The Mysteries of Pinta

  • Henry Nicholls
Part of the Macmillan Science book series (MACSCI)


Decades have passed since the surprise discovery of Lonesome George. There has always been a lingering suspicion that there might be another tortoise, even tortoises, left on Pinta. It’s a small island — just 11 km from top to bottom and 7 km from side to side — but its remote location on the northern fringe of the archipelago makes it one of the least explored. Herman Melville’s gloomy account of the Galápagos nicely captures the isolation of Pinta, then known as Abingdon or Abington Island:

Yonder, though, to the E.N.E., I mark a distant dusky ridge. It is Abington Isle, one of the most northerly of the group, so solitary, remote, and blank, it looks like No-Man’s Land seen off our northern shore. I doubt whether two human beings ever touched upon that spot. So far as yon Abington Isle is concerned, Adam and his billions of posterity remain uncreated.


Green Turtle Iberian Lynx Nest Ground Hawksbill Turtle Global Position Satellite 
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Notes and sources

  1. ‘Yonder, though, to the E.N.E. …’: Melville (1854)Google Scholar
  2. ‘Friedrich found himself involved in a protracted private war …’: Treherne (2002)Google Scholar
  3. Pig control on Santiago: Cruz et al. (2005)Google Scholar
  4. Impact of goats on Pinta: Hamann (1993)Google Scholar
  5. ‘Extinct in the Wild’: Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group (1996).Google Scholar
  6. Cebu flowerpecker: Magsalay et al. (1995)Google Scholar
  7. Ivory-billed woodpecker: Fitzpatrick et al. (2005)Google Scholar
  8. ‘We, with 7 of our men, went to discover this island …’: Cowley (1687–89?)Google Scholar
  9. ‘We were close under Abington Isle …’: Colnett (1798)Google Scholar
  10. Impact of whaling industry on Galápagos tortoises: Townsend (1925a)Google Scholar
  11. Details of botany expedition: Derek Green, personal communication; Rob Gradstein, personal communicationGoogle Scholar
  12. ‘Pinta at the time seemed to us the most unspoiled of all the islands …’: Gradstein, personal communicationGoogle Scholar
  13. ‘I don’t think there were any species records …’: Gradstein, personal communicationGoogle Scholar
  14. ‘On that particular day I just had this gut feeling …’: Green, personal communicationGoogle Scholar
  15. ‘It hadn’t been dead more than a year or so …’: Peter Pritchard, personal communicationGoogle Scholar
  16. ‘I can still envision the precise point …’: Linda Cayot, personal communicationGoogle Scholar
  17. ‘Definitely sort of old and withered’: Hamann, personal communicationGoogle Scholar
  18. ‘Greyish-brown, with a coarse, fibrous structure…’: Seberg, personal communicationGoogle Scholar
  19. El Niño rainfall: Snell and Rea (1999)Google Scholar
  20. Lynx scats in Portugal: Pires and Fernandes (2003)Google Scholar
  21. ‘It is possible to misidentify scats…’ Fernandes, personal communicationGoogle Scholar
  22. Grizzly poo: Wasser et al. (2004)Google Scholar
  23. Collecting dolphin faeces: Parsons et al. (1999, 2003)Google Scholar
  24. ‘You have to be able to locate, swim to and collect the faeces …’: Parsons, personal communicationGoogle Scholar
  25. Rare sightings of Santa Fe tortoises: Howard Snell, personal communicationGoogle Scholar
  26. ‘It had been used for the same purpose that rocks …’: Fritts and Fritts (1982)Google Scholar
  27. ‘Getting my pack, I ate supper and skinned the tortoise by moonlight’: Van Denburgh (1914)Google Scholar
  28. Possible G. nigra phantastica scats found in 1964: Perry (1970)Google Scholar
  29. Shipton’s exploration of Fernandina: see Corley Smith (1976)Google Scholar
  30. ‘Using experienced tortoise searchers …’: Fritts et al. (1998)Google Scholar
  31. Quest aired on the Discovery Channel: Thomas Fritts, personal communicationGoogle Scholar
  32. Pritchard hatches a plan to search Pinta: Pritchard, personal communicationGoogle Scholar
  33. Details of Pinta 2003 expedition: Pritchard (2004)Google Scholar
  34. ‘Most appeared to be of adult animals …’: Pritchard (2004)Google Scholar
  35. ‘It was intact, except for a large hole in the left side …’: Pritchard (2004)Google Scholar
  36. ‘From that, I was assuming that was an old female’: Pritchard (2004)Google Scholar
  37. ‘There are areas … that appear eminently suitable …’: Pritchard (2004)Google Scholar
  38. ‘They come down from the mountains …’ Porter (1815)Google Scholar
  39. Temperature-dependent sex determination: see Shine (1999)Google Scholar
  40. Unusual Pinta geology: William White, personal communicationGoogle Scholar
  41. Nest site fidelity in turtles: Freedberg and Wade (2001)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Henry Nicholls 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Henry Nicholls

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