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Sharks in the Galápagos

The White-tipped Reef Shark (Triaendon obesus, tiburón aleta blanca) is a common—though initially commanding—sight in snorkel spots throughout the archipelago. It is easy to identify by its pointed nose, silvery-gray color, and the white tips on its tail and first dorsal fin. Most white-tipped reef sharks are about the same size as an adult human, 1.5 to two meters in length. They tend to rest around rocky inlays or in caves, often swimming very close to snorklers. Don’t worry about these sharks reenacting a scene from Jaws: they feed at night on small fish and are very docile.

They are commonly seen snorkeling at North Seymour, Gardner Bay and Turtle Island (Española), and Devil’s Crown (Floreana). You can also see them from the beach at Punta Cormorant (Floreana) and Bartolomé.

The Black-tipped Reef Shark (Carcharhinus limbatus, tiburón aleta negra) is less common than the white-tipped reef shark, but it can still be seen snorkeling. It too is easily recognizable by its pointed nose, silvery-gray color, and the black (instead of white) tips on its fins. It is the same size as the white-tipped reef shark, thus inspiring the same commanding yet graceful presence, but it is more blatantly unassuming, usually swimming away at the sight of humans.

These are sometimes seen at Devil’s Crown (Floreana). Juveniles are common in Black Turtle Cove (Santa Cruz).

The endemic Galápagos Shark (Carcharhinus galapagensis, tiburón de Galápagos) is a stout, silvery-gray to brown shark. Despite its smaller size (up to two meters), it is, arguably, the most threatening of the Galápagos sharks both in appearance and behavior. It is an active carnivore, known to eat other sharks, that swims solitary or in loose groups.

It is rarely seen in the typical snorkel spots, but I have seen it at Devil’s Crown (Floreana) and at Leon Dormido (San Cristóbal).

The Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna lewini, tiburón martillo) is instantly recognizable by its flattened head, peripheral eyes and nostrils, and large (growing up to four meters long), shark-like physique. The Galápagos are famous for their abundance of these charismatic creatures: divers often see them in large schools of up to thirty or forty individuals.

You are less likely to see them while you are snorkeling, but your best chance is at Genovesa. If you are extremely lucky, you may see juveniles in Black Turtle Cove (Santa Cruz) or Post Office Bay (Floreana).

The Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus, tiburón ballena) is a massive, but harmless, shark found mostly in the western islands of Darwin and Wolf. Since divers tend to be the only ones to visit these outlying islands, they are the most likely to catch a momentous glimpse or to swim like an impotent little remora next to the gray and yellow-spotted beast. However, ship captains and crew tell tall tales (mostly true) of the world’s largest fish swimming past them as they watch in awe from the boat. It has a huge mouth (often lined with cleaner fish) that can swallow vast quantities of their favorite vegetarian plankton diet.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to The Galápagos Islands: Galapagos Ecology and Ecotourism , Marine Life - Galápagos, Tourism in Mainland Ecuador, Zebra Moray Eel, Galapagos Cruises: What's Included?, Sally Lightfoot Crabs, The Galápagos Fishing War, Recommended Reading List, Puerto Egas Visitor Site and More Isabela Visitor Sites.

04 Jun 2007

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