A HIGH PRICE TO PAY
By the time Charles Darwin arrived in 1835, Galapagos was already a hunting ground for US whalers who, as well as plucking creatures from the water, were responsible for decimating land-based wildlife. The whalers were there for long periods and needed food, so they hunted Galapagos tortoises. The animals were highly valued because they could live for years in the hold of a ship and provide fresh meat on long voyages. They were also easy to catch, thanks to their glacial pace. One fateful hunt in 1820 resulted in the eradication of tortoises from Floreana Island. The entire population perished when crew members of the illfated whaling vessel, Essex, torched the island. But as the crew left the smouldering island, a sperm whale scuttled their vessel, forcing the ship to be abandoned. For months the sailors drifted helplessly in lifeboats, sunburnt and starving, before turning to cannibalism to survive. They drew straws to see who became food for the rest. Of the 20 crew, only eight survived. They were found off the coast of South America, insane and gnawing human bones. Their story inspired Herman Melville’s legendary novel, Moby-Dick.