They don’t look like much. To my unadjusted eye, they merely look like tire tracks leading to holes in soft sand. But to those who know, like my husband, they mean only one thing – we are on an active turtle nesting beach. We’ve been waiting for this moment for almost a week.
We are in Oman, a land of forts and frankincense, Bedouins and wadis, desert dunes and rugged coastline. But for us, Oman is first and foremost a country whose white sand beaches serve as the yearly nesting sites for tens of thousands of sea turtles. Ever since Bruno described his cherished memory of watching turtles lay their eggs in the sand here, it’s been the experience I’ve longed for most in Oman.
And so we headed for Ras al Jinz, a turtle nesting site of internationally-recognized importance. Every year, over 20,000 female green turtles – an endangered species – plod up the beach here to dig deep trenches with their rear flippers into the soft sand and deposit their eggs.
And every night, one hundred tourists watch the turtles in this most-intimate of act.
Walking through the undulating dunes, I saw a big furry creature swaddled in the couch grass. The shaggy beast looked a lot like a bear, but we were in the wrong domain for such a creature.
I was out leading a tour group in my capacity as a wildlife guide. The location was South Island, New Zealand and the animal that lay before us was the New Zealand Sea Lion, which is genetically related to bears.
A thick pelt of fur envelopes their body and the male acquires an impressive mane around his neck as he matures. Like his terrestrial cousin, the New Zealand Sea Lion is a top predator: His quarry tends to be fish, squid, octopus, crabs and the occasional penguin.
On Sea Lions, the razor-sharp claws of a bear have been sheathed inside a membranous flipper. This flipper propels them through their watery lair, as well as allowing them to capture prey. The Sea Lion also has a thick layer of blubber, which insulates it from the frigid water as it descends to deeper realms.
Much of the population lives on the subantarctic Campbell and Auckland Islands, with a tiny population living on the mainland. The species’ conservation status is listed as ‘’nationally critical’’– the highest threat status given in New Zealand. In short, the New Zealand Sea Lion is one of the most threatened Sea Lions in the world, and quite possibly the rarest.
SPECIES: Southern Resident Killer Whale (Orcinus orca)
CURRENT RANGE: Pacific North East, around Puget Sound, Strait of Juan de Fuca, Southern Georgia Strait
CURRENT THREATS: Decreased prey availability, boat interactions, environmental contamination
CONSERVATION STATUS: Endangered
WHERE YOU CAN SEE THEM: Washington and British Columbia
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the dichotomy of Nature: How it can be both devastatingly strong (see: hurricanes and earthquakes) and surprisingly vulnerable (see: climate change and rapid species collapse) at the same time. The fact that these two extremes are inextricably connected only makes the complexity of our planet’s ecosystems all the more fascinating.
We’ve rarely visited any place in the world that better illustrated how strength and fragility can be two sides of the same coin than the Galapagos Islands. Eons of volcanic activity gave birth to harsh, rugged, lava-strewn landscapes, which kept the islands from being colonized until the early 20th century. But these inhospitable ecosystems also provided sanctuary for some of the most beautiful creatures we’ve ever seen, many of which are endemic and endangered today.
Darwin’s Paradise is home to many of our favorite wildlife species, from the famed Galapagos Tortoises and the mini-Godzilla-like Marine Iguanas to the bizarre Flightless Cormorants and the tiny Galapagos Penguins. But the most engaging animals on the islands are arguably the ubiquitous Galapagos Sea Lions, which you’ll find in almost every port, every beach and in the water every time you go for a swim.
There’s a hard-and-fast rule in the Galapagos that says visitors must stay at least 6 feet away from wildlife at all times, but the Galapagos Sea Lions clearly did not get the memo. They’re filled with endless curiosity, awkwardly ambling over to check you out on land or swimming gracefully alongside you as you snorkel in the sea. With their huge eyes, cute faces and funny flippers, the sea lions’ charms ultimately prove impossible to resist.
We met this adorable duo at sunset in gorgeous Gardner Bay on the island of Española. Here, on a beautiful white sandy beach, hundreds of Galapagos Sea lions live in large colonies. These two young ones were snuggled up close together, looking up at us with sweet puppy dog eyes. It was only after we took the photo that we noticed the perfect heart-shaped nose of the one on the right.
This was one of the last photos we took during our recent trip to the Galapagos, which seemed appropriate: The trip made me feel as close to my daughter as these two Sea Lions looked, with a full heart that fell more deeply in love with these fragile, fascinating islands that helped launch our site’s success back in 2011. –Bret Love
Our trip to the Galapagos was sponsored by International Expeditions, but we will never compromise our obligation to our readers. Our opinions remain our own.
If you enjoyed our post on Galapagos Sea Lions, you might also like:
VIDEO: Galapagos Tortoises
VIDEO: Marine Iguanas
VIDEO: Flightless Cormorants
[The following is a guest post from Jo Karnaghan, Chief Frugalista at Frugal First Class Travel, a guide to saving money while traveling in style. You can follow Jo on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. If you’re a travel blogger interested in guest posting on GGT, please email pitches to Editor-In-Chief Bret Love at [email protected]]
When we take family vacations, we often go to a resort. We find it a great opportunity to relax and do as much or as little as we like.
While it’s always tempting to spend our days lounging on the beach or enjoying cocktails by the pool, we do make time to find some meaningful activities to engage in as well. But as our daughter gets older, finding fun activities that we all agree on can be more difficult.
On a recent trip to Phuket, Thailand, I knew that visits to Buddhist temples just weren’t going to do it for her. But when we came across the Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre in the Khao Pra Thaew National Park, even our fickle tween was hooked. Not only did we have an opportunity to see these amazing animals up close, but we learned a lot about the need for Gibbon conservation.