This essay was the second place winner of the 2017 CT Science Writing Contest.
The two most hair-raising moments I have ever had with my dad happened within 10 minutes of each other. A few years ago we were snorkeling with my two brothers off Santa Fe Island, one of the 13 major islands that make up the Galapagos Islands. We had hardly rolled into the water when a Galapagos shark about three meters in length gracefully floated by only a few body lengths away. Thankfully, it did not take much interest in us.
As the shark disappeared into the dark blue backdrop of water, we continued to move along the shoreline looking for sea turtles, brightly colored fish, and less dangerous whitetip reef sharks. After a couple minutes, I noticed my dad slowly drifting toward a large adult male sea lion who was floating a few meters offshore. Having been warned that male sea lions were somewhat territorial, I moved as quickly as I could to steer my dad the other direction. By the time I reached him, the sea lion was no more than a few arm lengths away. Again, thankfully, it did not take much interest in us.
We had similar though less harrowing experiences everywhere in the Galapagos. It was common to come within arm’s reach of some of the most fascinating animals in the world. Marine and land iguanas, giant tortoises, sea lions, sea turtles, stingrays, albatrosses, and blue-footed boobies paid little attention to us fawning tourists. Their tameness was disarming and beautiful, but it also made them look a little stupid.
Charles Darwin seemed to have the same observation on his famous voyage 150 years earlier. He described the marine iguana, an animal whose uniqueness to the Galapagos is only surpassed by its number, as a “hideous-looking ...1