34 animals of the Galapagos Islands – where and when to find them
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The animals of the Galapagos Islands were the main reason why I wanted to visit. I managed to see a few of the incredible fauna, both endemic and imported. In this post, I share all the most common Galapagos Islands Animals, when and where to find them.
To learn about Ecuador entry requirements, check out my
Galapagos Islands travel guide
The Galapagos Islands are in fact home to the most incredible animal species, many of them endemic of the Galapagos, which means that you can only see them there, but only in specific islands.
In this post, I will explain on which island you can find each species and when, and other information about them.
In this way, you can craft your own itinerary based on what you want to see and when you are traveling. I hope it helps.
You can also check out my massive guide to the Galapagos Islands and to the top 13 Galapagos Islands cruises to help you organize your trip. But before doing that read this guide to the Animals of the Galapagos Islands so that you can learn what you can see where.
My sources are different authoritative websites and the information I could gather from locals while traveling around the Galapagos Islands.
The animals of the Galapagos Islands include both endemic and migratory species, and they live in harmony with the human kinds. They don’t even bother about their presence, and they even look like they are amused to get so much attention from the curious tourist and their continuous photographing.
Ok, I am guilty as well. I just couldn’t stop photographing them. Especially the sea lions that you can find everywhere.
The reason why the Galapagos Islands animals are so friendly is the fact that there has never been a predator on the islands threatening them, so they know they are not in danger and don’t need to stay on the defensive. Just don’t get close to the Se Lion macho alfa. In this case, you might get into trouble for invading his space.
This unique archipelago is nothing like the Caribbean tropical Paradise that you can imagine. In fact totally the opposite. The volcanic landscape makes you feel like you have just landed on the moon rather than an island in the tropics.
And yet, if you love nature and marine life, this place will fascinate you more than you can ever imagine.
Of the 300 islands (including islets and rocks) only 5 are inhabited and only a few others allow people to disembark. Many areas are in fact only accessible by biologists and researchers whose mission is to study the environment and helping its preservation.
Some others are far away from the inhabited ones and reachable only by Galapagos Cruises.
But let’s move on to the Galapagos Islands animals. I will divide this post into different categories so as to help you navigate through the page.
Just click on the category of your interest.
MAMALS OF THE GALAPAGOS
Galapagos Sea Lions
You can see them everywhere at every time of the year. The local people sometimes complain about their arrogance and smell. In Isabella Island, they would sit on chairs that are supposed to be for people to hang out on the beach. But Sea Lions would just come over scream at you and jump on the chairs. I just found them hilarious and funny creature. I don’t want to know what they think of us human.
They don’t care about your presence at all. I kind of understand them as the human being came after and kind of invaded their territory.
They give birth in September and October, so when I was there in November I enjoyed the interaction with the curious little babies. Especially on Carola bay beach in San Cristobal, they would run to you. You need to be careful though and not let them touch you.
Because in the first 3 years if they get in physical contact with a human being their mother would not recognize them anymore and won’t feed them. I know the temptation of cuddling one is strong but that would literally kill them for starvation. So please mind that.
Galapagos Fur Sea Lion
The Furry Sea Lions can only be spotted on Isla Santiago and Isla Genovesa, which means you can only see them if you go on a Galapagos Cruise because there are no daily tours to those islands.
They are more introverted than their above-mentioned cousins. They also have a thick insulating layer of fur on their skin, which their cousins don’t have. Their population has been dramatically decreasing due to hunting and climate change issues, and they have become an endangered species.
According to the latest information, it seems that the colony of Fur Sea Lions is around 10.000 individuals in all the Galapagos.
I wish I had seen one, but you need to be on a cruise in order to spot them as they seem to hang out along the canal Bolivar mainly, which is between Isla Isabela and Fernandina in the north of the archipelago. I have to say though, that one of the guides I had in Isabela Island told us that he has spotted one by the southern coasts.
Dolphins are commonly seen everywhere, especially in open waters if you are on a boat tour or on a cruise. They love the sounds of the boat motors. I felt super lucky (or super connected) during my trip to Bartolome’ island when a pod of about 20 dolphins was racing with our catamaran. That was one of the best highlights of all my stay in the Galapagos. I felt such a connection with those playful creatures. It was a special moment indeed.
LAND BIRDS OF THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
A majestic bird of prey, this species is endemic of the Galapagos and hunts any kinds of animals from small insects to small goats. I saw one but very far away when I was on Española island where they usually live, besides Fernandina and Isla Santa Fe’. If you love birds, you cannot miss this island.
All the islands’ finches are about 13 spices which you can find mainly in Santa Cruz, Isla Española and Genovesa. I have seen quite a lot in Santa Cruz, on the way to Bahia Playa Tortuga and also in the Darwin Interpretative Center and in the highlands of Santa Cruz in the Tortoise reserve El Chato. You can get quite close to them.
It’s a beautiful bright yellow little bird that you can find very often. It’s not an endemic species as it is found all through the Americas, but I thought it was worth mentioning as you will see it quite often. I photographed this one in the picure in the El Chato Tortoise Reserve
Beautiful birds with pink plumage, they can be admired in Isla Floreana, Rabida, and Isabela. I have seen them in the last one, in Puerto Villamil on the way to the tortoise center. They were just hanging out there. There were only 4 of them, but still beautiful to watch from very close. You can also check out my post on where you can find the pink flamingoes in Latin America.
Great Blue Heron
Although it’s not endemic I wanted to include it in the list as I believe it’s a beautiful gracious bird. I found it on Tortuga Bay in Santa Cruz the two times I went and in the very same place. It looked like he loved to be photographed like a real Hollywood star showing off his loose fancy plumage.
Short Eared Owl
This is my favorite bird but I didn’t see it. They live mainly in Isla Genovesa although they are also rarely found in Santa Cruz.
These curious birds don’t normally catch your attention as in their grey feather are generally less attractive than the colored finches. However, they are interesting to watch. You can see them in Santa Cruz on the way to Playa Tortuga, Isla Santa Fe, Isla Genovesa and Isla Española. I have seen one in Isla Española and also in Playa Tortuga in Santa Cruz.
SEABIRDS OF THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
These funny birds with blue feet have become the symbol of the Galapagos. It seems as if they are so-called from “bobo” which in Spanish means silly or stupid. That’s the impression Spaniards had when first landed on the islands and found them. They also make a funny dance during courtship. You can see them in Santa Cruz, in Playa Tortuga Bay or at the pier in the north of the island to get to Baltra, Isla Genovesa, Isla San Cristobal and North Seymour.
Nasca (or masked) boobies
I have seen them in Isla Española where they also go nesting as well. They are the most elegant and beautiful to me. The immaculate white feathers give them an almost supernatural look. Or that’s the way I see them. They are also called masked because they have a black mark around their eyes that look like a black mask.
You can see them either in Punta Pitt in San Cristobal or in Genovesa Island. You cannot see them very well on the 360 tours in San Cristobal. There is a specific tour to Punta Pitt which is a bit costly but I would have done it just to see them. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the minimum number of participants. A reason to go back. Genovesa Island can only be reached by a multi-day cruise. There are many Galapagos Islands cruises that you can join for any budget or you can check out my posts on the top 5 luxury Galapagos cruises.
Spectacular prehistoric creatures. I have seen them on Española island, a tour that you can do from San Cristobal. At that time in November, they had just hatched, and I could see the baby Albatros, a giant baby bird. It’s amazing how you can get so close, and they are not scared at all. The Waved Albatros is the archipelago’s largest bird with a wingspan that can reach 2.5mt. It is the only Albatros species that breed at the Equator.
Spectacular huge blackbirds, it’s nice to see them, especially during the breeding season when they males inflate their neck and becomes a huge red balloon. They hang out along coastal cliffs. I have spotted some on the viewpoint in San Cristobal, but you can also see them in North Seymour and Isla Genovesa.
The Galapagos penguin is one of the smallest spices among the penguins and the only species that live in the tropics. They have been through a huge adaptation process to become less small and with thinner skin to adapt to warmer weather. You can see them on Isla Isabela, Fernandina, and Bartolomè island but mainly in the summer season. I was lucky to see 2 of them in Bartolome while snorkeling. I just saw them for a fraction of a second while they were swimming away at bullet speed. I was happy though. In Isabela Island, it is easier to see them during the available daily tours, Los Tuneles or Las Tintoreras. They are so tiny and cute.
I missed this one, unfortunately. The Flightless Cormorant is the only flightless bird in the world, besides the Penguin, it is endemic to the Galapagos and unfortunately, only about 700 pairs are left. You can spot them in some areas of Isabela, and in Isla Fernandina, both reachable only by a Galapagos cruise. (on my to-do list).
It’s an endemic species of the Galapagos which is in danger of extinction due to the introduction of predators like cats, unfortunately. Their population is in fact diminishing in inhabited islands and you can see them more easily on big islands that are not populated, such as Baltra where there are no cats.
It is a near-endemic bird of the Galapagos islands and you can mainly find it particularly the rocky shores and cliffs of Hood, Tower and Wolf Islands, with lower numbers on most of the other islands. It is more common on the eastern islands where the water is warmer. But it’s also spotted in Peru and on the Ecuatorian Coast.
It’s the rarest Gull in the world and it’s endemic of the Galapagos. The entire population lives on the Galapagos Islands, especially fund on Santa Cruz, Isabela, San Cristobal, and Genovesa.
REPTILES OF THE GALAPAGOS
Galapagos Giant Tortoise
This spectacular giant prehistoric animal is the one who apparently gave the name to the islands. In fact, the word Galapagos comes from Galope which was the old Spanish name for horse saddle. If you look at the Galapagos tortoise in front you can see the shape of the shell looking like the one of a saddle. Hence the name or this is what I was told by one of the guides I met. You can see them on every island as there are specific places where they either live freely or looked after for the sake of the preservation of the spices. In Santa Cruz you see a breeding center in the Darwin interpretation Center, in Isabela, there is a breeding center, right in Villamil town and in San Cristobal you have to drive across the island close to Puerto Chino. I didn’t make it there for lack of time.
You can see them everywhere, normally hanging out with iguanas on the rocks. They are little and multicolored creatures and belong to different species.
Green Sea Turtle
Everywhere you snorkel you will see those gracious creatures. They are huge and float gently in the water swimming up to the surface every now and then. In Isabela island, you can also see them right off Isabela beach, but there wasn’t one time where I was snorkeling when I missed them. They are just a constant and delightful presence. Please don’t touch them.
Galapagos Land Iguana
You have two types of Land Iguanas, the Iguana Rosada that you can only find in Wolf Island and the Iguana Santa Fe which live only on Santa Fe Island. However, you can see two examples, a male and a female in the Darwin Foundation center in Santa Cruz.
Galapagos Sea Iguana
Those hilarious ugly creatures are basically everywhere and you will need to watch your step because in some environment you just don’t see them, as they blend with the surroundings. Despite their hostile appearance, they are absolutely harmless. They spend their day sleeping, sunbathing and eating weeds. They are mainly black but on certain islands, like española they become green and red during the mating season. It’s funny to see them swimming like a pro, so naturally.
The racer snake of the Galapagos
Racer snakes can be found on most of the major islands, though they are now locally extinct on Floreana. I have to say I was happy that I never met one! 🙂
SEA LIFE IN THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
It is an iconic animal of the Galapagos, and many divers visit the island with the precise purpose of swimming with them. They are spectacular creatures in danger of extinction as well. You can normally spot them around Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, especially around Kicker Rock, although the more certain sights are around Darwin and Wolf island from July through February. I dove in Seymour north close to Santa Cruz, but I could not see them while they did the day before. You don’t need to go diving to spot them, as you can see them while snorkeling. However, it’s naturally easier to spot them while diving. Sometimes it’s just about luck… or energy.
I have never seen so many sharks altogether, in Seymour North, Tintorera, San Cristobal, almost every time I did snorkeling or diving, sharks were there.
Although its presence has been registered all around the Galapagos Marine Park, it has been seen more often around the island of Darwin from July through December. They are migratory species and not endemic of the Galapagos. You can also see them and swim with them easily in Baja California and Isla Holbox in Mexico. They are giant and docile animals and they are a huge resource for the tourism industry. However, they are in danger of extinction worldwide.
Sally Lightfoot Crab
You cannot miss them, they are everywhere on the rocks by the sea, sunbathing and playing with the water crashing over. They are bright red with some blue and yellow, very photogenic and totally fearless. In fact, I have thousands of pictures of them.
The Manta Ray is a gracious animal of the sea despite his humongous size, reaching an extension of 7 mt. They are the favorite animals of divers as they are smart and playful, and they even interact with them. I was so lucky I have seen 2 of them playing around our boat on the way back from a tour to Los Tuneles in Isabela Island. I didn’t expect it, and I could not believe my eyes. They were really playing with our boat going back and forth for a good while. I really wanted to jump in the water.
Other tropical fish
In the Galapagos, there are more than 400 fish species some of which are endemic of the archipelago. Among the most commonly spotted are, Angel Fishes, Red-lipped batfish (a very strange species which I haven’t had the pleasure to see), Creole fish, blue parrot fish, yellow surgeonfish fish. During my snorkeling at Las Grietas, in Santa Cruz, for example, I have seen lots of Blue Parrots. At los Tuneles there were many small tropical fishes. In every snorkeling tour, you will see something new. Oh Man! I so want to go back!
You can find them almost everywhere on a sea bed of the Galapagos underwater world. They eat the rest of dead animals so if you are a lobster eater maybe you want to reconsider that. Yes, also the crabs and shrimps are considered the cleaner of the ocean. Go figure! Although the population is making a slow comeback due to the newly imposed fishing regulation from 2008.
Please mind that this information is based on the following sources:
- Lonely Planet Ed. 2018
- my personal research while on the island
Also on a further note, please consider that this information on the location of the animals of the Galapagos is merely approximative. Since this is not a zoo but the animals are free to move around wherever they want in their own environment and animal spotting is not guarantee in the indicated areas.
Pictures are from Shutterstock except for the ones with my name on it, the Great Blue Heron and the Albatros Family.:)
Having said that, I do hope you will see a lot of what you want to see. I do believe that animals have exceptional energy and intuition that goes beyond our human capability of comprehension. So if you really and genuinely want to see a particular species, set the intention and raise your hopes without having any expectations. That’s where the magic happens. (that’s also valid in life in general).