This is Mary Tillotson.
(Photo - Rosalind Cohen, NOAA)
And this is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program
EXPLORATIONS. Today, we tell about the Galapagos Islands in
the Pacific Ocean and the unusual creatures that live there.
Love is not easy to find when you are the last male of your
kind. At least that is how it seems for the Galapagos Islands
tortoise that scientists call Lonesome George. He is just one
of the many animals and plants that live on the famous group
of Pacific Ocean islands.
The islands were named for the large land turtles that live
on them. At one time, the islands were home to about fifteen
different kinds of land turtles. The largest island, Isabela,
has five different kinds of tortoises. But, Lonesome George
is not one of them. He comes from a smaller island called Pinta.
Scientists found George almost thirty years ago. Humans and
non-native animals had caused much damage to the environment
on his island. Some animals and plants had disappeared. Lonesome
George was the only tortoise found on Pinta.
Scientists took the turtle to the Charles Darwin Research Center
on Santa Cruz Island. They wanted to help him find a female
tortoise for mating. The scientists had been successful in similar
efforts for thousands of other tortoises.
The researchers placed George in the same living area as females
from the nearby island of Isabela. Scientists thought George
would be more closely related to the females from Isabela than
to other Galapagos tortoises. But, Lonesome George proved hard
to please. Scientists say that George never showed any interest
in getting close to the females around him. Scientists say hopes
of finding a mate for George are decreasing. If no mate is found,
the Pinta Island tortoises will disappear when George dies.
Research suggested that scientists might have to look on other
islands for a mate for George. D-N-A testing showed that George¡¯s
closest relatives do not live on Isabela as the scientists thought.
Turtles most like George live on the islands of San Cristobal
The finding surprised scientists because San Cristobal and
Espanola are the farthest Galapagos islands from Pinta. They
are almost three hundred kilometers to the south. The D-N-A
discovery is just another mystery of the Galapagos.
Mystery always has been part of the Galapagos. In Fifteen-Thirty-Five,
a ship carrying the Roman Catholic Bishop of Panama came upon
the Galapagos accidentally. Tomas de Berlanga named the Galapagos
group the Enchanted Isles. He was surprised to see land turtles
that weighed almost three-hundred-kilograms. He said they were
so large each could carry a man on top of itself. Bishop Berlanga
also noted the unusual soil of the islands. He suggested that
one island was so stony it seemed like stones had rained from
The British nature scientist Charles Darwin is mainly responsible
for the fame of the Galapagos Islands. He visited the islands
in Eighteen-Thirty-Five. He collected plants and animals from
After many years of research, he wrote the book ¡°The
Origin of Species.¡± He developed the theory of
evolution that life on Earth developed through the process of
natural selection. The book changed the way people think about
how living things developed and changed over time.
Darwin said the Galapagos brought people near ¡°to
that great fact -- that mystery of mysteries -- the first appearance
of new beings on earth¡±.
More than one-hundred-twenty-five land masses make up the Galapagos.
Only nineteen are large enough to be considered islands. The
Galapagos are a province of Ecuador. The island group lies across
the equator about one-thousand kilometers west of the coast
of South America.
The Galapagos Islands are generally dry. Giant cactus and other
smaller thorny desert plants grow just above the coast of the
larger islands. Higher up is a wetter area that produces small
trees. Above that are tall trees and bushes. That level can
be foggy with wet clouds surrounding the tree tops. Sunflower
trees live on the highest part of the tallest islands. They
can grow more than fifteen meters in height.
Scientists have been wondering for years about the position
of the Galapagos in the Pacific Ocean. Scientists used to think
that the islands were connected to the South American mainland
and floated out to sea slowly. Today, most scientists think
the islands were always where they are now. But, they think
the islands once were a single land mass under water. Volcanic
activity broke the large island into pieces that came to the
surface of the sea over time.
But scientists wonder how animals arrived on Galapagos if the
islands were always so far from the mainland. Scientists think
most Galapagos plants and animals floated to the islands. When
rivers flood in South America, small pieces of land flow into
the ocean. These rafts can hold trees and bushes.
(Photo - Rosalind Cohen, NOAA)
The rafts also can hold small mammals and reptiles. The adult
Galapagos tortoise clearly is too big for a trip hundreds of
kilometers across the ocean. But, turtle eggs or baby turtles
would be small enough to float to the islands.
(Photo - Rosalind Cohen, NOAA)
The islands are home to many unusual birds, reptiles and small
mammals. Some of the animals live no where else on Earth. The
tortoise is the most famous Galapagos reptile. But it is not
rarer than the marine iguana. It is the only iguana in the world
that goes into the ocean. The marine iguana eats seaweed. It
can dive at least fifteen meters below the ocean surface. And
it can stay down there for more than thirty minutes.
Several strange birds also live on the Galapagos. One of them
is the only penguin that lives on the equator. Another is the
frigate bird. It has loose skin on its throat that it can blow
up into a huge red balloon-like structure. It does this to attract
females who make observation flights over large groups of males.
The Galapagos also are noted for a bird that likes water better
than land or air. The cormorant is able to fly in all the other
places it lives around the world. But, the Galapagos cormorant
has extremely short wings. They can not support flight. But
they work well for swimming.
The Galapagos Islands also have a large collection of small
birds called Darwin¡¯s finches. Charles Darwin studied
the finches carefully when he visited the Galapagos in Eighteen-Thirty-Five.
He separated the birds by the shapes of their beaks. Finches
that lived in different places and ate different foods had different
Scientists continue to study life on the Galapagos Islands.
But, they have just begun to study the deepest parts of the
ocean that surrounds the islands. The Smithsonian Institution
in Washington, D-C sent marine biologist Carole Baldwin to the
Galapagos. Mizz Baldwin traveled nine-hundred meters down to
the bottom of the ocean near the islands. She did so in a clear
plastic bubble watercraft called the Johnson Sea-Link Two.
The Sea-Link has powerful lights to battle the extreme darkness
of the deep. The watercraft also has several long robotic arms.
They collect sealife. The trips to the bottom of the sea resulted
in the discovery of more than ten new kinds of sea life. Some
of the discoveries were captured on film.
The Smithsonian currently is showing a special movie about
Mizz Baldwin¡¯s trip to the Galapagos. The movie
was filmed using the Imax 3-D technique. The movie is shown
on a huge screen at the Museum of Natural History in Washington,
D-C. Three-D movies on huge screens give images much more depth.
People who watch the movie wear large glasses to observe the
3-D effect. They experience the movie in a different way.
For example, some viewers reach out to touch a Galapagos tortoise
because it seems so close. Other viewers throw back their heads
to avoid the splash of a wave on a rock on Santa Cruz island.
It is easy to forget that the images are on a screen and are
not real. The movie tries to provide an experience similar to
a forty-minute visit to the interesting and unusual Galapagos
This Special English program was written and produced by Caty
Weaver. This is Steve Ember.
And this is Mary Tillotson. Join us again next week for another
Explorations program on the Voice of America.
This V-O-A Explorations Report is published
courtesy of VOAnews.com