The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Smack bang in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, literally hundreds of kilometres from anywhere. I am half way around an island-hopping adventure tour of the islands, and it’s phenomenal. Known for its unique, strangely mutated animals and being the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution and the survival of the fittest, it’s mind-blowingly different and it’s had me amused and thinking.
While listening intently to our local guide, an Ecuadorian David Attenborough, I am struck with our human desire to protect life, and to encourage life to continue and flourish. We want life to go on, and are constantly rooting for it… So to speak.
Two events in particular had me thinking about Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory, and even where we humans sit within it all. Is compassion one of our strongest survival secrets?
Our first day on San Cristobal Island was awesome. We stepped around a corner onto a beach littered with shiny, beautiful, playful sea lions. [Insert squeals of delight.] They were lazing along the beach, cuddling, warming themselves, and frolicking in the bay. We dove in and had our first of many encounters with the gregarious pups. My brother jokingly pushed me towards one of the larger male sea lions until it advanced on both of us and we retreated as quickly as our big feet-fins could take us. An early lesson in choosing your sea lion playmate.
The playful day ended sadly, as there was one tiny sea lion pup, just 4 months old according to our guide. He was scouting the beach looking for his mum, approaching any female sea lion and barking at them, hoping to identify himself as the female’s pup. Each time the females would bark loudly back, aggressively rejecting the pup. Our guide explained that 3 out of every 10 pups will die, having become separated from their mother and unable to survive alone. “And no adoption here”, claimed ‘Attenborough’. Battling to protect their own pups, taking on another’s pup is not ever considered.
The pup followed us up the beach, barking and crying, looking for some food, some warmth, some love from other sea lions. He hobbled along, and I had to quicken my pace, to avoid picking him up and taking him home. I later learnt that the naturalists of the islands are against human intervention to assist in survival, as it’s considered a part of the natural ecosystem, or “the circle of life” if you will. The sea lion population is healthy and carcass of a dead sea lion pup maintains many other animals on the islands.
Struck in the face with the reality of ‘survival of the fittest’, I was much happier the following day to witness a much more fun part of this survival phenomenon – the mating dance of the Blue Footed Boobie. Yes, a rather regal bird, endemic to the islands, it’s like a prettier, taller, leaner, stronger seagull, with shiny blue feet.
Lucky enough to be on the islands in mating season, our group stood amused and intrigued for a good 20 minutes, having stumbled across a male and female Boobie engrossed in their mating dance – an entertaining sight. The male kicks it off with a kind of ridiculous forward moondance, and stands high on large rocks, all in an attempt to show off just how blue his feet are. The bluer his feet, the more likely he is to get some female action. The female plays the aloof game, facing away for part of the dance, waiting to make sure she is making the best choice she can, for that season anyway. Then, when she is sure he is quality, she begins gurgling her neck and flapping her wings as signs of affirmative action.
What struck me (other than just how funny this all was to watch), was our human desire to see the Blue Footed Boobie get some action. We didn’t care too much for actually seeing the final deed, yet all of us in the group were rooting for them to get together. We wanted them to win, to get it on, to keep going, to survive. Each time he turned away we collectively groaned in pain, and each time they moved closer to each other we leaned forward in anticipation.
In both cases, with the sea lion pups and the Boobies, we cared about their happiness and their survival. It doesn’t make sense to us, as humans, to leave our human ‘pups’ to fend for themselves, even if they aren’t our own. We have adoption, and fostering, and larger family, who we call on for help when we need it. And when we go out with our friends, we want them to get lucky, to pick up, to find the man with the bluest feet. Because we have compassion for each other, we want others to be happy, and want the very best for them.
Perhaps our compassion is our key to survival. We aren’t the strongest animal, or the biggest, or most beautiful, but we are connected and we care about each other. So as a whole species, we are fit when we care.
Of course, at times we lose track of ourselves and others; we get tired, and busy and needy in ourselves. But overall, when the big questions and decisions come, we must continue to truly care. When given the opportunity to care, we must pick up and love our baby pups, even when they are not our own, and we must choose the bluest feet around, always. It’s a matter of survival, don’t you think?