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Swimming with Sea Lions and Discovering Darwin: Hood College Galapagos Trip 2018

By Shannon Kundey, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology

As a high school student, traveling to St. Petersburg, Russia inspired a lifelong thirst for travel. Although we were only there for three weeks, the trip instilled both a love of travel and an appreciation of learning through travel. As a professor, I seek to instill both my love of exploring new places and acquiring knowledge through travel in my students.

Today at Hood, I study how nonhuman animals think similarly to and differently from humans. For instance, a current study in our lab examines how salamanders navigate from one place to another. Can salamanders, like humans, use visual cues to move to a distant location? The assumption of an evolutionary link among humans and nonhuman animals underlies this work.

Although we, as humans, tend to ignore that we are animals and subject to evolution as we go about our daily lives, our bodies, including our brains and our capacity to think, have been shaped by evolutionary forces. What better place to explore evolution than in the location, the Galapagos Islands, that so influenced Charles Darwin in the formulation of his ideas regarding natural selection? Evolution comes alive for students in the Galapagos! While discussing evolution in the classroom is often powerful, visiting the strange and varied landscapes of the Galapagos has the unique ability to inspire students to understand and delve into tough questions involving evolution while gaining an appreciation of the islands’ importance historically, ecologically and economically.

Out trip into the Galapagos’s exotic landscape began with an early morning flight to San Cristobal Island. There, we snorkeled with sea lions, black-tipped reef sharks, and sea turtles as well as observed frigates soaring. One of our favorite experiences was sea lions elegantly zooming by us as we swam. We were mesmerized by baby sea lions playing on the beach as the moon rose and caught our first sightings of various finch species.

We then journeyed to Santa Cruz by speedboat to visit the Charles Darwin research station and observe tortoises both in the wild and in captivity. There, we paid homage to Lonesome George and learned about tortoise conservation on the islands. Students even had a chance to climb inside a tortoise shell. Particularly fascinating was the tortoise breeding efforts by the Charles Darwin research station and the trials that each species faces for survival that evolution must overcome. Students also learned how invasive species cause problems for native species as well as the challenging balance that must be struck between tourists and preserving nature. We ended our evening on Santa Cruz with a cultural performance of local dances by a teenage dance team and by watching sharks and sea lions from the pier.

 

Finally, we journeyed to Isabella by speedboat. There, we snorkeled with sea lions, sharks, sea turtles, marine iguanas, and sting rays. We followed sea turtles as they swam and observed marine iguanas from underwater as they swam past. We also traversed one of the outlying islands of Isabella by foot, observing white-tipped reef sharks and baby marine iguanas. There, we also saw blue-footed boobies and penguins perched on rocks. We ended our time at Isabella by watching pelicans dive into the water as the sun descended below the horizon.

As we sped to Baltra via boat to depart back to Quito, and ultimately home, students were again mesmerized by the challenging landscape that is the Galapagos. On the way to the airport over land on Baltra, one of the students aptly commented that it resembled the moon with cactuses. Waiting in the airport, students enjoyed one last empanada in the company of finches looking for crumbs.

 

Sound like fun? You still have time to join us for another trip of a lifetime, South Africa, in 2019! Contact kundey@hood.edu for more details.

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