For those who visit the world's best-known archipelago on a Galapagos cruise, the unique wildlife of the islands is undoubtedly the draw card. It's fascinating to think that the endemic mammalian species that are so iconic to the region arrived here by accident at some time or another – washed in from the mainland of South America by the converging currents. |
The Mammals of Galapagos
Due to the nature of the location far from continental mainland there are not that many land based mammals native to the archipelago, but the aquatic species increase the numbers a little.
There are two species of bats that are believed to have originated from North and South America. They coexist in harmony, mostly, scientists believe, because one species sources food in the canopy while the other forages close to the ground.
Lasiurus brachyotis is closely related to the Red Bat and is commonly found in the coastal areas and highlands, while the Hoary Bat, Lasiurus cinereus, can often be seen in the mangroves.
Arriving on "rafts" of vegetation, at one time there were seven endemic species of Rice Rats, but today just four remain. The other species became extinct with the arrival of humans (who brought black rats and an accompanying virus) and the three surviving species can now only be found on the uninhabited islands.
There are around 50,000 Galapagos Sea Lions and, with their fearless and inquisitive nature, they are seen in abundance. In fact, they are often the first wildlife seen by visitors arriving on a Galapagos cruise – not to mention the noisiest. They grow to an impressive size; an adult bull can weigh up to 250kgs, making them the largest animals in the archipelago.
Often confused with the local sea lions, there are almost as many Galapagos Fur Seals in the islands. They do appear to be less prevalent, however, as they tend to prefer more rugged and rocky habitats, which are harder for humans to access.
There are a number of marked differences, including a thick furry coat, smaller stature and large front flippers, but despite their misleading name they are not seals but actually sea lions themselves.
Dolphins and Whales
There are numerous cetacean species that live in or regularly pass through the waters of the archipelago. Bryde's, Risso's, Striped, Common White-bellied and Bottle-nosed Dolphins can be seen in large numbers from Galapagos cruise vessels, often swimming alongside in schools of up to 100. Several varieties of whales also appear at different times of the year, including Humpback, Pilot, Sperm, Killer and False Killer Whales.
The mammals introduced to the islands by humans in the 1800 and 1900s – goats, donkeys, dogs, cats and pigs – have had a major negative effect on the ecosystem and the local wildlife. On some of the islands they have now been completely removed, although they do still live a feral existence on others.
Encounter the Wildlife on a Galapagos Cruise
The best way to see the mammals, reptiles and marine life of the archipelago is on a well-organised Galapagos cruise accompanied by an experienced naturalist. Travelling with a local guide on a topsail schooner or motorboat affords access to some of the lesser known and abundant wildlife watching areas larger vessels cannot reach.
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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