Wildlife & Cruising: What You Can Spot At Ports Of Call
You'd think there'd be little wildlife left around the Mediterranean, what with all the development along the coast and the countless cruise ships that pass through the region each summer, but the Greek islands prove this wrong.
Mykonos is home to leopard snakes; grey with orange blotches, they're one of the most beautiful serpents in Europe.
Nearby Santorini, meanwhile, is on the wish list of many cruise passengers but few realise the volcanic scenery beneath the sea is just as impressive as the basalt cliffs looming above, with the added attraction of clouds of colourful wrasse and damsel fish.
In my TV series, Cruise Ship Adventure, we show that you can find wildlife at the ports of call featured on many cruise itineraries. Our challenge: track down animals in the short time ashore.
If the creatures were far from port it was a rush to see them and get back before the ship departed – my crew and I were usually the last ones aboard.
But we proved that it is possible to spot some fascinating fauna in unexpected places. How many visitors to Crete, for example, know it is one of the best places in Europe for close-up views of vultures?
Cruise ships dock in Chania, but a couple of hours' drive away, at the Giouchtas Pass, is a breathtaking cliff where you can spot griffon vultures gliding above, below, and right at eye-level. The island is home to more than 800 of these creatures.
Elsewhere, half a day in the port of Katakolon on the Greek mainland offers the opportunity to spot loggerhead turtles (a nearby beach this year had more than 1,200 turtle nests). Most would associate these creatures with more exotic climes, and yet, I was lucky enough to see them relatively close to home.
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On other voyages, there are similarly eye-opening adventures to be had. Everyone enjoys jazz and beignets in New Orleans, but few are familiar with the amphiuma, a bizarre, eel-like salamander that lives in duck ponds close to the city.
We also met Brazilian long-nosed bats and Geoffroy's tamarins close to the Panama Canal; in the Falklands we played a concert for gentoo penguins; and in a few hours on Argentina's Valdez Peninsula I watched orcas hunting seals.
In Chennai, India, we even found a cobra. With just three hours to spare, we enlisted the help of the Irula, a legendary tribe of snake hunters, and headed out into the rice paddies.
"There's a rat snake!" one of the hunters shouted – a harmless species.
So I ran and grabbed it in the middle of its body. As it turned and spread its hood I realised my mistake – a spectacled cobra! But at least it was the serpent we were after.
While I wouldn't recommend picking up a snake on impulse, it was one of many experiences that showed you can turn even the most formulaic of cruises into a wildlife adventure. All you need is a little forward planning.
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This article was written by Nigel Marven from The Independent and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.