Wildlife in Galápagos
The remarkable - and fragile - ecosystem of the Galápagos
The Galapagos Islands are astonishing on so many levels. The climate is remarkably comfortable despite being so close to the equator. The islands themselves were formed by volcanoes, which are still active and loom impressively in the background. The ocean and beaches alone are worthy of a visit. Yet, more than anything, it’s the animals that inhabit the archipelago that make a trip to the Galapagos Islands unforgettable.
The most important species of the Galapagos Islands
Below is a list of 83 species that our Galapagos experts have helped map. Click on a species to learn more about its habitat and where you might be able to see it onboard one of our Galápagos expedition cruises.
What makes the wildlife in the Galapagos so remarkable?
UNPARALLELED VARIETY: Visiting the Galapagos is like walking into a wildlife documentary with penguins, seals, whale sharks, giant tortoises, flamingos, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, hawks—the list of animals that live in the Galapagos is endless. Here, visitors can truly get up close and personal with some of the planet’s rarest wildlife.
ENDEMIC SPECIES: Despite the incredible variety, the natural value of the Galapagos does not lie in diversity. In fact, it's just the opposite! Galapagos is a harsh, remote land, and the species that arrived here did not survive by diversifying, but rather by evolving specific traits to fill a certain niche in the environment. Today, an estimated 200 endemic animal species inhabit the islands, with new ones being discovered every year!
UNDERWATER PARADISE: The Galapagos Islands are located near the equator, yet they receive cool ocean currents. This makes for a perfect mix of warm, nutrient-rich water, which attracts an unparalleled variety of sea life. The result is a scuba diver's or snorkeler's paradise!
Animals in the Galapagos aren't afraid of humans
For most visitors, the opportunity to sit a few feet away from a rare creature that can’t be found anywhere else in the world is the main reason to go to Galapagos. Galrpagos Islands animals have little fear of humans, and your wildlife encounters here will be unlike anything you have experienced. Most of the land animals endemic to these islands evolved without natural predators for millions of years. Humans did not arrive until 1535. From swimming with wild sea lions and penguins, to watching the mating dance of blue-footed boobies; from being surrounded by basking marine iguanas to seeing giant tortoises in their natural habitat, you’ll make memories that will last a lifetime.
Threats to wildlife in Galapagos
Two institutions deserve mention when talking about the remarkable and rare animals of the Galapagos Islands and the preservation of these natural wonders. The Galapagos Marine Reserve, recently granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status, is the second-largest marine reserve in the world. Many international conservation and science organizations work together to protect the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Among them are the Charles Darwin Foundation and WildAid.
In addition, hundreds of scientists, researchers, local people, and park rangers are dedicated to reversing damage done by introduced species. The national park is carefully managed, and the status of animal populations closely monitored. When in the Galapagos, you will be accompanied at all times by an authorized naturalist guide. These expert guides make sure that the creatures and habitats you visit are not harmed, as well as giving you in-depth knowledge about the behavior of rare Galapagos animals and how they are being protected.
Conserving Galapagos' wildlife and ecosystems
ILLEGAL AND OVERFISHING: The Galapagos Marine Reserve is one of the largest protected areas in the world, which makes monitoring and patrolling expensive and challenging. Its rich diversity of marine life also makes it attractive to illegal fishing activities. Overfishing and illegal industrial fishing are serious threats to the islands’ delicate marine ecosystem. They deplete commercial fish, destroy marine environments, and harm local communities whose livelihoods and health depend on fish. Almost all of the Galapagos’ commercially important coastal species are being overfished. WWF addresses the root causes by supporting the Galapagos National Park to improve the control and surveillance of the Galapagos Marine Reserve. We also promote an artisanal fishing culture that embraces sustainable fishing practices and maximizes catch while minimizing environmental impacts.
POLLUTION: Increased generation of waste and improper waste management continue to threaten the land and waters of the Galapagos. These threats relate directly to a large number of inhabitants and tourists and to new consumption patterns and lifestyles. Litter and poorly managed waste easily becomes marine debris, which affects the fragile marine ecosystem and even the coasts of uninhabited islands. An unknown number of animals are killed every year when they become entangled in pieces of string or plastic bags, or consume floating trash.
UNSUSTAINABLE TOURISM: Worldwide fame has turned the Galapagos Islands into one of the most popular tourist destinations. An increasing number of visitors as well as rapid human development bring higher demand for imported goods and fossil fuels, introduction of invasive species, and more demand for qualified labor (which comes primarily from mainland Ecuador), migration, and infrastructure needs. Increasing human pressure on the archipelago becomes a potential threat to conservation and local sustainable development. Click here to learn here what we are doing to reduce our impact.