Galapagos Islands History

In Galapagos Islands History this Archipelago has been called the Bewitched Islands since the 16th Century.


This was because of the strong currents that flow around making them look as if they disappear as you approach them. And also due to the garua or mists making it difficult at times to tell whether it was the Islands or the ship that was moving.

This name of Bewitched Islands was in continued use by whalers and pirates for some time after the title of Galapagos was generally accepted.

Because of their isolation, during Galapagos Islands history the pirates and castaways made this Archipelago their refuge.

Treasures were buried, and stories grew up around them. By 1792, British whalers had reached the Galapagos and began to hunt for whales around them.

Like many oceanic Islands, the topography of the ocean floor suddenly sweeping upwards causes upwellings of deep nutrient-laden currents so resulting in a bloom of phytoplankton and so of animals that are a part of the food chain.

The Galapagos are an excellent feeding ground for whales, with Isabela Island and Fernandina Island being a calving place.

Galapagos Official Discoverer

Fray Tomas de Berlanga, the Bishop of Panama documented the officially first visit to the Galapagos Islands in 1535. Delegated to investigate the accounts of the barbaric actions of the conquistadors in what is now Peru, his ship, caught in a dead calm, drifted westward in the ocean currents.

With water sources depleted, the Bishop and crew searched the new Islands for fresh water, almost entirely in vain. Frustrated, and suffering, the men resorted to crewing the native cactus for water.

Disenchanted, they left the Islands, but not without sending word to King Carlos V of Spain, telling of the strange and foolishly tame wildlife and the numerous Giant Galapagos Tortoises and the name stuck.

In Galapagos Islands history we see that the Galapagos Islands appeared on the map late in the 16th century as the "Insulae de los Galopegos."

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Pirates and Buccaneers in Galapagos

The pirates are part of Galapagos Islands history too. During the 1500 and 1600's, the west coast of South America became prize Pirate territory.

As Spain was busy collecting the wealth of the Incas and shipping it home, the Pirates (depending on whose side you were on) would attack the Spanish treasure ships and gather riches for their own country.

The Galapagos Islands became a favorite hideout for these Pirates.

They would retreat to the Islands, due to the good anchorage and distance from Spanish shipping lanes, to stock up on fresh water and meat from giant tortoises.

The Islands of Floreana, Santa Cruz and Santiago became favorite spots. James Bay on Santiago still bears the name Buccaneer's Cove as an homage to these men.

Other evidence of the pirate days are the feral goats living in the Islands, descendants of goats left by the Pirates and Buccaneers.

William Ambrose Crowley one of the buccaneers, drew the first navigation chart of the Galapagos Islands.

A proud Englishman, he named several of the Islands after British Royalty and military.

Whalers in Galapagos

The whalers are also part of Galapagos Islands history. By 1792, British whalers reached the Galapagos to hunt the mighty creatures.

The Islands of Isabela and Fernandina were a favorite calving place of whales.

Between the years of 1811 and 1844, it is thought some 700 whaling ships visited Galapagos. Whaling was a lucrative business with very few regulations. Damage to the Galapagos environment by the whalers was unprecedented.

Each whaling ship would collect between 500-600 tortoises to provide fresh meat on the cruise. It is estimated that whaling ships removed 15,000 tortoises from Floreana Island causing the extinction of that subspecies as well as those on Santa Fe and Rabida Islands

In total, it is thought that Whalers removed some 200,000 tortoises from the Galapagos. The whalers also created problems that would long survive them, they introduced a number of animals to the Galapagos including the black rat, cats, cattle, donkeys, goats and dogs.

One famous whaler who visited the Galapagos was author Herman Melville who wrote about his visit to the Islands in the story, "The Encantadas."

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Which Country Owns the Galapagos Islands?

The country of Ecuador annexed the Galapagos Islands on February 12, 1832, naming it Archipelago de Colon. This was a new name that added to several names that had been, and are still, used to refer to this Archipelago.

The first governor of Galapagos, General Jose de Villamil, brought a group of convicts to populate the Island of Floreana and in October 1832 some artisans and farmers joined.

The origin and development of life in Islands so distinctly oceanic as the Galapagos, have given its chief importance to this Archipelago since it was visited by Darwin in the Beagle in 1835.

The Galapagos Archipelago possesses a rare advantage from its isolated situation, and from the fact that its Galapagos Islands history has never been interfered with by any aborigines of the human race.

Of the eleven species of giant tortoises known to science (although at the discovery of the islands there were probably fifteen) all are endemic, and each is confined to its own Island.

There also occurs a peculiar genus of lizards with two species, the one marine, the other terrestrial. The majority of the birds are of endemic species peculiar to different islets, while more than half belong to peculiar genera. More than half of the flora is unknown elsewhere.

Charles Darwin's Visit in 1835

Darwin is an important part of Galapagos Islands history. During a 5 week period, the HMS Beagle visited the Galapagos Islands where Darwin studied the flora and fauna. His observations included the finches now known as Darwin's finches.

The Islands are home to 13 species of finches, all of which have adapted to their habitat. The size and shape of their bills reflect their specializations. Darwin noted the similarities and differences in his journal and organized the finches as part of his collection.

His observations later brought him to conclude that flora and fauna evolve over time through a process of natural selection. Darwin spent the next 20 years of his life gathering supporting evidence and in 1859, he published the famous The Origin of Species.

In 1959, for the 100-year celebration of the publishing of Darwin's first book, the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park were created.

A few years later, the Charles Darwin Research Station with its research vessel, The Beagle, was established to inform the world about Darwin's theories and the Galapagos Islands as well as to serve as a living laboratory for Darwin's Theory of Evolution.

Galapagos Islands History Curious Facts

On Floreana Islands a German Doctor, Dr Friedrich Ritter, and his mistress, Dore Strauch, set up a small farm. They lived happily visited by passing ships and writing of their new life which included nudism and experimental diets and medicines.

Within a few years, a German family (the Wittmers who still reside on the Island today) and the Austrian "Baroness" Wagner de Bosquet, with her two male lovers, joined them on the Island.

The settler's feuding climaxed in the mysterious disappearance (and assumed murder) of the Baroness and one of her lovers, the accidental death of another lover and the poisoning of the doctor.

The details of the Floreana Mystery may be read in several books written about it. Frau Wittmer's book ,Floreana, provides a first hand account of these events as well as an account of her 65 years on Floreana.

Also during W.W.II, the US government arrived to Galapagos. They constructed an airbase on Baltra Island to protect the Panama Canal from Japanese threat.

At the end of the war, the base and all of its facilities were given to the Ecuadorian government. The landing strip now serves as one of the Island's two main airports.

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