Molten Rivers, Dragons, and Frenzies of the Galapagos Islands

28 Sep

Galapagos Land Iguana

Beneath Fernandina Island in the Galapagos sleeps the temperamental La Cumbre Volcano, which at any moment could wake and spew rivers of molten lava.  Without sufficient warning of the impending explosion, the island is a dangerous place for anyone, let alone a toddler.  Yet when filmmakers David Parer and Liz Parer-Cook traveled to Fernandina Island to capture the wonders of the Galapagos, they brought their three-year-old daughter, Zoe.  The filming might have been dangerous but if someone viewing the National Geographic Explorer documentary about the expedition learns so much about Galapagos wildlife, then the firsthand experience David, Liz, and little Zoe had must have been magical.

More Than Finches and Tortoises

The Galapagos Islands are best known as the place where Charles Darwin studied finches, rode tortoises, and developed his evolution theory.  But there is so much more of the Galapagos Islands for filmmakers like the Parers to explore and document.  Though over 90 percent of the Galapagos is protected as a National Park, the animals are generally unafraid of humans, making the wildlife easier to film.  One of the biggest hurdles to filmmaking on Fernandina Island, though, was actually getting the equipment on the island.  Due to the rough waters near the coast, the Parers and their crew had to unload one ton of equipment piece by piece using a pulley system.  This method of unloading was so feeble that even the camera, the most valuable piece of equipment, fell into the water, but luckily seemed to make it out unharmed.

March of the Iguanas

One of the most prominent animals on Fernandina Island is the land iguana, which still looks the same as its ancestors did nine million years ago.  David and his crew set out to film these prehistoric animals as they undertake a journey similar to the film March of the Penguins, minus the blistering cold and penguins.  Not much is known about mating between these iguanas, so David hoped that he and his team would be the first to document the mating ritual.  After the male and female iguanas mate, the female iguana migrates to the rim of the La Cumbre Volcano and buries its egg in what might be the most dangerous nesting ground.   It took David and his crew seven hours just to get to the rim and three more hours to climb down into it, due to the risk of landslides and falling ash.  The cameraman had to constantly wipe the lens and blow air on the lens using a baster because of the ash and humidity.  Despite all these hurdles, the film crew was able to capture this mysterious mating ritual and were able to get many close ups of the action since the animals did not fear the crew.

Finding Feeding Frenzy Becomes Whale of a Search

Just as filming the mating ritual of the land iguana would help us learn about these animals, filming the feeding frenzy of plunge-diving birds would also capture rare footage.  But such feeding frenzies are about as predictable as La Cumbre Volcano’s eruptions.  So in order to track down a possible frenzy spot, the Parer team got on a boat and followed mobs of dolphins that, like the plunge-diving birds, also feed on large schools of fish but use sonar to track down their next meal.  David filmed the dolphins’ hunt using a small waterproof camera on a long pole lowered into the water at the bow of the ship, showing us the dolphins’ point of view underwater.  While a feeding frenzy still eluded the Parers, they were able to capture some other amazing footage in the waters around the Galapagos. During the search, Liz and others of the crew dove into the ocean to film sharks and other marine animals.  Hammerhead sharks may look aggressive with their wide heads and sharp teeth, a parade of hammerheads swam past the divers without confrontation.  Even a whale shark, the largest fish on earth weighing in at ten tons and measuring the length of a bus, was a gentle giant around the crew.  Steven Spielberg might have taught us to fear sharks in Jaws, but to Liz, being in the water and observing these creatures is just like heaven.

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2 Responses to “Molten Rivers, Dragons, and Frenzies of the Galapagos Islands”

  1. Zuri September 28, 2009 at 11:00 pm #

    The Galapagos Islands are the most incredible living museum of evolutionary changes, with a huge variety of exotic species (birds, land animals, plants) and landscapes not seen anywhere else.

  2. Park Domain September 29, 2009 at 12:29 am #

    He determined that the finches had evolved from a common ancestor that probably reached the island many generations earlier. Park Domain

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