The Galápagos penguin is an endemic species meaning it is only found in the Galapagos Islands. Many species of birds, mammals, fishes, and reptiles are found only in the Galapagos Islands.
* indicates that birds are endemic at a subspecies level
There are 56 native birds to the Galápagos. Of those birds 45 are truly endemic to the islands in that they do not breed anywhere else in the world.
- Galápagos penguin
- Waved albatross
- Galápagos petrel
- Flightless cormorant
- Swallow-tailed gull
- Lava gull*
Indigenous, but not endemic
- Magnificent frigatebird
(females have blue orbital rings)
- Great frigatebird
(females have red orbital rings)
- Nazca booby
- Blue-footed booby
- Red-footed booby
commonly seen species
- Great blue heron
- Common egrets
- Lava heron*
- Black-crowned heron
- Yellow-crowned night heron
Many marine mammals frequent the waters of the Galápagos, but only two endemic to the islands.
Endemic Marine Mammals
Galápagos sea lion
Galápagos fur seal
Fur seals are not true seals and are more closely related to sea lions than to other seals. Due to their similar morphological features it can be hard to tell these mammals apart. Galápagos fur seals are smaller, with larger heads, eyes, and ears. They also have a more pointed nose than the sea lions. The biggest difference is their coat. True to their name, fur seals have a thicker, more fur-like coat than the sea lions.
Migratory Marine Mammals
Many species of whales migrate through the Galápagos waters, making a very productive whaling ground during the 19th century. Whales that frequent these waters include: sperm whales, humpback whales, and pilot whales.
Three species of dolphins occur: orcas (often categorized as whales), bottle-nosed dolphins, and common white-bellied dolphins. Bottle-nosed dolphins are frequently observed riding the wakes of boats. Common white-bellied dolphins do not typically swim close to boats but can be observed in large groups of over one hundred individuals.
During the Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin collected 15 fish specimens. Many new fishes were described throughout the 1800s and 1900s. In 2010 the California Academy of Sciences recognized 550 fish species in the Galápagos. This number does not include the mesopelagics such as sharks, manta rays, and tuna that frequent these waters. Of the 550 species, they estimate 13.6% are endemic. There are no native freshwater fish. The Mozambique tilapia was introduced to San Cristóbal prior to 2006 and has become a well-established, invasive species.
The Galápagos Islands have a wide variety of marine invertebrates. These invertebrates include: worms, crustaceans, cniderians (corals, sea anemones, jelly fish, etc.), echinoderms, bryozoans, mollusks, and sponges. Many of these species are captured by fishermen. In 1988 the sea cucumber fishery became popular in mainland Ecuador, but after four years of severe over fishing, the fishery collapsed. The fisherman migrated to Galápagos and the sea cucumbers have been overfished.
Marine iguanas are endemic to the Galápagos and are the only lizard that feeds on algae and seaweed. They have special glands in their nostrils to excrete excess salt from their diet. Marine iguanas often seek shade so sometimes take over sites where penguins wish to breed.
Green sea turtles are the most common turtles in the waters of the Galápagos Islands. A subspecies of the green turtle, the Galápagos green turtle is indigenous to the islands. Sea turtle populations are decreasing worldwide. In an effort to help conserve green sea turtle populations, the Galápagos National Park has a nest-monitoring program that began January 2014. During the nighttime hours of the breeding season, January to June, park rangers measure the nests, count the eggs, document hatching rates, and keep predators away. Additionally, the park has a program to educate marine park users about the risk of boat strikes on turtles.
McCosker, J. E., & Rosenblatt, R. H. (2010, September). Proceedings of the California Academy of Science: The fishes of the Galápagos archipelago: an update.
Thornton, Ian. Darwin’s Islands: A Natural History of the Galápagos. N.p.: American Museum of Natural History, 1971. Print.
U.N. Fisheries and Aquaculture. (2008). Population status, fisheries, and trade of sea cucumbers in Latin America and the Caribbean (V. Toral-Granda, Author). Rome.