First few weeks with WildAid and the Galapagos National Park

July 24, 2019

It has been almost three weeks since I arrived in the Galapagos and I will be working here until the end of September (my timeline is a bit more flexible than other CBE Fellows as I have finished all my classes at MIIS). So far, the experience has been incredible. The first day I arrived I met with Diana, who is the head of the WildAid program in the Galapagos. She is also who I am living with and has taken to referring to herself as my aunt. I originally thought I would be working primarily under her, but she had slightly different and exciting plans for me.

Galapagos Sea Lions on Mosquera
Red-footed Boobie on Genoesa
Marine Iguanas hang out next to the National Park patrol boats

Due to my experience in working with marine mammal rescues with the Marine Mammal Center in California, Diana thought I would be a valuable asset to help the National Park with their response team for injured and sick Galapagos Sea Lions. She also thought that I could be help the operations side of the National Park’s Vigilance and Control team. Finally, when she learned I had experience in doing some marine economic analysis she asked me if I could assist Christian, a contractor for WildAid working on an economic analysis of the private tourist boats that come to visit the Galapagos.

Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos. Home for the next 3 months

Currently as it stands, I have three distinct jobs here which makes every day pretty exciting;

  1. I am always on call for the head vet of the National Park to go out to other islands and help rescue Galapagos Sea Lions.
  2. I have been assisting Christian with research and an analysis to figure out how much the government should charge private tourists’ boats.
  3. And finally, I report to work every day at the National Park office of Vigilance and Control and see what the boss, Paula, wants me to work on. Currently she has mostly been having me work on updating and writing the procedures manual for the entire Control and Vigilance branch with the help from one of the assistant directors, Harman.

While working on updating the procedures manual isn’t always the most exiting work, it is something that many of the rangers in the park feel that they desperately need so it feels good to be doing something helpful. It has also allowed me to quickly learn the organizational structure of the National Park. To better help me understand the procedures of the Control and Vigilance branch of the national park, the park rangers have taken me out on a few patrols. These patrols involve getting on a boat and going between various different islands to search for illegal activity. Many times, we will stop fishing boats, inspect their catch, and make sure that they have all the appropriate documentation.

Successful disentanglement and release of Galapagos Sea Lion on the island of Mosquera

By far the most exciting work is the rescue of Galapagos Sea Lions. Usually what occurs is that a tourist or fishing boat spots a sea lion that is in trouble and calls the national park emergency line. From there the rapid response team is dispatched to go help the sea lion. Most of the sea lions (called lobos marinos in Spanish) that I have encountered have had entanglements around their necks. What we do in this situation is capture the animal in a net, restrain the animal while someone cuts off the entanglement, and then release the animal if it has no other severe injuries. So far I have been part of two rescues on different islands and two research trips in which we collected blood and tagged 25 healthy juveniles.  

This past week the National Park actually featured me in a facebook and twitter post which can be seen here

Rescue of Galapagos Sea Lion with entanglement on the island Rábida

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