Galapagos Mammals

Galapagos travel offers amazing wildlife viewing opportunities. Many visitors recall swimming with sea lion pups or watching dolphins race along the bow of their ship as some of their favorite Galapagos memories. But ironically, there is a very limited number of mammals on the islands - instead the Galapagos' land animals are predominately reptiles. Because of its isolation, there are very few native mammals that reside in the Galapagos Islands. Mammals are not able to survive long periods without water and thus were unequipped to make the epic 620 mile-long journey to the volcanic islands from mainland South and Central America. The following tables simply offer a sample of the mammals found on 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.
  • Possible Resident = Found throughout the year, but currently no records of breeding in the Islands
  • Visitor = Does not breed in the Galapagos. Is seen on a regular basis in the Islands.

Land Mammals

Species Islands Best Viewed Class Characteristics
Galapagos Rice Rat Santa Fe Endemic Small brown rat with bat-like ears. Live in holes, under rocks and in Opuntia cacti.
Black or Ship Rat Widespread Pest An introduced species to the Galapagos that is a serious threat to the ecosystem. A dark brown/black rat. Tail is longer than the body.
Galapagos Bat Santa Cruz, San Cristobal Endemic A close relative of the Red Bat in South America. Roosts in dense shrubs and mangroves during the day.
Hoary Bat Santa Cruz, San Cristobal Resident Has rust colored fur, cream colored throat and a very distinctive call. Also widespread in North America.

Aquatic Mammals

Species Islands Best Viewed Class Characteristics
Galapagos Sea Lion Widespread - coasts Resident Largest animal found on the Islands. Male is much larger than female. Pups are very curious and commonly swim with humans.
Galapagos Fur Seal Widespread - rocky coasts Endemic Smaller than sea lions with a short snout and bear-like head. Prefer shady spots on rocky cliffs where deep water is easily accessible.
Bryde's Whale Surrounding waters Visitor Is known to approach boats and is the most likely seen variety of baleen whale.
Minke Whale Surrounding waters Visitor Has distinct white patches on the flippers. Also approaches ships, but is less common than the Bryde. Begins blowing underwater - full spout is only seen when it breaches.
Humpback Whale Surrounding waters Visitor White underbelly, with a distinctive knobby head and humped back, and very long flippers.
Sperm Whale Surrounding waters Visitor Very large square head. Body is dark gray and often scarred - reminders of deep sea battles with giant squids. Can dive a mile into the depths of the ocean.
Shortfin Pilot Whale Surrounding waters Possible Resident Often seen in groups of 30-40, and in the company of dolphins. All black with a rounded head that is easily seen when it breathes.
Orca Surrounding waters Possible Resident A frequently viewed toothed whale. Primarily black with distinctive white marks on the belly and near the eyes. Very tall dorsal fin.
Bottle-nosed Dolphin Surrounding waters Possible Resident The most commonly viewed dolphin in the islands. Enjoys riding the waves near the bows of ships. Generally travel in groups of 20 to 30.
Common Dolphin Surrounding waters Visitor Travels in large groups of several hundred dolphins. Smaller than the bottle-nosed with elaborate coloring of dark and light grays.