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by on May 20, 2020

Galapagos Sharks – Everything to Know

If you are visiting the Galapagos, one of the species that you mind find yourself staring at is a shark. There are many kinds of sharks in the Galapagos, and luckily none of them presents any danger to visitors. Here is our guide on the sharks in the Galapagos, with in-depth information about them.

How Many Galapagos shark Species inhabit the Islands?

Until this date, there are recordings of approximately 32 sharks in the waters of the Galapagos Islands. Two of these islands have the highest abundance of sharks in the entire world! Sharks are all throughout the islands. Of the most Iconic sharks to spot in the Galapagos waters is the Scalloped hammerhead. Sizing up at 50 cm at birth and growing up to four meters in maturity, the hammerhead is an unmistakable presence in the Galapagos Islands.

Another unique species is the recently discovered Galapagos bullhead shark. This species only lives within the waters of the Galapagos and off the coasts of Peru. This small shark only reaches lengths of one meter, and scientists are currently collecting data with the help of Galapagos visitors like you!

White-Tipped-reef-shark-Galapagos-Sharks

A friendly and curious shark of the Galapagos

Will I see any sharks in the Galapagos?

Typically, cruise based tours have a lot of snorkeling excursions, at least one to two a day. During these excursions, you are highly likely to see at least one to two species of Galapagos shark, and often many more. Some of these species include the white-tipped reef shark, black-tipped reef shark, Galapagos shark, the Port Jackson shark. The Galapagos Scalloped Hammerhead shark is more of a rarity on regular cruise-based adventures but can be seen with a little luck! If you are a scuba diver looking for a liveaboard cruise, you will see them without a doubt!

Are the Sharks in Galapagos Dangerous?

Shark encounters are remarkably rare—despite the widespread media coverage they always sustain. In fact,the likelihood of being a victim of a shark encounter is lower than the chances of being struck by lightning, part of a car or bicycle accident, or attacked by a domestic dog. Look down into our myths section at the bottom to get a better perspective on the statistics. Since recordkeeping began of shark attacks in the year of 1854, only eight attacks have been registered. These incidents involve surfers, fisherman, but have not involved any tourists of land-based or cruise based tours. With over 200,000 visitors per year, the chances of a shark incident are slim to none.  Knowing this, visitors should feel relaxed in the Galapagos waters while enjoying snorkeling and diving activities.

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White-tipped reef shark

What do Sharks Eat in the Galapagos?

The diet of the Sharks in the Galapagos is based on shellfish, mollusks, and fishes. A rarity, but they have been observed occasionally eating or attacking marine reptiles, sea lions, and fur seals.

How Galapagos Sharks are beneficial to an ecosystem

Galapagos sharks play a crucial role in the ecosystem. The primary roles are maintaining the food web, cycling nutrients, engineering habitats, and reduction of disease transmission. An example of them maintaining the food web is by shepherding certain species of fish away from specific areas through fear, thereby allowing specific corals and seaweeds that would otherwise be predated by fish.

Nutrient Cycling

Galapagos sharks migrate from island to island, and often off the coast of other countries. After migrating to faraway locations, they excrete nutrients – AKA Shark Poop – leaving nutrients for other creatures of the ocean.

Ecosystem Engineers

Sharks are also important “ecosystem engineers.” They aren’t leaving skyscrapers behind, but rather leaving behind the leftovers of predated creatures. The leftover creatures then transform into a new home for a new creature, a nutrient-rich one at that.

Disease Transmission

Sharks also reduce disease transmission, quickly taking out the sickly creatures that may be carrying disease. This prevents the transmission from spreading into the ecosystem and harming other creatures.

A school of hammerhead sharks in the Galapagos

Fun Facts about Galapagos Sharks

  1. Galapagos sharks along with all sharks don’t have bones, but rather have cartilaginous tissue similar to your nose and ears. However, as they age the tissue grows strength through fossilization, depositing calcium salts in their cartilage over time.
  2. Many sharks of the Galapagos have exceptional eyesight. Most sharks can impressively discern objects in darkly lit areas, and have excellent night vision and even see in color. Like cats, sharks have a reflective layer of tissue called a tapetum which unlocks the ability to see remarkably well at night.
  3. Galapagos sharks have unique electroreceptor organs on their nose, eyes, and mouth that allow them to sense electromagnetic fields and temperature changes. This is great for navigation and finding predators within the waters.
  4. Galapagos shark skin feels like sandpaper. The skin is made up of small teeth-like structures called placoid scales. These scales decrease friction from the surrounding water as the shark swims.
  5. When scientists flip a Galapagos shark, they go completely limp as if in a trance. This is tonic immobility, and theories attribute this oddity to both mating and playing dead.
    Sharks have been along for a long time, even dating before the dinosaurs. They first appeared around 455 million years ago!
  6. One of the highlights of the Galapagos is the Whale sharks, which are the biggest fish in the ocean. They can grow to 12.2 meters and weigh up to 40 tons!
Whale-Shark- Galapagos Sharks

The whale shark of the Galapagos

Galapagos shark myths

  1. Myth: Galapagos sharks are at the top of the food chain. In actuality, orcas sometimes frequent the waters of the Galapagos. Many articles discuss incidents in which orcas have attacked great whites, the king of shark species. Additionally, humans can be considered a predator of sharks. Humans kill approximately 100 million sharks each year, making us their biggest threat.
  2. Myth: Shark attacks are common. The odds of a shark attacking and killing are very low, 1 in 3,748,067. Here are some other uncommon incidents that are more likely to occur to put everything into perspective:
  • Hit by lightning (1 in 700,000)
  • Killed by fireworks (1 in 340,733)
  • Becoming a millionaire (1 in 55 for millennials)
  • Getting a royal flush in poker (1 in 649,740)
  • Winning an Olympic Gold medal (1 in 662,000)

3. Myth: Shark can smell blood for a mile away. Although some sharks have a smell that is 100 times better than those of humans, they cannot sense smell from a mile away. The most a shark could smell is about a quarter-mile, and that is on the upper end of sharks with high abilities for scent. Moreover, if they smell the blood they don’t go into a frenzy, and the scent takes awhile to travel through ocean currents. Lastly, sharks are fairly picky about their prey, and humans are not on the menu.

If you are interested in a visit to the Galapagos islands, take a look at our guides to the Galapagos animals and marine life. Want to plan a trip? Speak with our professional travel team to get more information, and find out which vessel or land-based option is right for you!


About Keenan Ennis

Keenan Ennis studied Conservation and wildlife biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. This eventually lead him to a program in Ecuador studying hummingbirds and their keystone nutritional species in the Jama-Coaque Ecological Reserve. Since, he has worked with the critically endangered Bandurria Andina, or black-faced Ibis of the Andean Páramo. Through his ecological background, he provides an in depth insight into the conservation processes of the Galapagos Islands.

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