Cool Galapagos Fish to Spot While Snorkeling

Table of Contents

While there is an abundance of wildlife to see on the Galapagos Islands, there is a second, colorful world to discover just beneath the water. Here is a look at a small subset of the hundreds of different Galapagos Fish species to discover on these enchanting islands.

Sergeant Major

Sergeant Major Fish.
Find This Beautiful Blue-Striped Fish In Galapagos.

These silvery damselfish with dark military stripes and yellow fins like to aggregate in large groups. Find them along the edges of reefs toward open water. They are one of the main cleaner fish for green sea turtles.

King Angelfish

King Angel Fish In Galapagos
The Vibrant Colors Of King Angel Fish.

These beautiful Galapagos fish shimmer from blue to brown based on the light, with bright yellow and peach fins and a long white spot behind the gill. They live in monogamous pairs and have been known to act as cleaner fish for sharks.

Hieroglyphic Hawkfish

Hieroglyphic Hawkfish.
Spectacular And Rare Hieroglyphic Hawkfish.

This large olive Galapagos fish has beautiful orange spots ringed in bright blue, which makes it easy to spot. They are known for being very social toward divers and snorkelers and for being “camouflaged” in very obvious locations.

Yellowtail Surgeonfish

Yellow Tail Surgeon Swimming In Galapagos.
Yellow Tail Surgeon Is One Of The Galapagos’ Unique Fish Species.

This is one of the more dramatic and unusual-looking fish species. They are a medium gray with black speckles throughout and a vivid, neon yellow tail. They like to school along rocky reefs.

Mexican Hogfish

This bright, rainbow-colored wrasse has two very different life stages that look like different fish species. They have an interesting life history that lets them start life as male and become female as they age. They are shellfish and crustacean eaters.

Streamer Hog Fish.
Streamer Hog Fish Showing Off Its Bright Colors.

Marble Ray

These solitary and bottom dwelling rays are known for having very close encounters with snorkelers and divers. Unlike their cousins the manta rays, they eat small crustaceans and mollusks usually buried in sandy bottoms. Sometimes you find them actively moving along small wave breakers as the sand becomes stirred up and frees certain food items.

Marble Ray Underwater.
Marble Ray In Galapagos Upwellings.

White-tip Reef Shark

This is one of the most common shark species you are likely to find. They are mostly nocturnal feeders, and during daytime you find them either freely swimming in small groups or resting within sandy bottoms. Other species of sharks to be seen include black-tip reef sharks, scalloped hammerheads, Galapagos sharks, and the uncommon Port Jackson shark out in the western islands.

White Tip Reef Shark.
Don’T Miss The Opportunity To Spot A White Tip Reef Shark.

Manta Ray

This largest of all the ray species is a filter feeder and eats plankton like whales do. Full-sized mantas can be 23 feet long from wingtip to wingtip. They actually breach, or jump from the water, like whales.

Blue-chin Parrotfish

These green-turquoise-pink coral-eaters are known for having a powerful lip and mouth structure which grinds up coral very efficiently. They are the most common parrotfish seen throughout the islands and come in two morphotypes due to sequential hermaphroditism, where all individuals are born yellow and light brown, while super males develop the turquoise colors.

Blue-Chin Parrotfish
Colorful Blue-Chin Parrotfish.

Pacific Seahorse

These adorable and charismatic Galapagos fish can be difficult to find, but they are populous in waters around the Galapagos from 2 to 30 feet deep. Look for them to be hiding around brown algae and black corals with their tails coiled to hold on to their camouflage materials. While female seahorses lay eggs, the males are the ones who then keep them in their belly for protection until they hatch.

Concentric Pufferfish

This family of fish has one of the most unique defense mechanisms in the ocean. Their scales resemble modified porcupine quills that normally lay flat to allow them to swim efficiently through the water. When they are frightened, they will “puff” into a sphere, which makes them hard to swallow both in size and with spines pointing in every direction. It is unlikely you will get to see them “puff” without scaring them unnecessarily, but they can be fun to see in any stage. Look for them around flat-bottomed areas.

Tiny Pufferfish Spotted.

Cortez Rainbow Wrasse

This tiny cleaner Galapagos fish can be spectacular to see. It is long and black with rainbow iridescent pinstriping along its sides. These wrasses will congregate around cleaning station areas at edges and drop-offs, waiting to eat algae and other growths from the gills of large fish.

Zebra Moray Eel

The moray eel is one of the most well-known reef fish that snorkelers can find. The zebra moray’s black and white striping is very similar to a zebra-stripe pattern and can be incredibly striking when seen. It is rare to find a moray completely out of their hidey-hole, so you are more likely to just see a face.

Scalloped Hammerhead

You will find these distinct sharks swimming in open ocean just along reef edges with drop-offs and walls. Their heads are known for having wide, rectangular structures with one eye and one nostril at the tip of each side. During breeding seasons, you can see them school in numbers up to a thousand at a time and swimming around some of the underwater structures in the area.

Orange-Sided Triggerfish

Also known as the yellow-bellied triggerfish, this reef species has a bony dorsal spine that cocks upward like a trigger when it is threatened. It can also be used to wedge itself into a rocky crevice to prevent predators from pulling it out. During nesting season, they can be easily seen in the open.
Blog Reviewed by: Francisco Dousdebés
Image Credits: Francisco Dousdebés

Do you want to see these beautiful species up-close?  Click below and jump into the Galapagos waters!

Updated:June 19, 2023

Published:August 23, 2016


Machu Picchu & Galapagos Islands Tour 2024 Package: 12 days / Quito, Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu / From USD 9,598 per person