In March of last year, a marine iguana stole my heart. It all started on a bright sunny day at Darwin Beach, a small white sandy clearing frequented by locals situated in the Galapagos National Park on Santa Cruz island. After I found the perfect spot, I folded my white towel to create a cushion and laid it on the rough jet black lava rock. I sat down, placed my feet in the clear warm water and looked out at the outcropping of lava rock offshore. Several marine iguanas were sunning themselves on the miniature island and others were commuting between their islet retreat and shore. Later on, while observing the tiny spotted fish swimming around my feet, I felt a presence to my left. I turned to see a little black Jurassic face looking me straight in the eyes. As I looked at him he moved his curious head and innocently stared at me. My heart melted. He appeared to be smiling. A few seconds went by, he sniffed my towel, walked behind me and made his way down to the shore, where he slipped into the water and glided over to the lava outcropping to join his friends. It was after this experience that the marine iguana became my favorite Galapagos animal.
The study referred to in the following blog post takes a more in-depth look at the fearless Galapagos marina iguana:
Life of marine iguanas on the Galapagos by ZDNet‘s Roland Piquepaille — The marine iguanas on the Galapagos Islands lived without predators for a very long time. But when humans arrive 150 years ago, they brought with them cats and dogs which are occasionally biting the iguanas. Still, these animals remained excessively tamed. With the explosion of the number of tourists on these protected islands, researchers from Germany and the U.S. recently to measure the levels of stress of these marine iguanas by chasing them (gently), capturing them and analyzing their blood to see how they reacted. Initially, the ‘naive’ iguanas didn’t move until the scientists were at less than one meter from them. But the researchers were still able to ‘capture the same animals up to six times in four weeks.’ Maybe this is the end of the good life for these iguanas.
Wildlife of the Galápagos by Julian Fitter, Daniel Fitter & David Hoskings gives a great overview of the flora and fauna of the Galapagos Islands. This handy book clearly describes and illustrates the seven species of Galapagos marine iguanas, “the world’s only sea-going lizard [s].”