Wildlife on the Galapagos Islands, Part 2 of 2

Frigatebird, male display, Galapagos

In 1841, Herman Melville came to the Galapagos Islands aboard the whaling boat Acushnet. He described the islands as having “emphatic uninhabitableness.”


I find this uninhabitableness part of the charm of Galapagos.


Welcome to Part 2. If you missed Part 1, click here.


Giant Tortoise, Galapagos


On Santa Cruz Island, we had the thrill of observing Giant Tortoises in the wild. At the Charles Darwin Research Station we visited the breeding station where they raise the young in their first five years. After that, the tortoises are released and monitored.


We also hiked up into the highlands, found what looked like large boulders–the tortoises. The largest living tortoise on earth, they can live to be 100 years old.


Oh how very slowly they moved. When those old eyes looked out at me, I was immediately struck by the wisdom and reverence of these venerable creatures.


Giant Tortoises, Santa Cruz Island


In addition to the large body, head that retracts into the scraped-up shell, and their freaky slowness…they hiss. They are simply letting air out of their lungs.


This video I found is a good representation:  YouTube Video by lauramoon.


Previously posted: Giant Tortoises of The Galapagos


Not to be outdone by the ancient tortoise, the Land Iguana is another reptilian island wonder.


Land Iguana, Galapagos


Endemic to the Galapagos, this large lizard is 3-5 feet long (0.9-1.5 meters), inhabits several islands. Their lifespan is 50 years.


This is not a flitty gecko in your presence; it is a huge, lumbering, prehistoric-looking behemoth.


Herbivorous, we found them eating, always. Due to their large size and short legs, they ate whatever was on the ground. They like prickly-pear cactus for the moisture, and eat low-growing plants and fallen fruits.


Land Iguana, South Plaza Isl., Galapagos

Previously posted: Land Iguana. 


For a week we lived and slept on a boat, the most common tourist method of accommodation here. Every night we sailed to the next island. Every day we boarded inflatable boats, and ventured onto a new island.


Often we saw sea turtles, whales, and other marine life.


Sea Turtle, Galapagos


Whales, Galapagos


When we came to Floreana Island we were treated to a look at flamingoes. With their specialized beak for straining food, they ate shrimp and made circuitous paths in the mud.


Flamingo, Galapagos


Flamingo feeding, Galapagos


Galapagos cormorants are one of the rarest birds we have in the world. Although cormorants live all over the planet, the Galapagos cormorants are especially unique. These birds are flightless.


They evolved without wings because there was plenty of food on shorelines, and no ground predators. With stumps for wings, these blue-eyed beauties hopped among the lava rocks.


Previously posted: Galapagos Cormorant



Galapagos Cormorant


North Seymour Island. It was very windy on this small and unprotected island in the middle of the Pacific, where sand whipped us and you could not hear the words of the person next to you.


We hiked to the frigatebird colony, something I had been dreaming about doing for years.


This is a remarkable sea bird that we only see in tropical ocean areas. They soar with their incredible wingspan of 7.5 feet (2.3 m), sometimes for weeks. It was an unusual sight to see frigatebirds up close, perched on branches; for they are usually high above, only recognizable by their expansive silhouette.


But the most striking aspect was the complete chaos. Frigatebirds were screeching, whining, rattling, whistling, and drumming.


Frigatebirds, Galapagos. Male with chick on left has deflated pouch, male on right has inflated it.



Male Magnificent Frigatebird displaying


With the most dramatic display of all the seabirds, the male frigatebird’s red gular pouch inflates to attract the females, is used as a drum to punctuate the message. He beats his wings against the pouch, creating a deep, low, booming sound. When the dance is done, the throat deflates.


Previously posted: Breeding Frigatebirds.


Galapagos Sea Lion


Herman Melville called it uninhabitable, Charles Darwin changed the world with his findings here.


Thanks for visiting this remarkable, other-worldly place with me.


All photos: Athena Alexander

Land Iguana, Galapagos


San Cristobal Island Harbor, where we boarded our boat



88 thoughts on “Wildlife on the Galapagos Islands, Part 2 of 2

  1. This is spectacular,Jet! It is a good thing these islands are uninhabitable, otherwise it would have been another place for humans to destroy.
    Those fregate birds are beautiful and I love the whistling tortoises.What a wonderful world!

  2. It’s wonderful to see creatures are happy there, a well preserve place. 🙂 The display of the Frigatebird is dramatic and the red color is so striking.
    Fantastic captures! Thank you so much for the post, Jet! Have a great weekend.

    • Over the centuries there have been a lot of organizations, citizens, environmentalists, and scientists who have devoted their lives to making the Galapagos a home to these creatures. I agree, Amy, it is wonderful to see they still exist here, and are happy. And great fun to share it with you. Thanks so much for your visit and comment, always appreciated.

  3. Love all your delightful, informative, and well written posts Jet. A cousin to the giant tortoise
    lives in Florida. You may have seen photos of him. They did grew much bigger in the past.
    Poaching has led to their near extinction. Thanks for the great photos and text.
    Enjoy you weekend, Eddie

    • The giant tortoises are really special creatures to have on this planet. The protection and expertise of the Charles Darwin Research Station in helping these vulnerable creatures to live has been a boon to all of us. I’m really glad you enjoyed the Galapagos, Eddie, and I consider it a real treat to receive your warm comment and visit. Thank you.

      • I looked up the tortoise you have in Florida, Eddie. The gopher tortoise is listed as Threatened. Another gentle creature under threat. Many thanks for introducing me to this species; I will be more keen to it now.

  4. Lovely writing… it’s a pleasure to join you on this adventure, and island hopping, Jet. Superb photography… really magnificent! Thank you for this exciting trip, wonderful, my friend! 😀

    • I really enjoyed putting this series together, Iris, and I appreciate your kind words and visit today. I’m lucky to have had so many incredible photos from this adventure to share, and am glad you enjoyed them.

    • I know you jest, Alastair, but I cannot tell you how many times I have thought about how great it would be to have you out there recording some of the wonderful sounds we hear. It’s real hot here in northern Calif. right now, 90s during the day, and not cooling much at night…and the sounds of the crickets, cicadas, and coyote actually keep me awake far more than I like, but what great sounds!

  5. wow! galapagos wildlife is truly a wonder, Jet. thank you for taking us to this almost unseen territories. awesome photography! the hissing sound of the giant tortoise and the beautiful red pouch of the male frigatebird are amazing. those lizards are huge! how close can you go near them?

    • I’m delighted you enjoyed the Galapagos series, Lola, thanks so much for your visit, and good question. We were always required to stay on the trail, beside the guide (Ecuador is fiercely protective of the wildlife, thank goodness), and keep a respectable distance from the wildlife, about ten feet or so. But sometimes the wildlife would just come close in, because they are not familiar with predators.

    • We saw the frigatebirds in the month of June, and it is my understanding that they are only on North Seymour Island. We built the entire trip around this purpose, and it was one of the most awesome nature scenes this birder has ever seen. I hope you can go, Eduardo. Many thanks for your visit.

  6. I want one of those Iguanas! I’m serious and kidding at the same time. What gorgeous creatures!
    I feel good knowing there are no hotels & you slept on boats. These islands should remain as didtant from man as possible. On another note, Jet, thank you for this beautiful experience. ⭐

    • A joy to see your comments, Resa, from both parts. Those iguanas are really really fun. Spikey and slow and strange; I agree, they are gorgeous creatures. I’m so happy I got to bring it to you, and appreciate your openness to the experience. 🙂

    • That golden sea lion photo went on our holiday card last year, that’s how much I like that one. It was the setting sun. Thanks, Jan, for your visit and comment–much appreciated.

  7. Superb photography and narrative. The Iguana is unlike anything I’ve ever seen and really captured my imagination. What a wonderful experience that must have been. Glad you shared!

    • The iguanas, the land and marine both, are truly incredible to be around. They are not skittish of humans, and are such big lizards. I happen to love lizards, so to see one that is so big, with all the spikes and scales magnified, was a real thrill. I’m glad you enjoyed the Galapagos post, Nick, and appreciate your kind words.

  8. I enjoyed the Magnificent Frigatebirds on the beaches of North Peru and border with Ecuador. They are masters in flight, I saw them fighting in the air for a fish and groups of them flying in circles very high they looked like Pterodactyls! Great post my friend! 🙂

    • The tropical coastlines are great, like in Peru, for watching frigatebirds. I never ever tire of it. They do have kleptoparasitism behavior, and are often stealing food from other birds; but that behavior, combined with their incredible flight, make them wonderful for observing. Thanks so much, HJ, for your contribution and warm words — always appreciated.

  9. Like I said last time, what a wonderful place – and the essential uninhabitableness (did I get that right?!) is likely what keeps it so. Such variety, all thrilling on land, in the air or at sea. Thanks for this, really enjoyed it!
    Have a great weekend!

    • What a pleasure to have you join me on the Galapagos, pc. Yes, the uninhabitableness (not really a word, blame Melville) has saved it from human overload. And fortunately there are humans, who continue to save the islands and the wildlife, who put up with the challenges of living and working there. I hope you are enjoying your weekend, and that the joy of summer continues to enlighten your days. It’s very hot here, in the high 90s every day, so on the weekend I can sit still and read and do crosswords, after getting my work all done in the morning. Cheers, and many thanks, as always.

    • We seek out the wildlife-rich places and save up our money, and it has turned out to be a rewarding experience. But, as you know Bill, there are SO many more places on this earth to explore. Never enough time. Glad to have shared the joys of the Galapagos with you, Bill — thanks so much for your visit.

  10. I guess that uninhabitableness is part of what makes them so special – we haven’t interfered too much with the wildlife that exists there. I loved my second trip to the Galapagos yet, with all its amazing wildlife.

    • There’s nothing like 600 miles of raging sea to keep out humans, at least for a time. Galapagos was frequented by voyagers and sailors in earlier centuries. Much of the wildlife, like the giant tortoises, were nearly wiped out. Tortoises were excellent food to have on board a ship; the seafaring men kept the animal alive until just before consumption, enjoying fresh meat. They would ravage the island and take all the tortoises in sight. Fortunately there were some big-thinking people in 1959 who made the islands a national park, this is what saved the unique wildlife. We are so lucky for this. A joy, Andrea, to receive your visit and comment…always a joy.

    • Cindy, I know you would like it very much. If you ever sign up for a trip, you are welcome to email me with questions anytime. Thanks for your visit, great to “see” you.

  11. I was so excited to see your post.
    “Goodie Goodie Part 2”!
    It did not disappoint. This is a real gift. 💝The combination of words and some brilliant photography make this such a special post Jet. Love the flamingo moving through the water feeding.

  12. Oh Jet my heart is aching a bit. As you know I loved the Galápagos Islands. So fortunate we’re we to have those four days seeing wildlife that still makes my jaw drop at the thought. Seeing Athena’s amazing photos I can’t help but yearn for the ones we didn’t get to see. I’m not sure we will ever go back so till then posts such as this one will fill in the missing pieces. Many thanks to both of you.

    • I’m smiling, Sue, because there is a yearning in me, too, to return to see these lovely and unusual animals…though, like you, I doubt we will ever return. So it is with pleasure that I could supply you with these photos and memories to savor. What an honor that is. Thanks so much, Sue–

  13. I loved the journey through the Galapagos Islands! The photos are stunning and I especially enjoyed reading about the differences between the islands. Thank you for sharing these amazing animals and this very special place.

    • My complete joy to share the Galapagos with you, ACI. It was surprising how different the islands were, I am glad you were able to see that in what I presented. I appreciate your visits and warm comments, always.

  14. Wonderful photos. So many extraordinary creatures to marvel at !
    Can I recommend a book called ” the beak of the finch” which is about modern scientists studying species diversification on the Galapagos. I think you would enjoy it when you get home.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the creatures of the Galapagos, Cathy. That book was on the GI recommended reading list, though I didn’t get to it, I appreciate the reminder to add it to my reading list now. Many thanks for your visit.

    • Yes, it was a great week filled with unusual animals and experiences. That I was seasick every single night was very fortunately overshadowed by the delightful days. You are a traveler, Joanne, you know how that goes. Many thanks, and cheers to travel!

  15. A bittersweet thank you for this beautiful post. I love love love the iguana. I say bittersweet because we were right THERE in Ecuador years back for our bamboo housing business but we were so focused on work that we did not pause long enough to take the obvious opportunity to go to the Galapagos island. We justified it to ourselves afterwards that we at least had not contributed to the human environmental impact… but every time since we see photographs we realize we made a mistake by not going.

    Thanks for the great post.


  16. This looks like a ridiculously good trip! You were surely blessed. You have several species from my wildlife bucket list here. Particularly the iguanas, booby and the frigate birds in full display. These are wonders of the world! Thanks for sharing another informative and inspiring article. The whole world is out there waiting for us right now. 🙂

    • Have fun on your fictional whaling adventure, Kana. Tui de Roy is a famous contemporary photographer who lived on the Galapagos as a child. She wrote and photographed a lovely Galapagos book in 1999 called “Spectacular Galapagos.” She’ll be a great help to you, too. Thanks for stopping by.

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