Galapagos fish may not be as famous as the islands’ other animal inhabitants. The Galapagos Islands are typically known for the unique animals that can be seen plodding, scampering and flying over the land, such as giant tortoises or Darwin finches; however, many believe that the life that inhabits the surrounding marine reserve actually outshines Galapagos terrestrial life. Scientists have even observed that Galapagos marine life represents a more extensive range of life thanks to its spectacular diversity, from whale sharks to sea horses. The Galapagos Marine Reserve is one of the largest in the world and also one of the most celebrated among professional and amateur divers alike. Whether looking above from a glass-bottom boat or snorkeling amongst the shoals of Galapagos tropical fish with penguins, the life found in these waters is breathtaking.
The Galapagos Marine Reserve is fed by several major marine currents that upwell to the surface once they run into the Galapagos platform, feeding the islands with either rich, arctic waters or warmer currents from the north. Fish, sharks, whales, manta rays, seahorses and a variety of other marine species gather in these waters to breed and feed on the crustaceans, plankton, and fish that inhabit the reserve thanks to the currents. In total, there are approximately 450 different fish species that live in or pass through the marine reserve including tropical fish, rays, sharks, whales, seahorses, corals, octopuses, and turtles to name a few, as well as coral, sea stars and even the not-so-charming sea slugs. Detailed below are some of the most common tropical fish that can be observed in the Galapagos Marine Reserve to help visitors gain a better appreciation of the veritable show these waters put on.
Angelfish are abundant in Galapagos waters and by far the most common is the stunning King Angelfish, which can be recognized by its bluish-black coloring with orange-yellow accents. It also has a white vertical stripe running along its body, and bright yellow fins and tail. King Angelfish are generally found around rocky and coral reefs and can reach up to 14 inches long.
The Flag Cabrilla is not stunning so much for its ability to stand out, like the angelfish, but instead for its ability to blend in. Its olive/greyish skin (which at times has a reddish tone) covered in white blotches allows it to blend in with the ocean floor where it is often seen lurking, as they are not particularly active. The Flag Cabrilla is popular among divers and swimmers in the Galapagos because it is easy to approach – this Galapagos fish is not very timid, allowing divers to get quite close. It is often found in shallow water, hidden among rocks and reefs, or on a ledge or crevasse.
The Damselfish is another family of Galapagos fish frequently seen by divers. This fish is easy to distinguish thanks to its elegantly flowing dorsal fin and tail, and it typically swims in small schools, although it is not rare to see the fish alone. This may be because they are extremely territorial and often chase away other fish that may be intruding onto their algae patch, even attempting to do so with divers at times. There is a range of damselfish in the Galapagos that sport a variety of colors, including the Great Damselfish, Yellowtail Damselfish, and White-Tail Damselfish.
Parrotfish are one of the easier Galapagos fish to identify thanks to their distinctive lips that always appear to be pursed. The mouth is formed into a beak shape (giving them their name), which they use to bite off and chew large chunks of coral. The species is known to be particularly brightly colored and can be seen in a variety of colors depending on the species and even age. Many species are orange or blue-green but are decorated with colorful speckles. The Bumphead Parrotfish is particularly notable thanks to its odd rounded forehead, which makes it appear as if it had just received a rough bump on the head.
This Galapagos fish is quite common but is rarely seen as it has evolved to be a master of disguise, able to disappear amongst rocks, coral or clumps of vegetation. The Stone Scorpionfish is covered with loose flaps of skin and scales that make it look more like a plant than a fish. Furthermore, it has the ability to change color as it sits motionless on the ocean floor waiting for its prey to approach. However, while these fish are not aggressive towards humans, they contain a strong and painful poison in the spines along their dorsal fin that they use against prey.