do above. And it was also apparent that a great many species, including birds, animals, mammals, and reptiles, were equally at home in both worlds. I will return to the diving iguanas and other submarine wonders of the Galapagos in another post.


Waved albatrosses. Photo by David Braun.


Albatross chick photo by David Braun.


Galapagos sea lion picture by David Braun.


Galapagos sea lion picture by David Braun.


Galapagos sea lions catching some rays. Photo by David Braun.


Yellow warbler on Gardner Beach, Espanola, Galapagos. Picture by David Braun.


When we tired of the snorkeling, the Zodiac took us to the beach, a fringe of dazzling white sand covered by basking sea lions. We were asked not to walk beyond the high-tide mark, as the beach is host to many turtle nests and their fragile eggs. The sea lions certainly appeared to observe the regulation. But they were not as respectful of our belongings, and a couple of them availed themselves of our towels and gear for headrests.

After repairing to Endeavour for a splendid lunch, I gave the first of my presentations in the Endeavour‘s lounge: “Tales of the Weird: Stories of a National Geographic Digital Journalist.” I focused a bit on our new National Geographic book, “Tales of the Weird: Unbelievable True Stories,” which was published in October. A copy of the book now resides in the Endeavour‘s library.


Photo by David Braun.


Iguanas on Espanola. Photo by David Braun.


Marine iguana on Espanola Island, Galapagos. Photo by David Braun.


Mockingbird on Espanola Island, Galapagos. Picture by David Braun.


Later in the day, we were ferried to Punta Suarez, said to be one of the richest wildlife locations in the Galapagos. Our first wildlife encounter was a colony of iguanas basking in the sun. We picked our way across boulders for a mile and half to a cliff packed with waved albatrosses, blue-footed boobies and smaller birds, including Darwin’s finches and the famous Galapagos mockingbird. Above us soared the Galapagos hawk, hovering like a helicopter in the head wind. The hawk is said to be the top predator on the islands.


Photo by David Braun.


Photo by David Braun.


Waved albatross and blue-footed booby have a bit of a row about their overnight resting place on Espanola Island, Galapagos. Picture by David Braun.


Photo by David Braun.


As the sun dipped into the ocean, the scene around us became surreal. Sea lions and iguanas were streaming ashore, and everyone was competing for a warm and sheltered spot to spend the night. We watched albatrosses, boobies and sea lions jostle for a berth. It appeared to be more a matter of who could make the loudest noise than anything else. Finally, everyone seemed to be able to find a place, while we had to watch our footing so as not to step on an iguana or a nesting bird. It is constantly amazing to see how indifferent the animals are to humans in their midst. The whole scene seemed to be like a throwback to a primordial era, a glimpse of how the Earth might have been before people altered it so much.


Photo by David Braun.


Photo by David Braun.


Back on board, we showered and changed for cocktail hour, a review of what we had seen and done that day, and a briefing about the next day’s program. There was a presentation of “Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic, Partners in Exploration,” followed by dinner in Endeavour‘s diningroom.

The partnership between Lindblad and National Geographic has been going strong for a number of years. Endeavour was the first ship to fly under the National Geographic flag. Four more vessels are in the fleet, taking travelers to amazing places in the company of Lindblad and National Geographic experts.

Photo by David Braun.

The ships are also used by National Geographic as platforms to do research, such as tracking of animals like the mola mola, and as a base for National Geographic writers, photographers, and videographers on assignment. Travelers regularly have an opportunity to interact with our scientists and editorial experts.

Lindblad and National Geographic  also raise funds for conservation groups such as the Charles Darwin Station in Galapagos and the Galapagos National Park.  Support is also given directly to schools, researchers, and other NGOs working to preserve and understand regions such as Southeast Alaska, Baja, and Antarctica.

Next time on my Galapagos Expedition Journal: Following Charles Darwin’s footsteps to Isla Floreana, and a visit to Post Office Bay.


Photo by David Braun.

12418031_10153900711084116_8462971761216697621_nDavid Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.

He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.

Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship

Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn


  1. Charlene B Powell
    United States
    November 5, 2012, 12:17 am

    Thanks for sharing David. It was a pleasure traveling with you and your son. Now we can all enjoy it once again! Wonderful.

    • David Braun
      November 5, 2012, 7:58 am

      Thank you, Charlene! It was our great privilege to enjoy the company of you and all the other distinguished explorers of the Galapagos. Hope to see you in Washington. David

  2. James Elliott
    October 31, 2012, 1:24 pm

    Awesome. I was just there 3 weeks ago, and just got a big smile seeing these pics and reading your post… to be honest, I know exactly where you took some of those photos! I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  3. dolores devlin
    United Kingdom
    October 31, 2012, 4:15 am

    Thank you for writing this description of your work in the Galapagos islands. Looking forward to reading your next account.

  4. Scott
    Washington State
    October 31, 2012, 1:59 am

    We must do our best to protect life’s many treasures. Mankind’s aquatic thermal contribution is the number one contributing factor linked to global warming. Not the atmospheric CO2’s. Though they’re a huge secondary contributing factor.

  5. Thaddeus Villasor
    October 31, 2012, 12:32 am

    Thank you for sharing. Definitely on my bucket list.

  6. Toni
    United States
    October 31, 2012, 12:25 am

    beautiful pictures, thanks for sharing!