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10 Animals Seen on a Galapagos Cruise

  |   Galapagos

The wildlife-rich Galapagos Islands are home to some of the most unique animals in the world. The archipelago is made up of 19 islands in the Pacific Ocean, the islands and their waters are a national park region and biological marine reserve. 

The Galapagos Islands are defined as such because they are home to the world's most unique marine and land wildlife. You will see creatures on the Galapagos that you cannot see anywhere else. In fact, the Galapagos Islands are so special that Charles Darwin used the island and its rare species to form his natural selection theory in the nineteenth century.

Taking a Galapagos Cruise is really the best way to see the Islands. Since most of the animals on the Galapagos are excellent swimmers, and would have originally arrived by sea to the islands, arriving by sea on a cruise is most definitely the best way to immerse yourself into the Galapagos archipelago and its diverse and fascinating species. 

Something truly incredible about the Galapagos Islands is that fear, has essentially been bred out of the wildlife on the islands. They evolved on the islands without any mammal predators and for hundreds of years, did not have any contact with humans, naturally learning not the fear them. On the islands, you can get up-close to the wildlife and observe them in their natural habitat.


10 Animals You Will Most Likely See on a Galapagos Cruise: 


Giant Galapagos Tortoise– Chelonoidis nigra

Giant Galapagos Tortoise– Chelonoidis nigra

1. Galapagos Tortoises

The iconic tortoises are probably the most important species on the Galapagos Islands and the most famous. Not only because the islands themselves were actually named after these creatures, galapago means tortoise in Spanish! The world's largest tortoise and longest living vertebrate, these impressive creatures can live to be over 150 years old! Once the species thrived on the Galapagos Islands with populations exceeding 250,000, but after years without a natural predator, humans have since exploited the creature leaving just 15,000 in existence today, and as a result the tortoises are under intense conservation.


Which island? The largest group of Galapagos Tortoises can be found on the Volcano Alcedo on Isabela Island, with over 4,000 living there. 


Marine iguana –  Amblyrhynchus cristatus

Marine iguana– Amblyrhynchus cristatus

2. Marine Iguana

This species of iguana is the only marine lizard left on earth! The Marine Iguana is unique to the Galapagos Islands, where it lives its unique marine lifestyle, adapted from years of life on the islands. The Marine Iguana lives on seaweed, with special nasal glands that are able to filter out excess salt from its body. This incredible creature can dive up to 30 feet in the water, and can be found on the rocky shorelines, marshes and mangrove beaches of the Galapagos Islands. Despite its appearance and spiky exterior, which can look a little mean and frightening, the herbivores are perfectly harmless, docile creatures who are actually vulnerable to extinction from rats and other feral creatures on the islands. 


Which island? There is an estimated hundreds of thousands of Marine Iguanas and they can be found on every Galapagos Island.


Large ground finch –  Geospiza magnirostris

Large ground finch– Geospiza magnirostris

3. Galapagos Finches

Integral to Darwin's theory, Galapagos Finches are the among the most famous creatures on the islands. Known as Darwin's Finches, the 13 species of finches on the island are defined by their environment, with differing features between each specie. This diversity among one species contributed to Darwin's theory of natural selection and gave Darwin valuable insights into evolution. 


Which island? You can spot the endangered sharp-beaked finch on the central and western islands, the small ground finch on most of the large islands and the cactus finch on the central islands, except Fernandina. 


Galapagos penguin –  Spheniscus mendiculus

Galapagos penguin– Spheniscus mendiculus

4. Galapagos Penguins

One of the smallest penguins in the world and the only penguin that lives north of the equator, the Galapagos Penguin is entirely unique to the Galapagos Islands. The most endangered creature on the islands and most endangered penguin in the world, their populations have dropped largely because their limited options for nesting on the islands have been destroyed or overtaken by Marine Iguanas. Galapagos Penguins mate for life and their population is said to be around 1,000-1,300 pairs.


Which island? You can find 90% of the Galapagos Penguins on the western islands of Fernandina and Isabela.  


Blue-footed booby –  Sula nebouxii

Blue-footed booby– Sula nebouxii

5. Blue-footed Boobies

Defined by their distinctive blue feet, Blue-footed Boobies are not exclusive to the Galapagos Islands, but half of the world's population breeds on the islands. The bluer the feet, the healthier the bird, and the more attractive the bird. These birds are proud of their brightly-colored feet and show them off during mating rituals by strutting around. Their population is, however, decreasing and traditional breeding sites on Espanola Island have been largely abandoned by the birds.  


Which island? The Blue-footed Booby can be found on most islands, except those in the north. 


Galápagos sea lion –  Zalophus wollebaeki

Galápagos sea lion– Zalophus wollebaeki


6. Galapagos Sealions

The adorable Galapagos Sealion is completely unique to the Galapagos Islands, with smaller numbers found on the Isla de la Plata and Gorgona Island. Watching the sealions surfing in the ocean or sun-bathing on the shore, enjoying their laid-back lifestyle, is definitely one of the great attractions of the Galapagos. The largest marine mammal on the islands, and with a population of around 50,000, the playful nature and loud barking noise of these creatures usually makes them one of the first animals you see on your approach to the islands by boat. 


Which island? Sealions can be found on most of the Galapagos Islands, including Fernandina Island. 


Magnificent frigatebird–   Fregata magnificens  

Magnificent frigatebird– Fregata magnificens 

7. Magnificent Frigatebird

The male Magnificent Frigatebird has an extremely distinctive feature of a giant red throat pouch just beneath its beak. When it is fully inflated it's quite a sight to see! The males inflate in a display for the females, and the brighter the pouch, the more attractive! While not entirely unique to the Galapagos, the species found on the islands are thought to be genetically distinct from their other worldly counterparts. While the Magnificent Frigatebird is a seabird, if its plumage gets too wet it will drown, as it does not have the oily, waterproof feathers seabirds usually have. You can often hear the Magnificent Frigatebird before you see it, with its rattling, drumming noise. 


Which island? The largest and most active colony of Magnificent Frigatebirds can be found on North Seymour Island.



Light Foot Crab– Grapsus grapsus

Light Foot Crab– Grapsus grapsus

8. Sally Light Foot Crabs

The distinctive population of Sally Light Foot Crabs on the Galapagos Islands are a unique species of the Light Foot crab, found on the coast of the Americas. Unlike their crabby cousins, the Galapagos Sally Light Foot Crab works in harmony with the marine iguanas of the islands, cleaning ticks from their skin. Their brightly-colored bodies make them stand out on the rocks and shores of the islands, a target for keen wildlife photographers on the islands. Their name comes from their ability to move easily across the top of the water, which makes them look like they are walking on water!


Which island? Often see in large groups on the rocks of Santa Cruz Island.


Galapagos land iguana –  Conolophus subcristatus

Galapagos land iguana– Conolophus subcristatus

9. Land Iguanas

There are three species of iguana found on the Galapagos Islands, the yellow iguana Conolophus subcristatus, Conolophus pallidus, and the pink or rosada iguana, Conolophus marthae. The latter of the three species was only discovered in 1986, and wasn't studied until the 2000s. Most land iguanas can be found in the drier areas of the islands, hiding in the shade of cacti, rocks or trees. Land iguanas can live to be 60 years old and are herbivores. 


Which island? Land iguanas can be found on the islands of Fernandina, Isabela, Santa Cruz, North Seymour, Baltra and South Plaza. 


Galapagos Green Turtle– Chelonia agassizii

Galapagos Green Turtle– Chelonia agassizii

10. Galapagos Green Turtles

The Galapagos Green Turtle is the only species of green sea turtle that nests on the Galapagos Islands. Weighing up to 600 pounds, the Galapagos Green Turtle is one of the largest sea turtles in the world. Unlike tortoises, sea turtles cannot put their heads inside their shells, but can stay underwater for about two-and-a-half hours without coming up for air. You may see these huge creatures gliding through the waters around the islands or bathing in the sun on the shore. The Galapagos Green Turtle is an endangered species, and certain beaches are closed to the public during nesting times on the islands. 


Which island? Large numbers of sea turtles are found on Barolome Island, Santiago Island, Santa Cruz Island, Santa Fe Island and Floreana Island. 



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