The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AFLOAT -

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.

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