The Galapagos Islands are world-renowned for their biodiversity and astounding endemic species. And, below the water, this archipelago offers yet another mind-blowing wildlife experience – exhilarating shark encounters. Not only do these islands fall within the infamous Hammerhead Triangle, they also lie at the centre of multiple converging currents, attracting all kinds of sought-after shark species, including silky sharks, tiger sharks, and seasonal whale shark encounters.

In this article, we'll introduce you to the types of sharks in the Galapagos and tip you off to when and where to find them. We'll also share our pro tips for getting up close with these powerful pelagics. Keep reading for all the info!

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Scalloped hammerhead sharks

Hammerhead sharks gather by the hundreds in the Galapagos Islands
Hammerhead sharks gather by the hundreds in the Galapagos Islands

This is the Galapagos Islands easiest to identify shark, thanks to its unique "hammer" shaped head and oversized dorsal fin. But, from a distance, they might be hard to spot as large schools are normally first seen as a group of white smudges out in the blue. As you get closer you’ll realise it is the sharks' exposed white bellies flashing as they swim briefly on their sides. Scalloped hammerheads are among the species most sought after by divers, but they're shy, so you will have to be patient. Dive well off the wall and early in the morning for a chance to catch them schooling en masse, sometimes by the hundreds! Just remember, this species is easily startled, so avoid tank bangers and other loud sounds underwater.

  • Top dive sites – Darwin Island, Wolf Island, Cabo Marshall 
  • Seasons – Between December and May for the largest schools
  • Pro tips – To spot large schools, you'll have to get out in the blue where they gather and avoid disturbing them as they swim past
  • Conservation Status – Critically endangered

Galapagos shark

Named after the archipelago, Galapagos sharks are a common sight
Named after the archipelago, Galapagos sharks are a common sight

You're most likely to spot Galapagos sharks prowling seamounts and patrolling the edges of the islands’ rocky reefs, cruising for an easy meal. This species boasts a distinctly "sharky" silhouette, with dark grey skin, as well as a taller dorsal fin and larger, more protruding teeth than similar species such as grey reef sharks and duskies. They also have a longer, more muscular body, ideal for their long-distance migrations. Curious and outgoing, Galapagos sharks will often swim right up to groups of divers, completely undisturbed by their bubbles and excited gestures. During their mating season, you might notice deep scars and rake marks on the backs of some Galapagos sharks – these are females, and those rakes aren’t battle scars – they’re part of this species’ courtship ritual. 

  • Top dive sites – Roca Redonda, Darwin Island, Wolf Island 
  • Seasons – Between January through March for mating season
  • Pro tips – If you're patient, this shark will come straight to you for a photo – remember to focus your camera on the eye 
  • Conservation Status – Least concern 

Whale shark

Whale shark image taken by Galapagos Shark Diving expeditions
Whale shark image taken by Galapagos Shark Diving expeditions

If diving alongside whale sharks in the Galapagos isn't on your bucket list, you might not be a diver. This is one of the archipelago's most legendary experiences, with incredible encounters considered common during peak season. These giant filter feeders slowly cruise past in the current, searching for their favourite meal – blooming plankton – and despite their massive size, they pose no threat to scuba divers or snorkelers. In fact, they don’t even have teeth! While very little is known about this species' movements and lifecycle, scientists do have a hunch that the Galapagos Archipelago is a destination for whale shark reproduction. Large, pregnant females are common in the region, as seen nowhere else in the world! 

  • Top dive sites – Darwin Island, Wolf Island 
  • Seasons – June through November with a peak during August and September
  • Pro tips – Assist whale shark research by uploading your photos to the Wildbook where individuals are identified by their unique markings
  • Conservation Status – Endangered

Tiger shark

Tiger shark sightings are possible, but you'll need a bit of luck
Tiger shark sightings are possible, but you'll need a bit of luck

Topping out at an enormous five metres in length, this is one of the Galapagos Islands’ largest and least often observed species. Tiger sharks spend most of their solitary lives cruising the open ocean, occasionally stopping at isolated reefs to hunt and visit cleaning stations. These are bold and curious apex predators that don't mind coming close to a group of divers. But they won't stick around for long, so it's essential to have your camera ready! The older a shark you spot, the less distinctive its tiger stripes will be, with juveniles sporting an unmistakable pattern of vertical lines and blotches. These markings help camouflage the shark, blending into the reef below when viewed from the top or side.

  • Top dive sites – Punta Carrion, Punta Vincente Roca, Roca Redonda
  • Seasons – Because they are highly nomadic, these sharks have no peak season
  • Pro tips – You're far more likely to spot a tiger shark at a cleaning station than out in the blue
  • Conservation Status – Near threatened

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Silky shark

Silkie sharks are year-round visitors the the Galapagos' best dive sites
Silkie sharks are year-round visitors the the Galapagos' best dive sites

This pelagic species is sleek, fast-moving, and curious – making it a favourite among divers in the Galapagos. Silkies also display ship-following behaviour, likely related to their tendency to stalk massive schools of baitfish. For divers, this often means a view from the surface as sharks circle the dive boat and a stunning descent onto sites surrounded by these graceful predators. You're also likely to spot silkies stalking the edges of bait balls and shoals of bonito. The sharks may seem uninterested, but they are always on the lookout for an easy meal and can strike into the school at any moment.

  • Top dive sites – Darwin Island, Wolf Island, Roca Redonda
  • Seasons – Silkies can be spotted year-round in this region
  • Pro tips – Silky sharks spend much of their time close to the surface, so keep an eye out for them while snorkelling 
  • Conservation Status – Vulnerable to extinction

Blacktip and whitetip reef

In the Galapagos, whitetip reef sharks are often seen resting on the seafloor
In the Galapagos, whitetip reef sharks are often seen resting on the seafloor

While the two species look distinctly different, these are both reef sharks. The blacktip is often seen free-swimming alone in the shallows, calmly patrolling at the reef's edge. Whitetips, on the other hand, spend the bulk of their time relaxing on the seafloor or in caverns and outcroppings, aerating their gills. Sometimes they're even seen "snuggling" in groups, waiting for dark when they'll scour the reef, hunting in cooperation. Both species are relatively small and can be shy – bolting if curious divers come too close. As these sharks prefer shallow water, keep an eye out during descent, along reeftops, and at your safety stop. 

  • Top dive sites – Cabo Marshall, Punta Carrion, Wolf Island
  • Seasons – Both species can be spotted here all year round
  • Pro tips – These species are most active early in the morning and close to dusk when the light is perfect for hunting
  • Conservation Status – Near threatened to endangered  

Dusky shark

Dusky sharks are also found in the Galapagos, but are a relatively shy species
Dusky sharks are also found in the Galapagos, but are a relatively shy species

Often confused with the Galapagos shark and grey reef shark based on its appearance, this is a large, solitary predator built for life in the open ocean. Dusky sharks have long, slender bodies ideal for their long annual migrations between equatorial archipelagos, like the Galapagos, and other tropical and sub-tropical islands north and south of the equator. And, all that muscle makes them one of the islands’ top predators, stalking the reef's edge and on the seafloor, always in search of easy targets. Despite its size, this species is relatively aloof, cautiously observing divers from a safe distance, making it a challenge to photograph. 

  • Top dive sites – Roca Redonda, Darwin Island, Wolf Island
  • Seasons – Sightings peak between November and February
  • Pro tips – This shark's pectoral fins start closer to its snout than the dorsal fin, making it easier to tell from a Galapagos shark 
  • Conservation Status – Vulnerable to extinction

Honorary mention: Galapagos bullhead

This adorable speckled bottom-dweller uses suction, much like a nurse shark, to consume its favourite meal – shellfish. The Galapagos bullhead is actually one of the region's most mysterious species, with very little known about its home range, life cycle, or population. So, if you spot one of these, consider yourself lucky, as encounters are exceedingly rare! Galapagos bullheads are most frequently found relaxing on the bottom while aerating their gills, taking shelter in caverns and overhangs, or free swimming at the reef's edge just before dusk. During night dives, watch for the tiny flash of their eyes reflecting your torch as they scour the reef for molluscs and small crustaceans. If you see one of these sharks, approach slowly. They are easily startled.

  • Top dive sites – Punta Vicente Roca, San Cristobal, Cabo Marshall
  • Seasons – Encounters are so rare that no peak season has been discovered
  • Pro tips – This nocturnal species is most frequently seen just before dusk and during night dives
  • Conservation Status – Data deficient

A Diver's Guide to Sharks

Everything you need to know about these wonderful creatures in a FREE 50 page guide. Read online or download today!

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