The Galapagos Islands are renowned for their unique wildlife, but perhaps more attention is given to its mammals, reptiles and avian species. However, the waters of the Pacific Ocean in which the archipelago sits are unmatched for their diversity and abundance of marine life. |
For those visiting the islands on a Galapagos cruise, there are many opportunities to get up close and personal with the marine life by swimming and snorkelling. This area is one of the few places on Earth where it's possible to see pelagic species very close to the shore.
A Unique Location
The archipelago sits at the convergence of three major ocean currents. Its position has the effect of bringing together a mix of flora and fauna that survive in these very different environments to create an ecosystem that's completely unique. Around a fifth of all the marine life of the region cannot be found anywhere else on the planet. This in itself is significant and unusual, as, due to its migratory nature, marine life does tend to travel and amalgamate to a far greater degree than land-based species.
Geologically, too, the islands have created an extremely high number of different marine habitats aside from the open water, including mangroves, coral reefs and salt flats.
What to Look Out For
Exploring the archipelago on a Galapagos cruise affords the opportunity to come face to face with a vast range of marine species. Pelagic species like the hammerhead shark and the manta ray may be seen quite close to the shore, while fur seals, the world's most northerly penguins and the only species of marine iguana are also a frequent sight.
Fish: Snorkelling the crystal clear waters around the islands allows close encounters with a huge array of fish species, even in the "beginner" areas close to the beaches. Some of the more colourful species include the King Angelfish, Yellow-tailed Sturgeon, Parrot Fish and Sergeant-major. Like all the wildlife of the archipelago, they are unbothered by human contact and pay no attention to snorkellers.
Sharks: There are several species of shark, with most sightings occurring in deeper waters. The most common is the harmless White-tipped Reef Shark, but there are also occasional sightings of whale sharks and the endemic Galapagos Shark.
Sea Turtles: Green Sea Turtles can often be seen feeding on seaweed strewn on the rocks close to shore. They can grow to a massive size and appear to snorkellers in both shallow and deep-water sites. The males never emerge from the sea, but the females come ashore to lay eggs.
Rays: Despite their bad press, rays generally do not pose a threat to humans except if accidentally stepped on. They tend to hover around the sandy bottom with the exception of the massive Manta Rays, which come to the surface to feed on plankton. Other species that may be seen are the Stingray, Spotted Eagle Ray and the Golden Cownose Ray.
Sea Lions: One of the iconic species of the archipelago is the Galapagos Sea Lion, which can be seen in barking abundance on the beaches, rocks and in shallow waters. They often approach humans with curiosity, but while the pups are inquisitive and playful, it's not recommended to interact with larger males as they can display aggressive territorial behaviour.
Meet the Marine life on a Galapagos Cruise
A well-organised Galapagos cruise is the best way to ensure successful viewings of the extensive marine life. Travelling with local naturalist guides who know and understand the habitats of the waters that surround the archipelago makes for an enriching and truly memorable experience.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in the unique wildlife of the Galapagos Islands. Marissa chooses the expert-led Galapagos cruise itineraries organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in one of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
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