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Galapagos Wildlife

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The main reason the Galapagos Islands have become such a popular tourist destination is because of the ability to observe so many species of animals at such close quarters. Galapagos wildlife is fearless and will come right up to you, so you can snorkel with sharks and turtles, play with sea lions, learn about fascinating finches and walk amongst giant tortoises and iguanas.

Galapagos Birdlife

There are 26 species of native birds on the Galapagos Islands, 14 of which make up the group known as Darwin’s finches. These birds are considered to be the fastest-evolving vertebrates in the world. On Charles Darwin’s trip to the Galapagos Islands in the 1830s, he noticed that certain species (finches, for example) were similar from island to island, but each had managed to adapt to their environments in different ways. Darwin wondered about the changes in their beaks, and realised that they were all slightly different shapes to make them fitter to survive on available food. Read our blog about Charles Darwin and the Theory of Evolution to find out more.

Galapagos booby

There are three species of boobies on the Galapagos Islands, although none are endemic. The blue-footed booby has bright blue feet. These are well known for their comical courtship dance. The red-footed booby has red feet and blue bills. It is found most commonly on Genovesa Island. The masked booby is the largest of the boobies and has a black patch over its eyes.

Waved albatross

The waved albatross is the largest bird in the Galapagos, with a wingspan of up to 2.5 metres and weighing up to 5kg, is endemic to the island of Española. It breeds from April to December on the islands, and spends the rest of the year gliding over the Pacific Ocean.

Frigate bird

The frigate bird is represented by two species on the islands: the magnificent frigate bird and the great frigate bird. They have a wingspan almost as wide as the albatross, although they are much lighter. The male frigatebird has a red flap of skin under its neck which it inflates to attract females.

Flightless cormorant

The flightless cormorant is the only flightless seabird in the world apart from the penguin, and it is endemic to the Galapagos Islands. There are estimated to be only 800 pairs and is found on Fernandina and the west coast of Isabela.

Galapagos hawk

The Galapagos hawk is at the top of the terrestrial food chain and is mostly found on the islands of Isabela and Fernandina. With an average wingspan of 120cm, they are easily spotted and one of the world's rarest birds of prey, with a population of just 150 breeding pairs.

Galapagos penguin

The Galapagos penguin, the most northerly of the world’s penguins, is found mainly on Isabela and Fernandina, as well as on Bartolome. Snorkelling with penguins is often one of the highlights of a visit to the Galapagos National Park.

Additionally, there are a number of other sea birds, shore birds and land birds found on the islands including the famous Darwin finches.

Galapagos Reptiles

Giant tortoise

Possibly the most well-known animal in the Galapagos National Park is the Galapagos tortoise. The word ‘Galapagos’ actually derives from an old Spanish word for tortoise. There are currently at least 10 surviving subspecies, with 4 species extinct. Lonesome George was the last surviving member of the Pinta tortoise subspecies, but he died in 2012 without producing any descendants. The giant tortoise can weigh up to a quarter of a ton and live to over 170 years old. In February 2019, a giant tortoise was spotted on the island of Fernandina, after not being seen for more than 110 years and feared to be extinct.  

Green turtle

The Galapagos green turtle is the only turtle species to breed and nest on the Galapagos Islands, and can often be seen when snorkelling or from boats. Weighing up to 150 kilograms, they can swim up to 35 mph over long distances and can be seen throughout the archipelago.


Galapagos land iguanas are found on many of the islands, and can be over a metre in length. They spend their time either sprawled in the sun or seeking shade in the cacti, rocks and trees. They live in the drier parts of the Galapagos Islands and sleep in burrows to conserve their body heat. The marine iguanas on the Galapagos Islands are the only seagoing lizards in the world and can dive to depths of up to 20m and can stay underwater for up to an hour at a time.  When they enter the water, their heartbeat slows to half its pace in order to conserve energy and feed for as long as possible.

Galapagos Mammals

The Galapagos sea lion is one of most frequently seen animals on the islands. The bulls weigh 250kg and can be aggressive. Females and young, however, are very playful, and will often swim around you when you are snorkelling. Fur seals are less common, but can be seen on Santiago island.
There are also two species of bats and two of rats on the islands.

Galapagos Marine life

Several species of whales and dolphins are seen around the islands, with bottle-nosed dolphins often seen surfing the waves at the bow of boats. There are also 400 species of fish in the Galapagos Islands, of which 50 are endemic. Sharks are often seen when snorkelling, with the most common species being the white-tipped reef shark and the Galapagos shark. Hammerheads are sometimes seen when diving. Rays are also common and often seen, including the giant manta ray, which can be 6 metres from tip to tip.

Read our blog to find out why the Galapagos Islands are as extraordinary today as when Charles Darwin first set foot on them over 180 years ago.