Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Sea Lions

Isn't this a beautiful shot?
Narrative Copied from the internet, all pictures c/o Frances: 
"Often confused with seals, sea lions have their own distinct intelligent identity that makes them the favored ones to be trained by the U.S. Navy's Marine Mammal Program based in San Diego to detain and help scuba divers. They are mammals that live in the oceans and roam the land close to it. In their natural habitat, they live up to 10-15 years. However, in captivity, aided by a healthy environment, they can live up to 25-35 years. They are not very aggressive towards humans, and although there have been instances of attacks, they are few and far between. Most species are readily trainable and widely-used for entertainment as well as rescue operations.

Sea lions can be easily distinguished from other members of their order as they have external ear flaps and long front flippers that let them walk easily on land. Depending on their type, they weigh about a ton and are 2.4 to 2.8 meters in size. They have slightly-elongated faces with little whiskers on both sides close to their nostrils. Their 'cute' appearance has made them a popular attraction in aquariums and zoos worldwide. However, they are vicious carnivores, and strangely, evolutionarily related to wolves and bears. They hunt fish, squid, octopi, and smaller pennipids (seals and smaller sea lions) using their conical-shaped canine teeth. Although a part of oceanic life, they can only stay underwater for 10-15 minutes at a stretch.

They cannot survive far from the ocean. As a result, they can be found on coastlines of virtually every ocean except the North Atlantic. This includes the tropics as well as subpolar waters near both poles. For instance, the largest type, the Steller, is found on either side of the Bering strait. As apex predators, sea lions follow their prey and choose the most fertile oceanic regions to colonize. These include the Pacific coast of both American continents and Polynesia. Due to the large size of their colonies, they need suitably large and plain (sandy or rocky) shores to colonize."

From the Galapagos via the eyes and clicks of Frances...

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Giant Tortoise

The giant tortoise was hard to ignore.  Dirty and lazy, slow moving, the really giant males and the somewhat smaller females posed intently for its human audience. Eating guavas smeared over it face, belching out intestinal fumes and noises, the tortoise was not the cuddly animal that I was attracted to.  Covered by tons of armor, wrinkled and stern, the tendency of the tortoise to hide behind it armor did not trigger my curiosity or make me want to un-shell the creature and see more.  And I was truly not offended by its lack of interest in the funny looking humans hovering over it taking a billion pictures every day of the week and following it around wondering what might happen next that was different than the previous moment…..which never happened. 

Indeed, when I asked myself, whether I would choose to live my life for 150-175 years as a tortoise or 3-4 years as a hummingbird, my immediate reaction was the hummingbird.  But as I slowly navigated my 67 ½ -year-old body, walking stick in hand, sweaty and hot, around the tortoise poop returning back toward the bus to our ship, I became a bit more circumspect in my thinking.  It was at that moment that my mind was filled trying to answer whether in the 3 years of the expected lifespan of the hummingbird, there would be more life lived than by the tortoise living 50x longer.  Maybe I’m asking myself the wrong question.  

Clearly my hummingbird years have disappeared forever, but I wish that my remaining time on earth is less dreary and uneventful - in a positive way - then the tortoise's monotone existence......

doing dirty
...and more dirty

I only wish I was that tall

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Machu Picchu - Introduction

Realizing this is out of sequence with my promise to post many more Ecuador and Galapagos pictures as well as some amazing sites in Peru, I'm taking an executive privilege in posting these pictures of Machu Picchu. Truly one of the places that I very much wanted to go to.......I'm sure my daughter will accuse me of photoshopping the pictures. On my word, this is real, not fake and when you see the others...hopefully in the not too distant future, you will be similarly impressed. Very tired from the last few days of travel in Peru, now in Atlanta on my way back home. A bit disoriented and scatterbrained from the red-eye flight last night. Need to stay up a few more hours to get back on schedule. So I decided to post this short blog to try to preserve the memory of Machu Picchu. 

Well, it wasn't quite as long and hard as Hiram Bingham's journey to discover Machu Picchu, but it was still a long trek. Now, this is not exactly the path we took but in theory, to get from Honolulu to Machu Picchu, you would fly first to Atlanta, then Lima, then a flight to Cusco, then a 4 hour train ride, and when you get to Machu Picchu, you still need to get on a bus for 1/2 hour that will take you up the mountain while skirting oncoming buses traveling back down - on a narrow uneven, unstable, dirt road, with treacherous winding curves and fallen debris resulting from prior avalanches prompting you to close your eyes, pray to God and wish for the best. When you finally arrive, thats when your day begins....climbing up and down a million uneven steps, some tall and some short, smashing your feet and mangling your ankles hoping to get through the day without tripping or some major foot or ankle injury. What an adventure............more later...including many more pictures. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Galapagos - Introduction

There were moments on the Bus on our way to the giant tortoises when I looked out of my window that I could swear I was back in Hawaii.  The vegetation was exactly the same, exactly! In fact, I passed a lava rock wall that was identical to dozens in Hawaii making my experience that much more surreal.  But I was not in Hawaii but rather ¼ around the planet from my home 6 times zones separated requiring nearly 14 hours of air flight.
Overall, it was difficult to wrap my mind and imagination around the feelings I was experiencing in the Galapagos Islands.  As one who takes the geography and the magnificent beauty of Hawaii for granted after living there for nearly 37 years, my interest in biology has focused on human development and the pathophysiology of critically ill newborn infants.  It has not focused on the myriads of earth’s remaining living creatures whose diversity, size, movement, intelligence, beauty and habitat has heretofore evaded my interest and curiosity.

Still I was in the presence of three individuals who by nature are attracted to, captivated by, and have great affection and respect for the living creatures in the wild, and at least two of them possess a remarkable mental library of knowledge of the details of their habitat and existence.  Notably, all three know worlds more than I do about the animal kingdom.  Without them I could not tell the difference between a flamingo and Flamenco, and could barely differentiate a pelican from a republican.  This made my experience an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me - to cross the boundaries of my limited existence and learn something new of the world we live.  

And to achieve my goal, I had to ask a lot of stupid questions to my travelling companions.  I thank them for being so patient!  And if indeed, anyone of them was appalled by my flagrant ignorance of the animal kingdom, they kept this to themselves and did not reveal their disdain or shock at how little one can know about the earth and its creatures.

To be sure, I pretended to have an excuse for my ignorance for the animals in the wild.  I had a bad start in life and a genuine distrust of animals ever since I was four years old and a neighbor’s dog snacked on my right leg for lunch (never mind it was just a small bite, it seemed enormous at the time). It took about 50 years and Hunter, my son David’s dog, to make me appreciate how man’s best friend can be man’s best friend and to understand the affection and co-dependencies involved, as well as my own growing feelings and regard for Hunter over the years as he became the stabilizing influence in his home.  And it was a difficult witnessing his deterioration and disabilities as he became old, and we mourned his passing as if he were human.

I suppose the most pressing quest I set for myself during the three days in the Galapagos Islands was to appreciate something unique about each of the animal species that we were there to visit. I had a great start with my experience with the hummingbirds…how can anything compare?  And I won’t bore you or myself trying to be smart or witty about those animals that I know nothing about, or if they failed to strike my imagination in any meaningful way.  This introduction will indeed be followed by more blogs with more Frances pictures and abreviated explanations of the animals we encountered.  

I have chosen two aspects to emphasize in my introduction to the Galapagos Islands.  First, almost as an epiphany, a global panorama of the islands emerged in my mind which transcended the individuality and beauty of the animals encountered.  The Galapagos Islands have achieved something very few, if any, societies have achieved - a natural and comfortable commingling of indigenous wild animals and local humans, smothered with a dose of outsider humans – the tourists from around the world including city folks like me.  Animals are free to come and go without fear and without restriction.  Even a pathetic scaredy-cat like me felt totally comfortable reaching within a few feet and even inches of the wildlife.  And they were similarly unaffected by the large two footed creatures peering through sleek metallic devices, clicking incessantly and nonsensically bantering a monotone of drivel.  They could care less, oblivious to my existence, going about their business as usual looking for their next bite to eat, a place to rest in the shade or to pose and preen looking for their mate. None of the land animals, none of the birds, none of the sea animals winced at my presence, and some actually enjoyed the endearment and quizzical attention.  You would really have to be there to truly appreciate this!

{Compare this to civilization where humans hide behind locked doors, where they kill out of boredom, revenge, and profit.  Civilization where animals are caged in zoos, their movements restricted, tamed to obey their captors with whips and other forms of corporeal torture, waiting for the moment that they can turn the tables and seek retribution.}  

Another point to emphasize are the colors and textures and landscape of the Galapagos Islands, especially the colors of life, varied and vibrant.  From dry to wet, from whittled down vegetation to lush green, from mountains to flatlands, from vital blue green oceans caressing grainy soft black or yellow sandy beaches, to dry abandoned looking dust covered terrain.  And the colors of the animals match those of the terrain where they live.  The marine iguanas were black like the lava rock they rested on at the seashore, but the land iguanas were yellow and white camouflaged by the thick inland vegetation.  Every animal species in the Galapagos Islands seemed to have its secret for remaining invisible to predators, which ostensibly is a good thing at least for them.  But this species survival strategy of nature contrasts sharply with what we observed serving another fundamental purpose, the propagation of the species.

Two examples are the Magnificent Frigate and the Blue Footed Booby.  To attract a mate, the all black-colored male frigate magically inflates a huge bright red pouch stretching from below its chin and adorned with a few linear black dots projecting laterally.  If you haven’t seen this before, it is quite an amazing site to behold.  These pouches are much larger than their heads, and can been seen from hundreds of yards away. Indeed, they appear quite effective in attracting the attention of humans and hopefully for their intended target - to perk the interest of a vulnerable female frigate looking intently for her mate.  To me, these pouches look like a cross between a balloon and a Chinese lantern.  As the “exposed” frigate takes off in flight, you can witness the red pouch rapidly deflate as it bounces and bobs freely until the job is done. 

The Blue Footed Booby is not just a pretty bird with a flashy name!  The blue feet are aqua blue and very easy to identify.  But it’s not just the color of the feet, its what they do to attract their female partner that is the big news. To attract its mate, the Blue Footed Booby dances the dance of love.  First with its head propping up and forward, next a whistle, then the wings spread wide to demonstrate its power and beauty, the complex routine ends with the right foot lifted up first to step in place followed by the left foot (or is it left foot first?).  There are a few pics that depict much of this sequence that will be shared in future blogs.

Animals in the wild need protection from predators but also need to stand out to attract their mates.   This duality belies much of the conflict of life in most species. Nevertheless, the colors of life create a beautiful painting, one in which you have to look very carefully to identify the camouflaged creatures hiding out (like in a find the animal in the picture game), while creating the backdrop for the brightly colored creatures glowing with movement waiting for that fateful moment of life to create more life, more blue dancing feet and red glowing lanterns that light up the dreary monotone of their surrounding world. 

A sampling follows of some of my favorite Frances Pictures of the life in the Galapagos, known from here on as FP’s.  Stay tuned for more..........

Frances is the one just to my left and below....