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May 23, 2003

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This morning we landed at Charles Darwin Station. Ecuador claimed the Galápagos Islands in 1832, three years before Charles Darwin stepped ashore from his ship, the Beagle. After Darwin left, a few settlers lived on the islands and Ecuador used the region as a penal colony, the last of which closed in 1959 when archipelago became a national park. Because an average of 60,000 tourists visit each year, park officials strictly control where visitors are allowed to go and all visitors must be accompanied by a certified naturalist trained by the national park service.
Sleep and sun with sea lions. This Galapagos species is closely related to that of California. The little ones provide the best entertainment for snorkelers.
Enter a staring contest with a booby...look into its eyes - larger pupils mean it's a female.
Try to out grin a giant tortoise, the namesake of the islands. Galapago means 'saddle,' and refers to the saddle back shell of the islands most conspicuous inhabitants (and important for sailors in the 17th and 18th centuries). These animals are making a comeback after sailors almost hunted them to extinction. Giant Tortoises can live for a year without food or water, so sailors used to land on the island and take hundreds of these animals aboard ship to use as an easy-to-maintain source of fresh meat.