A popular visitor site on Isla Floreana is the flamingo lagoon, just a few steps inland from the beach at Bahía Cormorant, or Cormorant Bay. As for the bay itself, one of its most distinguishing characteristics is—there's not a cormorant in sight. As far as we know, the Galápagos cormorant is found today only at Islas Fernandina and Isabela. Why then is there a bay named in their honor at an island so far removed from either location?
This page offers some background information on some early appearances of “Cormorant Bay” and “Cormorant Point,” along with a reason why these names are found on Isla Floreana.
“A review of the Ornithology of the Galapagos Islands, with Notes on the Webster-Harris Expedition” (of 1897) appeared in the August, 1899 issue of Novitates Zoologicae. The November 8th entries by Harris and Drowne both describe the flamingo lagoon near the modern Punta Cormorant, but neither writer mentions the area by name, nor reports sighting a cormorant.
(p. 100): Went ashore early, hoping to secure a lot of flamingo, but found only one at lagoon, which we did not get. A hundred or more ducks were in the lagoon. We shot ten or more.
(p. 129): Went on shore early, collecting. Visited a lagoon near the shore, where it was said flamingoes could be found, but saw only one.
Although both men refer to the flamingo lagoon, neither of them mention its proximity to a place named Cormorant Bay. This suggests that the name was either not yet in use, or that it was of recent origin and unknown to the writers.
Excerpts from the journals of several expedition scientists are presented here, indicating that the Cormorant Bay name was known to at least some of them before they arrived at the flamingo lagoon.
In his Log, a few early entries (October, 1905) refer to an unnamed lagoon, while a few months later (February, 1906) he correctly places the lagoon near Cormorant Bay, and still later (May 17) he again refers to the bay by name. The same style is likewise found in Gifford's notes (see below).
Oct. 3: We shaped course for Post Office Bay, Charles Island, where we arrived at 6:00 P. M.
Oct. 4: Beck landed near a lagoon at the northeast end of the bay.
Oct. 5: Went to the lagoon at the northeast end of the island.
Feb. 25: at 2:00 A.M. let go anchor in Comorant [sic, Cormorant] Bay. … There is a fine lagoon opposite our anchorage.
May 17: At 7:00 A. M. we weighed anchor and set sail for Cormorant Bay.
Oct. 5, 1905: ms. p. 85-86. Vicinity of Salt Pond, Post-Office Bay, Charles, Galap. Is.
Feb. 25, 1906 ms. p. 60: Cormorant Bay, Charles, Galapagos Is.
May 17: Black Beach Roads to Cormorant Bay, Charles, Galap. Is. … Hunter took an immature Geospiza paupera at Cormorant Bay.
At first, Gifford simply places the lagoon—which he does not name—at Post-Office Bay, and mentions that he saw penguins there. In his 1906 entries, he mentions Cormorant Bay by name, and again states that he saw penguins and other birds nearby, but not of course any cormorant sightings.
Hunter mentions both Cormorant Point and Cormorant Bay in his notes.
Oct. 4, 1905: Beck and the Mate went down to Cormorant point and got 7 flamingoes.
Oct. 5, 1905: Went ashore in Cormorant Bay.
Oct. 6, 1905: Went ashore at the lagoon in Cormorant Bay.
Feb. 24, 1906: Dropped anchor about 2 P. M. in Cormorant Bay.
Feb. 25, 1906: A penguin was caught on the rock and brought aboard alive. He swims with wings alone.
Feb. 26, 1906: Went ashore at the lagoon; there were flamingoes on the shore of the lagoon.
(The title of his notes does not appear in the ms. until p. 14).
Oct. 5, 1905: Go ashore in Cormorant Bay - visit the flamingo lagoon.
Ochsner includes a sketch map of “Charles Island” which shows a Cormorant Point slightly east of Onslow Islet (the modern Corona del Diablo). This indirectly contradicts his Oct. 5 entry, as one would go ashore to the west of that location in order to visit the lagoon. Therefore, Cormorant Bay would be just to the right of his “Old Beach” and Cormorant Point would be directly below the “O” in that placename.
His hand-written ms. and a typed copy both show the following:
10. Galapagos Expedition Insects. Charles I. October 1905.
Lines labeled Cls. 6-9 begin with “Lagoon, Cormorant Bay,” followed by descriptions of insects found there.
Charles I. Feb.'06. Cormorant Bay.
As noted above, the 1905 entries of Slevin and Gifford do not mention Cormorant Bay by name, while the others all do so. Although inconclusive, this might be taken to suggest that at first Slevin and Gifford were unaware of the bay's name. Later—perhaps after consulting a chart on the ship—they began referring to it by name. Certainly, J. J. Parker, the schooner Academy navigator, must have had such a chart available, and this may have shown Cormorant Bay and/or Cormorant Point. In fact, W. M. Giffen's Galápagos Islands chart does show a Cormorant Pt. label, placed somewhat to the east of its actual location (hover over magnifying-glass icon for detail view). The same location is also shown in Ochsner's sketch map mentioned above. This suggests that both men consulted an earlier chart—perhaps the one on the Academy.
A similar chart may have been seen by the Norwegian settlers who came to Floreana in the 1920s. A 1925 Isla Santa Maria sketch map by Christensen & Stub also shows Cormorant Pt., and Cormorant Bay is here labeled Salt Bay. (Magnifying-glass icon near top left shows enlarged detail view.)
Of course all these charts still don't answer the question raised earlier: Why is there a Cormorant Bay cited in the Academy logs and a Cormorant Point on charts of an island devoid of cormorants? The answer seems to be that the name does not honor a bird, but rather a ship—specifically, HMS Cormorant which visited Galápagos ca. 1886, as described immediately below.
There were eleven British Navy ships named HMS Cormorant, one of which was launched in 1877 and assigned in 1886 to the Pacific Station—an area along the western coast of South America and extending to the Galápagos Islands and possibly beyond.
An inset on the 9th August 1886 edition of Admiralty Chart 1375, Galapagos Islands, shows a detail view of Webb Cove attributed to HMS Cormorant Navigation Lieutenant G. A. C. Webb. A similar inset for Cormorant Point is not included, but that name does appear near the north shore of Charles Island on the chart itself, presumably also the work of Webb, who named the point after his ship. That being so, the Spanish Punta Cormorant preserves the ship's English name, while Punta Cormorán would be correct only if the point were indeed named after the bird. For the moment, this seems a reasonable conclusion, especially given the absence of cormorants in the area.
Note that, like the other charts mentioned above, the 1886 Admiralty chart shows Cormorant Point but not Cormorant Bay. However, both Cormorant Point and Cormorant Bay are seen in the Post Office Bay inset on Admiralty Chart 1376, Anchorages in the Galápagos Islands [magnifying-glass icon shows PNG/Google Earth view].§ Published in 1899, the legend credits “…the officers of H. M. S. Beagle and Daphne, 1836-46.” The name of Webb and his ship may have been omitted in error, or his Cormorant Point and Bay additions were not considered important enough to warrant credit to him.
§ Some sources mis-label the bay on the eastern shore, seen at the end of the path in the above Google Earth view, as “Punta Cormorán” (or similar).
Perhaps these charts were on the Academy, and were also known to the Norwegian settlers. If so, that would account for the appearance of “Cormorant Bay” in several of the Academy logs mentioned above, and “Cormorant Point” on Ochsner's sketch map, and on the charts of Giffen and Christensen & Stub also mentioned above.
A Google Earth 3D view shows the locations of both Cormorant Point and Cormorant Bay. The “?” button provides further details about both locations.
Some sources have resorted to a bit of “creative writing” in an attempt to explain away the placenames described above. A few samples are given here.
(Ship name in parentheses)
August 11, 2008: “ … at the salt water lagoon of Punta Cormorant. There are no flightless cormorants here of course, but the location is named after the [sic, no “the” before HMS] H.M.S Cormorant, a buccaneer that visited this place around the 17th century.” (National Geographic Polaris)
July 10, 2012: “This whole area, located at the northern tip of Floreana, is called Punta Cormorant, although no cormorants have ever lived here.” (National Geographic Islander)
November 13, 2012: “Our first visit was Cormorant Point. No cormorants live here, but a boat named ‘the Cormorant’ sank in this place years ago.” (National Geographic Islander)
A buccaneer vessel would never bear the “H. M. S.” designation, nor is there any record of such a vessel named Cormorant. It is entirely possible (though not yet proven) that a small colony of cormorants did in fact live here in the past, though there is no known record of anyone recording their presence. Nor is there a known record of any ship named Cormorant sinking here, and how many “years ago” is not mentioned.
On the company's Floreana Island page, a “General Information” section offers the following explanation:
Punta cormorant is a misnomer – there are no cormorants on Floreana; the name came from US military vessel.
The first USS Cormorant was launched in 1919, arrived in the Pacific in 1945, but never visited Galápagos. And in any case, the Cormorant name was already in place at Isla Floreana long before this ship was launched.
The Park's Punta Cormorant page describes the trails from Cormorant Bay and the flamingo lagoon, both of which are visitor sites located to the south of Cormorant Point. The Point itself is not a visitor site.
The United States Agency's Chart 22XCO 22526, Isla Santa Maria and Approaches, places “B. Cormorant” to the east of the flamingo lagoon; that is, facing the beach at the end of the tourist trail from the north shore of Isla Santa María, as seen in this area detail view.