A vast part of the underwater world of the Galapagos Islands are colorful, ballooning clouds of schools of tropical fish thousands strong, darting hither and fro in unison. Many of the real-life counterparts of favorite characters from Pixar and Disney movies are found here like Dori(surgeonfish) and Nemo (pufferfish) from Finding Nemo, and Oscar (wrasse) and Lola (lionfish) from A Shark’s Tale.
One of the lowest members of the marine food chain-tropical reef fish has many predators including rays, sharks, turtles, and penguins. Far from the largest aquariums around the world, the tropical fish of the Galapagos live in a fragile eco-system that is an unspoiled connection to nature, ignored as much as it is protected in the world’s oceans.
A close relative of the yellow-tailed surgeonfish and almost identical in coloring, the razor surgeonfish is spotted brown with a bright yellow tail. On the upper edge of the tail is a spine that acts as a blade when extended to defend themselves against predators.
In the Galapagos, they are found at many sites, including San Cristobal Island, in schools around shallow waters and lagoons.
Found in crevasses around reefs and in shallow caves and cracks of volcanic underwater walls, Yellow Tangs are the only completely yellow reef fish in the Galapagos waters.
The small, disk-like fish are herbivorous, eating filamentous algae along the reefs of the islands, and from the shells of sea turtles and other, larger marine creatures. They are territorial and spawn according to the lunar calendar. Two places that they are sometimes seen are off the shores of Santa Cruz, Darwin, and Wolf Islands.
Bright orange with a white band around its head and black outlines on the tips of the fins, the clownfish is one of the more recognizable fish beneath the Galapagos sea. True to their name, the small, agile fish dart back and forth, coming close to snorkelers and divers in curious forays from their positions in the nooks and crannies of reefs and volcanic rock. Clownfish feed on plankton and algae are found in shallow waters around reefs all over the islands in small teams of two or three.
Seen close to the surface from boats and on the sandy, flat bottoms of shallow lagoons, the slow-moving and clumsy concentric pufferfish is one of the most unique in the ocean. Instead of out-running predators, the reef fish swallows large amounts of water and inflates its elastic stomach, growing in size to a ball that won’t fit into most pursuer’s mouths.
Another unique habit of a species of pufferfish in other parts of the ocean is a courtship ritual. Males spend up to five weeks making elaborate, circular designs are the sandy ocean floor. Once finished, the female swims to the middle of the maze to signal approval.
Concentric pufferfish feed on algae and plankton and are aptly named for their leisurely swimming patterns near the surface of the water.
The lionfish is an invasive species in the Galapagos waters, having immigrated from the Indo-Pacific oceans to the Atlantic, and tropical Pacific seas.
The canorous fish is tribally adorned with tentacles protruding from above and below their mouths, and brown, maroon, and white stripes circling their body in vertical rows from head to tail. Their fins resemble Japanese fans, and long spines along their back deliver a toxic sting to those who dare to get close enough.
They are vivacious hunters, feeding on shrimp, reef fish, and crabs by ambushing them from hiding places in volcanic rocks and fingers of coral reef. Lionfish can expand their stomachs up to thirty times its normal volume, eating until bloated after the food runs out.
Cortez Rainbow Wrasse
The Cortez rainbow wrasse is one of the marine cleaners of the Galapagos. Found around coral reefs, on wall dives, and around diving sites where sharks, rays, sea turtles, and larger fish gather. As juveniles, they have yellow, black, and red horizontal stripes-the older the fish, the more pronounced the black stripe is, and the yellow stripe is more diminished.
Regal in both demeanor and coloring, the King angelfish is the only one of its species to swim in the waters of the Galapagos Islands.
The distinct fish has a blue body with a white stripe behind the head. Towards the bright orange tail the blue fades to green through a series of polka-dotted scales. King angelfish are often spotted in shallow waters hiding in reefs and are easy to startle when snorkeling.
Yellow trumpetfish have a long slender body, found along shallow reefs feeding on smaller fish that were unlucky enough to pass by their hiding places. They also are known to swim alongside larger marine creatures for camouflage, waiting to ambush nearby schools of reef fish in an instant.
Galapagos red-lipped batfish
Found in the flat sandy bottoms of bays and coves including Pirates Cove on Isabela Island, the Galapagos Red-Lipped Batfish is endemic to the islands, and on many divers and snorkeler’s checklist of things to see.
Light brown and grey with a white stomach, the troll-like creature has comical lipstick red lips, accentuated by dark spots along its back.
The hieroglyphic hawkfish is so named because of the elaborate designs that cover its body-colored to match that of the surrounding coral where they are often found during dive and snorkeling trips. The Greyish brown carnivore has bands of golden brown markings that resemble coral, etched in black and fading into blue outlines.