For wildlife lovers, the Galapagos Islands are a must visit. Not only are a lot of the animals unique (a quarter of the species of shore fish and almost all the reptiles are found nowhere else), the wildlife is also incredibly unafraid of humans so you are able to view them up close. Explore's Linda Harris was lucky enough to visit the islands recently and here she shares her top ten Galapagos wildlife.
My stand out Galapagos highlight was snorkelling with sea turtles. They are amazing creatures and very graceful. Snorkelling nearby watching them peacefully swim past was incredible and surpassed my previous favourite snorkelling experience; the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
Galapagos giant tortoise
Unfortunately I visited the Galapagos too late to see Lonesome George (may he rest in peace), but I did see many wild giant tortoises in the Santa Cruz Highlands. These giant tortoises are so iconic that the islands were named after them ("galapago" means "tortoise" in Spanish). They are the largest tortoises in the world and live for an average of 100 years. They are solitary animals, perhaps that is the secret to a long life!
The Galapagos are home to the only marine lizard on Earth. It likely evolved its marine lifestyle because of the sparsity of nutritious vegetation on land, opting instead for seaweed. Darwin was not a fan, when he first saw them he wrote:
“The black Lava rocks on the beach are frequented by large (2-3 ft), disgusting clumsy Lizards. They are as black as the porous rocks over which they crawl & seek their prey from the Sea. I call them ‘imps of darkness.”
Anyone who knows me knows how much I love penguins so this was the animal I was most looking forward to seeing in the Galapagos and I was not disappointed. The Galapagos penguin is one of the smallest penguins in the world and the most northerly.
Blue footed booby
The blue footed booby is one of the most famous creatures in the Galapagos due to their funny name and comical appearance. The birds' mating ritual is also an entertaining affair, as males lift their feet up and down in a strutting display for the females. They are not found exclusively on the Galapagos Islands, but about half of the world's population breeds there.
There are few birds easier to recognise than male magnificent frigatebirds. They have a giant red throat pouch which makes for a bright, stunning display when fully inflated. The brighter the pouch, the more attractive they appear to females.
I was surprised to discover that sea lions were my favourite animal in the Galapagos. I did not expect to be so excited by sea lions because I have seen them before in many other countries but never so many (there are about 50,000 in the Galapagos) and so close (including almost nose to nose while snorkelling!), the baby sea lions were incredibly cute and I also liked the fact that they would rest anywhere including on benches!
This flightless bird, only found in the western islands, is the only cormorant in the world which has lost the ability to fly.
The waved albatross is the largest bird in the archipelago. Espanola Island is the sole breeding ground for the entire world population.
Last but not least, Darwin’s favourite - the finch. Perhaps not as exciting as the others, however the finch played a key role in the development of Darwin's theory of natural selection. There are around 13 different species today, all evolved from a single species.