An endangered species, Galapagos sea lions breed exclusively in the Galapagos – or on little Isla de la Plata off the coast of Ecuador. There are 20,000 to 50,000 of them, down about 50% from 30 years ago.
They are threatened by el Ninos, which are expected to increase with global warming, and sharks and killer whales when they venture far out in search of, yum yum, sardines. . . . not to mention fisherman nets and poachers looking for a profit on bull penises sold as aphrodisiacs.
Otherwise, their lives consist of swimming, sleeping in the daytime sun, lolling on and over each other, mating, mothering, and being cute or elegant (take your choice) furry bags of blubber.
Why they are called sea lions, or sea wolves (“lobos marino” in Spanish) instead of sea dogs or sea bears makes no sense.
Look at this face. Their faces convince you they are safe even when you are warned to stay 12 feet from the bulls.
(Bull to right, not quite as cute.)
But what’s important is: I SWAM WITH A SEA LION!
Sammy, the guide, ever vigilant to my happiness, tapped my flippered foot and pointed. Fifteen feet away, among the rocky crevices, was my new dance partner. As I approached, she came towards me and began to whirl, twirl, and make loops and circles with her body. It was I who backed off. Less than three feet between us crossed my comfort zone.
She broke away once to chase off two smallish sharks 12 feet below (oh, yeah), then swam back, looked me in the eye, and we danced again. Later she danced with others, and that was okay because we danced longer, and she loved me more than she loved them, and I think of her every day. And I miss her, and I hope she thinks of me, and . . . and . . . .
Reality: the mothering aspect of sea lions is peculiar. Once a baby is a week old, its mother returns to the sea in her daily (nightly) food search. Things happen. She might not return, in which case the baby is doomed. It will not be adopted by another mother.
Mothers identify their babies by the sound of their “bark” and their smell. It works both ways. Babies sniff their way across piles of sleeping seals to their mothers where they attach themselves to a teat and suck loudly as they too fall asleep.
In sum: sea lions are sculptures in fur, varying in color from gray to gold. They cannot be awkward, though . . .
. . . the sight of a sea lion scrambling across sand has cognitive dissonance to it. How does that work?
They flipper to everywhere – to a pier bench, a tubular slide of a children’s playground, to the top of the stairs of the first leg of the climb to Darwin’s Lake.
Sea lions just are. They have no appointments and not much to say. You want them to be here forever, to loll, sleep, mate, and swim in loops and whirls, and circle 8’s for flabbergasted tourists.
You want, actually, to lie down next to them in the sand, to see their dreams and just be.