Haven for Castaways, Pirates & Whalers (1590s-late 1800s) | Galapagos Unbound

Swashbucklers and Scurvy Knaves Need Food Too

The Galápagos Islands saw little visitation action from the late 1500s to the early 1700s besides buccaneers. For pirates, the Galápagos archipelago served as the ideal home base for their pillaging pursuits on Spanish colonial ports. See where the pirates took refuge on our Galápagos Island Explorer tour.

The Galápagos also served as a place to hideout and restock on water and food. Live tortoises, in particular, were rounded up and stored in the ships’ hulls; as they can live over a year without water or food, the tortoises were a source of fresh meat for the pirates’ long voyages.

Whalers Found Their Liquid Gold

Whalers may not have had hid their treasure troves in the Galápagos, but they found themselves sailing to the Galápagos for oil—their own form of gold. Whalers began finding their way to the Galápagos in 1793 with English Captain James Colnett’s arrival and subsequent navigational charts. Colnett’s visit set off a season of whaling that continued for almost a hundred years.

Not only did the whalers take a giant chunk out of the Galápagos whale populations, they also decimated the population of Galápagos fur seals, taking them to the brink of extinction, for their pelts. The whalers also feasted on Galápagos giant tortoises. During this time, multiple species of tortoise became totally extinct.

Colnett and his men did something good, however, in setting up Floreana’s “post office” barrel in the 1790s in an effort to further the international mail service. Now, barrel and its beach are known as Post Office Bay, and its services are still in use.