When most people think of Galapagos Islands wildlife, the first thing that comes to mind is the giant tortoise. While this iconic animal is definitely a must-see while on the islands, there are many other amazing creatures waiting to be discovered.
From sea lions and marine iguanas to sharks and penguins, there are an array of Galapagos Island animals to spot while exploring the area, and here are some of the best.
Top Animals & Wildlife to Spot on the Galapagos Islands
1. Blue-Footed Booby
The Galapagos Blue-Footed Booby is a seabird that is endemic to the Galapagos Islands. These birds are easily recognizable by their blue feet, which are used to attract mates. Blue-footed boobies are excellent swimmers and can dive up to 60 feet to catch their favorite food – small fish like anchovies and sardines. These birds nest in colonies on the ground (usually on sandy or rocky coastal areas), and both parents take turns incubating the eggs and caring for the young.
Blue-footed boobies are fascinating birds, and their populations are currently stable. However, they are not immune to the threats facing other wildlife in the Galapagos, such as introduced species and climate change. As a result, continued conservation efforts are essential to ensure that these unique birds can continue to thrive in their natural habitat.
It’s a bonus if you can catch the Blue-Footed Booby mating dance!
2. Bottlenose Dolphin
The Galapagos Bottlenose Dolphin is one of the most interesting creatures in the world. It is a marine mammal that is found in tropical and subtropical waters around the globe. The dolphin has a long, tapered snout and a small, sickle-shaped dorsal fin. Its body is mostly gray, with a light-colored underside.
The Galapagos Bottlenose Dolphin is also one of the most intelligent animals on Earth. It has been known to use tools, cooperate with other dolphins, and even mimic human speech (during captivity). The dolphin is also an apex predator, preying on fish, squid, and crustaceans. Unfortunately, the Galapagos Bottlenose Dolphin is endangered due to hunting and pollution. However, conservation efforts are underway to protect this amazing creature.
3. Brown Pelican
The Galapagos brown pelican are large birds, with a wingspan of up to 7 feet. They have pale-brown plumage and a yellowish head.
The Galapagos brown pelican is a very skilled hunter. It can dive from high up in the air, hitting the water at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. Once it has spotted its prey, it quickly swoops down and scoops up the fish in its large bill.
4. Darwin’s Finch
Darwin’s finch is a small songbird that is found only on the Galapagos Islands. The bird gets its name from its similarity to the English finch, which was one of the first animals that Charles Darwin studied when he visited the Galapagos in 1835.
The size and shape of the bird’s beak vary depending on what type of food the bird eats. Some Darwin’s finches have long, thin beaks that they use to pick insects out of crevices, while others have short, thick beaks that they use to crack open seeds. The different beak shapes of Darwin’s finches are an example of natural selection, which was one of the ideas that Darwin developed during his time on the Galapagos Islands.
5. Diamond Stingray
The Diamond Stingray is a species of cartilaginous fish that can be found in the waters surrounding the Galapagos Islands. These stingrays are unique for their diamond-shaped spots and long, barb-tipped tails.
The Diamond Stingray is a top predator in its ecosystem, feeding on smaller fish, squid, and crustaceans. However, the Galapagos Diamond Stingray is not without its own predators.
Large sharks, such as the hammerhead shark, have been known to attack and eat these stingrays. Humans also pose a threat to the Galapagos Diamond Stingray, as they are often caught and killed for their meat and skin.
6. Flightless Comorants
The flightless cormorant (also called Galapagos cormorant) is one of the most interesting birds on the planet. Found only on the Galapagos Islands, this bird has lost the ability to fly due to a lack of predators and an abundance of food. Instead, it has evolved to become an excellent swimmer, using its webbed feet and powerful legs to propel itself through the water.
Flightless cormorants forage for food no more than 200 meters from the coast, diving near the sea floor in search of small fish, eels, and octopus, which make up the majority of its diet. Although it cannot take to the skies, this bird is still a remarkable creature that continues to fascinate scientists and bird-lovers alike.
7. Frigate Bird/Frigatebird
The frigatebird is one of the most fascinating and unusual birds in the world. There are two species on the Galapagos Islands, the magnificent frigatebird and the great frigatebird. While both species have similarities (such as the red throat pouch on males), there are also distinct differences that set them apart.
One such trait is the color of the male’s sheen, purple for the magnificent frigatebird and green for the great frigatebird. The females also sport different colored eye rings, blue for the magnificent frigatebird and red for the great frigatebird.
Even though they are seabirds, they cannot land on the ocean. They catch fish on the water’s surface using their distinct long, hooked bill. They are also known to steal fish from other birds, some of which they force to vomit so they can eat the remains.
The frigate bird also has a deeply forked tail, which it uses to maneuver in the air. And though it is not the fastest or most agile bird in flight, it can stay airborne for hours (even days) at a time, making it well-suited for long-distance travel.
8. Fur Seal
The Galapagos fur seal is a species of fur seal that is found only on the Galapagos Islands. They are smaller compared to the Galapagos sea lion, with males reaching lengths of up to 1.5 meters and weighing up to 64 kilograms.
The Galapagos fur seal has dark brown fur, which helps to camouflage the animal on the island’s rocky shores. They also have large eyes, which help them hunt fish, squid, and crustaceans at night.
Sadly, the Galapagos fur seal is an endangered species, with a population of only about 10,000 animals. The main threats to the Galapagos Fur Seal are habitat loss and hunting.
9. Galapagos Flamingo
The Galapagos flamingo is a beautiful bird found on the salty lakes of the Galapagos Islands. These birds are pink in color thanks to their algae and shrimp diet and have long necks and legs to help them wade through the muddy water. Like other flamingos, they eat with their heads upside-down by filtering food with their distinctly curved beaks.
10. Galapagos Hawk
The Galapagos hawk is a beautiful bird of prey that is found only on the Galapagos Islands. Though it is related to other hawks, it is the only member of its genus. The Galapagos hawk is an important part of the islands’ ecosystem, preying on small insects and animals and helping keep the population in check.
The hawks are also known for their boldness (especially the young ones), often approaching human camps in hopes of stealing food. As a result, they have become one of the most recognizable symbols of the Galapagos Islands.
However, due to their low numbers, habitat loss, and human persecution, they are classified as ‘vulnerable.’ As such, efforts are being made to protect these fascinating birds and ensure they will continue to thrive on the Galapagos Islands for years to come.
11. Galapagos Mockingbird
The Galapagos Mockingbird is one of four mockingbird species found only on the Galapagos Islands, and is also the most common. These birds are small, with a white plumage decorated with streaks of brown and gray, black beak and legs, and white eye rings.
They are also curious creatures, often seen hopping on the ground looking for food or landing on tourists’ heads. Another curious fact is that they also (indirectly) help marine iguanas escape predators with their calls.
The Galapagos Mockingbird is an important part of the islands’ ecosystem, helping disperse seeds and control insect populations. They are also a food source for other animals, such as snakes and hawks. Although their population is stable, the Galapagos Mockingbird is a protected species and is not hunted.
12. Galapagos Penguin
The Galapagos penguin is the only penguin species found on the Galapagos Islands. These penguins are relatively small, with adults reaching about two feet in height. They are black and white, with distinctive black bands across their chests. They are also excellent swimmers and spend most of their time in the water, hunting for small fish and crustaceans.
These penguins mate for life and build their nests on caves and crevices. Unfortunately, the Galapagos Penguin is classified as an endangered species due to its limited range and the threat of climate change. However, conservation efforts are underway to protect these charming birds.
13. Galapagos Sea Lion
The Galapagos sea lion is a species of sea lion that is found exclusively on the Galapagos Islands. These animals are characterized by their large size and their distinctive brown fur. Although they were once hunted for their fur, they are now protected by law, and their population has slowly begun to rebound.
Today, you can find these marvelous animals sunbathing on the beaches or swimming in the waters around the islands. However, their future remains uncertain due to the threat of climate change and the ongoing battle to protect their habitat from development. Nevertheless, the Galapagos sea lion continues to captivate the imaginations of people from all over the world.
14. Galapagos Shark
The Galapagos Shark is a large, predator shark found in the waters around the Galapagos Islands. They usually grow to about 12 feet in length and mainly feed on bony fish, crustaceans, and mollusks. They’ve also been observed to eat inedible things like leaves, corals, rocks, and even garbage.
While they are not typically considered dangerous to humans, Galapagos Sharks have been known to attack swimmers and boats. As such, it is advisable to exercise caution if you encounter one of these sharks while swimming or diving in the area.
15. Giant Tortoise
Giant tortoises are some of the largest living reptiles on Earth. These gentle giants can weigh up to two thousand pounds and live for over one hundred years! Historically, they are found on a few different continents, but today you can only find them on the Galapagos Islands.
These turtles are herbivores and spend most of their time eating plants and are an essential part of their ecosystem because they help spread seeds and keep the vegetation in check.
Unfortunately, these remarkable creatures are now endangered due to habitat loss and hunting. Thankfully, there are now many conservation efforts in place to help protect these incredible animals.
16. Golden Rays
The Galapagos golden ray (or Golden cownose ray) is a beautiful and unique creature found on the coasts of the East Pacific, as well as in the Galapagos Islands (especially in Black Turtle Cove). These rays are a bright golden color with long tails and can grow up to three feet across the wings.
However, these magnificent creatures are near threatened due to habitat loss, commercial fishing, and low reproduction rates. Fortunately, protections are in place to help ensure that these amazing creatures will be around for years to come.
17. Great Blue Heron
The Great Blue Heron is a large, beautiful bird found across North America, Central America, the Caribbean, and the Galapagos Islands.
Measuring up to four feet tall, with a wingspan of six feet, the Great Blue Heron is one of the largest wading birds in the world. Its plumage is mostly blue-gray, with a white belly and neck. The head has a distinctive plume of feathers, and the bill is long and curved.
The Great Blue Heron is an excellent hunter, preying on fish, reptiles, and small mammals. It can often be seen stalking its prey along the shoreline, waiting patiently for the perfect moment to strike.
18. Green Sea Turtle
The Galapagos green sea turtle is said to be a subspecies of green sea turtle that is found across tropical and subtropical seas around the world. These turtles are unique in that they are the only green sea turtles to nest on the islands.
The Galapagos green sea turtle is a threatened species due to human activity, such as fishing and pollution. However, efforts are being made to protect these turtles, and their numbers are slowly increasing.
The best way to see these turtles is to take a boat tour of the Galapagos Islands. These tours give you the chance to see the turtles in their natural habitat and learn more about their fascinating history.
19. Humpback Whale
The humpback whale is one of the top ten largest whales in the world. These whales are known for their distinctive hump and seasonal migration to the islands to feed and breed (between June to December).
Like all baleen whales, they are filter-feeders that use a lunge feeding technique to scoop and strain large amounts of krill and small fish using their baleen plates. These whales are also known for their acrobatic displays, which often include breaching and tail-slapping.
Although they were once hunted extensively, the humpback whale is now protected by international law, and their numbers are slowly recovering. Today, these magnificent creatures are a major tourist attraction in the Galapagos Islands.
20. Land Iguana
The Galapagos land iguana is a type of lizard found only on the Galapagos Islands. These iguanas are one of the largest lizards in the world, and they can grow up to five feet long! They are covered in scaly skin that is usually yellow, orange, or red in color.
Land iguanas are mainly herbivores and prefer to eat cactus pads and fruit. They are also social creatures, often seen basking in the sun together.
21. Lava Gull
The Galapagos Lava Gull is a small gull found only on the Galapagos Islands and is the rarest gull in the world. Unlike other gulls, it has a black head and feet, white eyelids, dark gray wings with white lines around the edges, and a light gray body. This allows it to blend perfectly with the hardened black lava rocks around the islands. They are omnivores and generally scavenge or steal from other nests, but they also catch fish, crabs, and other small animals.
The Lava Gull is listed as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN Red List, with an estimated population of just 300-600 birds. Conservation efforts are underway to protect this unique species.
22. Lava Heron
The Galapagos Lava Heron is a small but stunning bird found only on the Galapagos Islands. Measuring just over a foot in length, this slender bird often nests in trees near bodies of water, and can often be seen perching on rocks or diving into the water in search of food.
Like many other Galapagos animals, the Lava Heron has evolved to take advantage of the unique conditions found on the islands. Its long bill helps it catch crabs and small fish that are abundant in the waters around the Galapagos, and its gray plumage provides camouflage against the lava flows that are common on the islands.
23. Lava Lizard
The Galapagos lava lizard is a small, adaptable reptile found only on the Galapagos Islands. While their colors range from gray to black to brown, males tend to be more brightly colored with yellow/gold streaks, while the females have a distinct red color around their throats and head. They are often seen sunning themselves atop lava rocks (hence their name).
While lava lizards are omnivorous, they mostly prefer insects like spiders, moths, and painted locusts, which helps keep the insect population on the islands in check. And like other lizards, they can also escape predators by losing their tails, and typically take weeks to grow back.
24. Manta Ray
The manta ray is one of the most distinctive and easily recognizable fish in the world. These enormous rays are found in warm tropical waters, and can grow to a width of over 20 feet and weigh up to 3,000 pounds. Being filter feeders, they consume a large amount of shrimp, krill, and other planktonic organisms, as well as small to medium-sized fish.
While their large size can be scary, manta rays are actually gentle giants that pose no threat to humans. In fact, they are often very curious and will approach swimmers and snorkelers to investigate them. And just like whales, they sometimes breach/leap out of the water.
25. Marine Iguana
The Galapagos marine iguana is a unique creature found only on the Galapagos Islands and is the only lizard species that swim in the ocean. Marine iguanas are black or dark gray in color, and they have long, sharp claws that help them scrape algae off of rocks. Despite their appearance, marine iguanas are shy creatures but are often seen basking in the sun on rocks or swimming in the ocean.
26. Nazca Booby
The Galapagos Nazca booby is a large seabird found in the Galapagos Islands and the eastern Pacific. The bird gets its name from the Nazca region it inhabits and the Spanish word ‘bobo,’ which means ‘foolish/clown.’
The Nazca booby is predominantly white with black wings and tail. It is also the largest booby species in the islands, and it has a long, orange beak that it uses to catch fish. The bird nests on cliff edges and lays one to two eggs at a time.
Orcas can be found all over the world’s oceans, including the waters around the Galapagos Islands. They are known to prey on sharks, Galapagos sea lions, and other large marine animals. In doing so, they help keep the population of these animals in check and maintain a balance in the food chain.
Additionally, their presence helps to ensure that the waters around the Galapagos Islands remain healthy and productive. As such, the Galapagos orca plays a vital role in the region’s ecological health.
28. Pacific Seahorse
The Pacific seahorse (also known as the giant seahorse) is a unique and beautiful creature found only in the waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean, including the Galapagos Islands.
Being one of the larger seahorse species, they typically measure 4.7 to 7.5 inches in length and have a pale brown or yellow color, with darker stripes running along with their bodies. And like other seahorses, the Pacific seahorse has a prehensile tail which it uses to anchor itself while waiting for mysids, small crustaceans, and other plankton to feed on.
29. Pink Land Iguana
The Galapagos pink land iguana is a native of the Galapagos Islands, specifically on the northern slopes of Wolf Volcano in Isabela Island. Adult males reach up to almost 4 feet in length and weigh up to 11 pounds.
The pink land iguana is primarily a herbivore, feeding on cacti and other plants. As for its distinct pink color, it is believed to be caused by a lack of skin pigmentation and other irregularities in their red blood cells, which is also thought to protect them from the harsh volcanic environment.
Unfortunately, the Pink Land Iguana is a critically endangered species, with fewer than 200 individuals remaining in the wild.
30. Red-Footed Booby
The red-footed booby is a large seabird found on various tropical and subtropical waters worldwide, including the Galapagos Islands. These birds are known for their flashy red feet, which contrast sharply with their plumage (which vary in color).
Even though it is a large seabird, it is the smallest among the booby and gannet family, reaching around two feet in height and a wingspan of approximately five feet. They feed primarily on small fish and squid, which they hunt by diving into the water from 10 to 30 meters up in the air.
In the breeding season, red-footed boobies construct nests on top of small shrubs and trees with sticks and leaves, and lay only one egg per clutch. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs and caring for the chick. Although their populations have declined in recent years due to predation and habitat loss, red-footed boobies are still relatively common in the Galapagos Islands.
31. Sally Lightfoot Crab
The Sally Lightfoot crab is a brightly colored crab found on the shores of the Galapagos Islands and along the Pacific coasts of Mexico, Central America, and South America. They got their name because of their speed, agility, and ability to run in any four directions, making them extremely hard to catch on land.
Sally Lightfoot crabs are opportunistic predators, and they will eat just about anything they can catch. In addition to their speed, these crabs can also climb trees and cliffs, making them one of the most successful creatures on the islands.
And because of their generalist diet, these crabs also play a vital part in the ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands, such as keeping the shores free from organic matter and helping remove ticks from marine iguanas.
32. Scalloped Hammerhead Shark
The scalloped hammerhead shark is one of the most distinctive and iconic species of shark in the world. What separates them from other hammerhead sharks are the scallop-like ridges that line the front of their ‘hammerhead.
Although they are relatively small compared to other hammerhead sharks, they are ferocious predators, feeding on different fishes, cephalopods, crustaceans, and their favorite, stingrays.
These sharks are also shy and solitary creatures but occasionally form large schools of up to a hundred or more, unfortunately making them highly susceptible to overfishing and finning. As a result, they are now considered one of the most endangered species of sharks in the world.
33. Short-eared Owl
The Galapagos short-eared owl is a medium-sized bird of prey found on the Galapagos Islands, and is a subspecies of the short-eared owl. It gets its name from its short, ear-like tufts of feathers.
It has a round head, large yellowish eyes, and a hooked beak, while its plumage is dark and light brown in color, which helps it camouflage itself against lava rocks. This owl hunts small mammals, birds, and reptiles, using its sharp claws and beak to kill its prey.
While the Galapagos short-eared owl is mostly active at night, they are diurnal creatures who also hunt during the day, which opens up opportunities to spot this fascinating bird in its habitat.
34. Spinner Dolphin
The spinner dolphin is a small, agile dolphin found in offshore tropical waters worldwide. These dolphins are known for their playful nature and acrobatic skills, often spinning around in the air when they breach the surface.
They are also very social creatures, living in large groups that can number in the hundreds. Although they are generally shy around humans, they have been known to approach boats and even ride the waves alongside surfers.
35. Spotted Eagle Ray
The spotted eagle ray is a beautiful and majestic creature found in tropical waters across the globe. In the Galapagos, you can spot them around Black Turtle Cove in Santa Cruz or in Turtle Island and Floreana.
These rays can grow up to sixteen feet long, with a wingspan of up to ten feet. You can recognize them by their distinct white spots dotting its dark top. Its diet consists mainly of fish, crustaceans, and mollusks.
36. Swallow-tailed Gull
The Galapagos Swallow-tailed gull is a beautiful bird found mainly on the Galapagos Islands. It has a light grayish body with black wingtips, and its tail is deeply forked (hence the name). It is the only nocturnal gull in the world, feeding on fish and squid that come to the water’s surface.
While the Galapagos Swallow-tailed Gull is not endangered, conservation efforts are well underway to help protect the gull and its habitat. For example, the Galapagos National Park was created specifically to preserve the unique wildlife of the islands.
37. Vermilion Flycatcher
The Galapagos Vermilion flycatcher is a stunning bird found only on the Galapagos Islands. Measuring just over six inches long, this striking bird has vibrant red plumage, making it a popular target for photographers.
In addition to its bright plumage, the Galapagos Vermilion Flycatcher is also known for its loud and melodious song. And like other flycatchers, they mainly feed on insects like flies, grasshoppers, and beetles, which they prefer to catch in flight.
Whether you’re birdwatching or just want to see the unique species of the Galapagos Islands, the Galapagos Vermilion Flycatcher is a fascinating bird that is well worth seeking out on your visit.
38. Waved Albatross
The waved albatross (also known as Galapagos albatross) is the largest bird on the islands, with a wingspan that can reach up to eight feet. However, this magnificent bird is also one of the most endangered, with a population that has declined by more than 19% in the past 84 years.
The Galapagos National Park and surrounding waters have been designated as a protected area, and ongoing research is helping to identify new ways to reduce the threats to the albatross. With continued effort, there is hope that the waved albatross will be able to rebound from the brink of extinction.
39. Whale Shark
The whale shark is the largest fish in the world, reaching lengths of up to 60 feet. You can find these gentle giants in warm waters around the globe, and they are a popular tourist attraction in the Galapagos Islands.
Whale sharks are filter feeders and primarily eat plankton and small fish. They are docile creatures that pose no threat to humans, and are often seen swimming alongside scuba divers and snorkelers.
40. White-Tipped Reef Shark
The white-tipped reef shark is a small but impressive species of shark. Growing to a maximum length of just over five feet, they are relatively slim compared to other sharks. Their coloring is also distinctive, with a dark brown or gray body and white tips on their fins.
As their name suggests, they are most commonly found near reefs in the Galapagos Islands. They are shy and largely inactive during the day, but at night they become more active and may even venture into shallower waters in pursuit of food.
Like all sharks, they are predators, and their diet consists mainly of bony fish like eels and snappers, squid, and crustaceans. Although they are not considered to be a threat to humans, they should be respected and admired from a distance.
41. Yellow-crowned Night Heron
The yellow-crowned night heron is a beautiful bird found in tropical and subtropical regions. It is a small heron with a gray body and yellow crown. The night heron is most active at dusk and dawn, when it can be seen hunting for fish in the shallows.
Galapagos Islands are home to a variety of unique and interesting animals. The Galapagos Islands wildlife has inspired generations of scientists, and their continued existence is vital to the health of the ecosystem.
While the future of the Galapagos Islands remains uncertain, the abundance of life on these islands is an enduring reminder of the natural world’s ability to thrive in the face of adversity.
Best Tips for Visiting Galapagos
Getting There: José Joaquin de Olmedo International Airport is a major hub and most airlines will fly into it. You can easily check for the best fare deals at Skyscanner, which also has the option to choose ‘cheapest month’ as the departure to find the lowest priced dates to fly to your destination. From the airport there is a direct flight to take and reach Galapagos Island. There are two airports on the Galapagos Islands where you can land. Those planning a tour around the Galapagos Islands should make sure their airplane arrives at the correct departure point. The Islands of Baltra and San Cristobal are the two options.
Where to Stay in Galapagos: It’s best to stay near the city center, public transportation or the area that you will be spending the most time in. Hotel Albemarle is a great choice in the Puerto Villamil. For something on the less expensive side, try Nelyza’s Suites & Adventure located in Puerto Ayora. For a hotel with a little more extravagance, book a room at the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel. Or search some great deals on hotels of your choice at Booking.com. If you’re looking for more of a home atmosphere (or are traveling with a group of people), head over to VRBO that has houses, apartments and even just a room for rent in every price range.
Getting Around: Bicycles, cargo boats, airplanes, buses, taxis, and other forms of public transit are all accessible to get around the Galapagos Islands. Backpacking or DIY-Galapagos is probably viable if you only stay on one island, but make sure you don’t require a Naturalist Guide before you go.
- Day tour to Pinzón Island and La Fé/Palmitas Bay with snorkeling and fishing
- Day Tour to Floreana Island with Snorkeling and Fishing
Insurance: It’s always a good idea to travel fully insured so you are protected in case of trip cancellations or medical emergencies. You can check out pricing at Travelex Insurance.
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