Galapagos Aquatic Wildlife

The Galapagos are affected by three different currents: the cold Humboldt and Cromwell currents and warm Panama currents. Roughly 17% of the marine life found in the islands are endemic to the Galapagos. Snorklers and divers are treated to a spectacular gathering of aquatic wildlife, from rare whale and hammerhead sharks, to the colorful sally light-foot crab. Although treasured by wildlife enthusiasts, Galapagos marine animals are also sought after by the fishing industry. Sharks and sea cucumbers has been particularly vulnerable; while sharks are protected by the Galapagos Marine Reserve, they are still hunted illegally for their highly-priced fins to make shark fin soup. The following tables simply offer a sample of the aquatic wildlife found in the Islands.

Key to species' class:

  • Endemic = Found only in the Galapagos Islands
  • Endemic Sub-species = Species exists in other parts of the world, but no interbreeding with the Galapagos population. The Galapagos population may evolve into a distinct species.
  • Resident = Found on the Galapagos Islands and elsewhere in the world. Breeds on the islands and elsewhere. Arrived in the Islands naturally.
  • Visitor = Does not breed in the Galapagos. Is seen on a regular basis in the Islands.

Aquatic Wildlife

Species Islands Best Viewed Class Characteristics
Galapagos Shark Floreana, San Cristobal Resident One of the most commonly viewed sharks in the Galapagos. A silverly-gray with a light underbelly.
Black-tipped Reef Shark Floreana, Santa Cruz Resident Very pointed snout, and black tips on its fins. Tends to keep its distance from humans.
White-tipped Reef Shark North Seymour, Espanola, Floreana, Bartolome Resident Have a rounded snout. Along with the Galapagos shark, white-tipped reef sharks are most commonly found in the islands.
Scalloped Hammerhead Shark Floreana, Genovesa, Santa Cruz Resident The Galapagos is one of the only places to view hammerheads in large schools. Easily distinguished by their odd-shaped, flat head.
Whale shark Darwin, Wolf Resident Reaching up to 180 feet, this is the largest fish in the world. Mainly found in open waters, but a rare sight in the islands.
Sally-lightfoot Crab Widespread Endemic Are often seen in large numbers. Their bright red-orange color make them a photographer's favorite.
Ghost Crab Widespread - intertidal zones Resident Flesh colored crab with eyes on stalks, which its lowers when it burrows. Small crab - roughly 4 inches.
Galapagos Hermit Crab Widespread - intertidal zones Endemic Small, dark black/brown crab. Like other hermit crabs, they do not make their own hard shell, but inhabit other mollusc shells.
Sea Cucumber Widespread Resident Relative of the starfish. Dark brown/black with yellow-brown bumps. Commercially exploited and their numbers have decreased dramatically.
Green Sea Urchin Widespread Endemic Small sea urchin with bright green spines. Frequently found in tidal pools.
Sand Dollar Widespread Endemic Sub-species An urchin, whose spins are virtually non-existent. A pale cream color with a clear five-armed star on its surface. Frequently washes onshore.
Chocolate Chip Sea Star Widespread - rocky coasts Resident Five-armed starfish. Orange in color with short black spines. Also called the spiny sunstar.
Sting Ray Widespread Resident Live up to 25 years, and can reach up to 6.5 feet long. Typically found in shallow, coastal waters.
Spotted Eagle Ray Widespread Resident Has a number of white spots on its body. Including its long tail, this ray can reach up to 16 feet long.
Manta Ray Widespread Resident Largest of the rays - specimens have been known to reach 25 feet across. Besides its large size, is distinguished by its horn-like features on the sides of the head.