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Rays and Sharks

Rays and sharks are both types of cartilaginous fish.

Rays and Sharks

There are several varieties to be seen in the Galapagos Islands, the main ones are highlighted below.

Rays are distinguished by their flat shape and use graceful, undulating movements to move through the water. They are harmless to man, unless you happen to step on a stingray, which has a defensive sting in the base of its tail.  There are several species of rays in the Galapagos Islands, which vary considerably in size.

Manta Rays

The largest is the manta ray, reaching up to 7 metres measured across their ‘wings’, though 3 metres is usual. They are dark on top and white below and have long, thin tails. They have enormous mouths which they use to scoop up the plankton on which they feed. They feed near the surface and sometimes jump out of the water landing with a loud slap, possibly trying to get rid of parasites.

Spotted Eagle Rays

The spotted eagle ray is dark with white spots and is sometimes called the leopard ray. They are usually about 1 metre across but can reach twice that size. They have pointed heads and thin tails with spines and are often found in mangrove lagoons.

Golden Rays

Golden rays are small, about 75 centimetres from wing tip to wing tip. Yellow in colour, as their name suggests, they are often found in large schools. They have blunt heads and strong tails.


Arguably the best known ray, stingrays dwell on the ocean floor and spend most of their time out of sight waiting for prey to swim past. They are strong swimmers and can reach considerable speeds in pursuit of prey. You can see them on the sea floor in some shallow snorkelling sites. There are different types of stingray including the marbled ray and the diamond stingray.

Most of the sharks in the islands are harmless to man but you should avoid swimming where there is any fish blood or where sea birds are feeding en mass, as they can attract hungry sharks.

Whale Sharks

Whale sharks grow up to 18 metres in length and are the largest fish in the world. They are gentle giants, feeding on plankton. They are grey with yellow-ish spots.  They have to use their whole body to move through the water and manage an average speed of just 5kms per hour. Whale sharks are most often seen on diving trips in open water near Darwin and Wolf islands.

Galapagos sharks are small, up to 2 metres, and narrow, with colours ranging from brown to grey. They are carnivores, even preying on other sharks, and can swim down to depths of 100 metres. Snorkellers are unlikely to see them but divers should beware of them.

White-tipped Reef Sharks

White-tipped reef sharks are the most common sharks in the Galapagos and are often found in caves and near reefs. They are usually about 1.6 metres in length and are generally harmless and are nocturnal feeders.

Black-tipped Sharks

Black-tipped sharks have black tips on all their fins and are grey in colour, they grow up to about 2.5 metres and are seen near reefs alone and in small groups. They usually swim away when they encounter humans. Young sharks are often seen on Bartolome’s south beach.