Galapagos Islands Explorers and Whalers
1744 - Spanish Exploration of the Islands
Although they didn't give much importance to the Galapagos in the first centuries, they explored them and gave some names, known as "the ancient Spanish names", but without clearly identifying them. Therefore "Isla de la Salud" or "Santa Maria" was probably the island currently known as Floreana; "San Bernabe" the currently Isla Santiago; "Mascarin" was probably Española; "La Isla de Tabaco", San Cristobal. Later the "Isla Santa Isabela" would be identified as Isabela. The "Islas Santa Maria" (Tortuga, Crossman), appear in several French maps. In 1744, the Geographic Source made a clearer map with several Spanish names that haven’t been conserved.
1788-1860 - Whaler in Galapagos: Colnett
Several English whalers discovered that the whales migrated to the Galapagos to breed. In 1788, the ship Emilia arrived to England with 140 tons of oil and 888 sea lion skins. Soon after, the Beaver of Nantucket (USA) returned with 1,300 tons of whale oil. It was the beginning of a virtual stampede. In 1793, Captain James Colnett arrived in the H.M.S. Rattler to study the possibilities of establishing a whaling station in the South Pacific. By the end of the century, no less than 40 whalers, English and American frequented the water of Galapagos during the time of the whales to stock up on water, tortoises and sea lion skins. It will never be known how many thousands of tortoise were sacrificed and taken from the islands. The whalers, though, were much more numerous than the pirates had been and some races of tortoises quickly became extinct. As many as 200,000 tortoises may have been taken over the course of the 19th century.
Hunting the populations of sperm whales in the South American seas, the whalers had lasting effects upon the islands that are still apparent today: the reduction of elephant tortoises, the near extinction of sperm whales and the unofficial Barrel Post Office on Floreana.
A tradition continued by tourists today, the office was abandoned wine cask in which outgoing sailors placed letters. Sailors returning to the port of the letters address would take it there out of kindness. While the original cask has been destroyed, the park service has replaced it and tourists today can continue the tradition, leaving postcards for friends and taking some back to send.
Among the whalers who stopped here was Herman Melville, the great American novelist and author of Moby Dick. Melville was unimpressed by what he saw, "five and twenty heaps of cinder dumped here and there in an outside city lot", but nevertheless wrote a short story, Los Encantadas, that took place in the islands, published in 1854. The title is the name whalers and pirates often used for the islands, the Enchanted Isles.