Species Overview

The Cromwell current’s upwelling in the western waters of Galapagos draws in many residents and transient species of cetaceans, particularly in the region between Isabela and Fernandina islands.

Types of cetaceans can be distinguished by their mode of feeding; typically classifying them into baleen whales (filter feeders) and toothed whales (hunt and eat). There are 24 different species of cetacean that have been recorded within the Galapagos Marine Reserve, many being perennial (all-year-round) inhabitants, with a select few, namely blue whales and humpback whale, paying seasonal visits through Galapagos waters. Three species of dolphin, bottlenose, spinner and common dolphins, while not native to the Archipelago, pay frequent visits to these islands and are the most commonly seen cetacean in Galapagos.

Dolphin pod – © Simon Pierce

In Galapagos:

Where to see them:

Whales are most commonly found in the western waters, especially between Isabela and Fernandina islands. Humpbacks and dolphins take the lead in the frequency of sightings, particularly the bottlenose dolphin due to its large pod size, wide geographical range across the Islands and playful desire to swim alongside boats.

Humpback whale – © Sophie Stanek

When to see them:

Migratory whales, such as minkies, humpbacks, seis and blue whales, are most commonly seen during the cooler months from July to October when they head south to warmer waters; however, dolphins are often spotted throughout the year. Resident orcas, bryde and sperm whales are also regularly seen perennially. However, whether migratory or resident, sightings can depend on the nature of the species, for example, sperm whale sightings are rarer due to frequently making long, deep dives to feed, whereas humpbacks breach often.

Orca – © Clinton Richardson

Threats:

During the eighteenth century, prior to the Galapagos Marine Reserve certification, whaling was the primary threat to cetaceans surrounding the Archipelago. Thankfully, this is no longer a concern in these waters and instead, whales and dolphins face other perils, such as natural El Niño Southern Oscillation cycles, increasing water temperatures and reducing food availability, but also anthropogenic pressures. Plastics and fishing nets in the oceans resulting in the death of many marine mammals due to becoming trapped or mistakenly confusing it for food. Scientific evidence is also exposing the risks of plastic breakdown into microplastics, as this is permanent contamination to their immediate environment and consequently can enter their body tissue and bloodstream.

Orca – © Daniel-Romagosa

Conservation action:

Please help us continue to protect the Galapagos marine wildlife by donating to our Plastic Pollution Free Programme and marine projects such as our Endangered Sharks of Galapagos Programme!