Galapagos Rays are often a top highlight for snorkelers and divers at the Galapagos islands. The protected Galapagos marine reserve is home to a great diversity of ray species. They can often be encountered very closeup, and in large schools. These elegant creatures of the deep glide gracefully along the ocean floor, as if flying in slow motion with gently flapping fins. So be sure to pack your underwater camera for some spectacular snaps and videos!
Read on for everything you need to know about Galapagos rays. Where and when to find them? What kind of Rays are found in the Galapagos?
Rays are closely related to sharks, with a skeleton formed of cartilage rather than bone. Like sharks, rays can detect electrical currents from other animals when they move. This helps them to find prey and avoid predators.
Rays have flat, circular bodies and a long tail that in some species can cause a deadly sting. They swim in an unusual flapping motion, rising their fins up and down, almost as if flying through the water.
What do rays eat? Most rays, like stingrays, golden and spotted eagle rays are carnivores. Some species feed by directly hunting on molluscs, worms, small fish, squid and octopus. Other species, like the Manta ray, are filter feeders. They gulp mouth fulls of sea water and sieve out tiny krill and plankton.
Want to do something really amazing on your Galapagos vacation? Getting upclose to beautiful rays is a truly unforgettable experience!
The best way to do this is on a Galapagos dive tour. Day dives sites around Santa cruz island have common ray sightings. But a live-aboard Galapagos dive cruise like the Galapagos Sky yacht takes it to a whole new level. Cruises visit renowned Darwin and Wolf islands to the north-west of the archipelago, to see huge Manta rays, as well as Whale sharks and Hammerheads.
Rays can also be spotted while snorkeling at Galapagos. Regular cruise itineraries or Galapagos land tours offer daily snorkeling at different sites. Snorkel gear is either included or rented for a small additional fee. Check out our Galapagos Snorkeling blog for out top recommended snorkeling sites.
Galapagos rays are very peaceful animals. Of course humans need to respect their space, and keep a safe distance. But these beautiful creatures are not dangerous if treated with appropriate respect.
For non-swimmers, sometimes Galapagos rays can even be observed from a boat or pier. If the waters are clear and shallow then they can be spotted on the sea bed.
Most ray species are present year round in Galapagos waters. They are are easiest to spot between December and May, when water temperatures are warmer and ocean visibility is clear.
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In total 15 different species of rays can be found at the Galapagos islands. Many of them are globally listed as Near Threatened, but within the waters of the Marine Reserve they are safely protected. Keep reading to learn about the 4 most commonly sighted Galapagos ray species.
Manta Rays are the largest and most imposing of the ray species. Seeing one of these giants upclose underwater is awe-inspiring. They rise from the depths with mouth wide open in a scene out of a deep-sea thriller movie. Snorkeling with Manta rays in the Galapagos islands definitely makes a big tick for your bucket list!
Mantas are also the holy grail of Galapagos ray sightings. Everyone wants to see them, especially when feeding, but they can be quite elusive. Patience and luck can be required in equal doses.
Manta rays are constantly moving around the Galapagos islands. Some of the more likely places to spot them when snorkeling include: North Seymour, Santa Cruz, Tortuga Islet (Floreana), the channel between Santiago & Sombrero Chino. Recommended sites to dive with Manta rays are: Gordon Rocks, Daphne, Beagle Rocks, as well as Darwin & Wolf islands.
The enormous body of a Manta Ray can stretch to lengths of up to 23 feet, and reach weights over 600 pounds. Despite this bulk, they are speedy and agile swimmers. When in the mood they can reach speeds topping 22mph, or cruise at 9mph. To put that into perspective, their cruising speed is twice that of a professional olympic swimmer!
Manta Rays are filter feeders. They swim along with mouth wide open to fill up with water. They have special gill plates to sieve out plankton and krill in the deep, or fish larvae in shallow waters. Manta rays are also known as Devil Rays due to the two horns on their large head. The horns are in fact very practical, and used to shovel plankton into their huge mouths.
It is perhaps little surprise that some Galapagos visitors are at first afraid of Manta Rays. The sight of a huge Manta in full flow with mouth open wide is certainly impressive. In truth thought Manta rays are very peaceful creatures and pose no threat to humans. Their long tail is not poisonous, so they will not sting you.
You might have heard or read about the famous Galapagos flying (or jumping) rays. Is this an incredible new species? Actually no, they are regular Manta rays. This species is known for being rather acrobatic. They sometimes leap spectacularly out of the water to remove parasites from their bodies.
Manta Rays have played a role in folklore worldwide. The 18th-century Hawaiian creation chant, the Kumulipo, mentions them in the early pages. Centuries ago, sailors believed that the huge creatures had the strength to sink ships. Ancient Chinese medicine believes that different manta ray body parts have healing properties.
The Spotted Eagle Ray is one of the most attractive of the ray species found at Galapagos. Polka dot spots span the top half of their bodies, making them easy to identify. They are wonderfully photogenic creatures, gracefully flying like underwater eagles.
There is no one spot to guarantee Eagle ray sightings. Recommended snorkel or dive sites include: Española, Elizabeth Bay (Isabela), Black Turtle Cove, Daphne Minor, and North Seymour, as well as specialist dive sites such as Gorden Rocks & Cousins Rocks.
Spotted eagle rays prefer shallow coastal waters at Galapagos. They feed on on small fish, crabs, shrimps, octopus, squids, sea urchins, and mollusks. Eagle rays catch their prey by digging in soft sand with their long snout that resembles a duck’s bill. They then use sharp teeth to crush the shell.
Although smaller than the Manta Ray, an eagle ray’s impressive wingspan still reaches up to 10 feet. Lengthwise grow up to 16 feet from nose to tail.
Eagle rays are often most active during high tides. They like to travel in groups, matching each other’s speed and breaching the waters of the open sea in unison when chased.
Eagle rays are shy and peaceful creatures at heart, and usually keep their distance from humans. However they do have a venemous barb in their long tail. They only rarely use it in situations when they feel threatened. So it is important to respect their space, and not swim too close.
Golden Rays grace the waters of many Galapagos snorkeling sites. They are often seen gently swimming in shallow waters of quiet coves and mangrove lagoons. Keep your eyes because these curious creatures use their fantastic sandy colored camouflage to blend in effectively against the sea floor.
Best possible Golden Ray sightings are at: Los Tuneles (Isabela), Black Turtle Cove (Santa Cruz), Cormorant Point (Floreana) and Santiago Island.
They tend to be in the greatest numbers when the waters of the Galapagos are warmer, in the early month of the year. They appear in large numbers in the open sea before their migration north.
Golden Rays are are named for the brilliant gold coloring on the topside of their body. They are considerably smaller than Eagle and Manta rays. This species has a wingspan of between 2 to 3 feet.
The famous Stingray is feared for it's venemous whiplash tail. But in truth they are usually docile and inquisitive creatures, and is an interesting ray species to come across.
Best possible sightings at: Tortuga Bay Beach (Santa Cruz), Cormorant Point and Post Office Bay (Floreana), as well as at specialist dive sites such as Gordon Rocks & Pinnacle Rock (Bartholome Island).
Stingrays are grey in color with large wingspan up to to 8 feet. They are bottom dwellers that lies in wait for its prey hidden in the shallow sands of the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Much of their time is spent buried under the sand with just eyes peeping out of the surface. For this reason it can be quite difficult to spot them.
Stingrays hunt at night. They feed mostly on small bony fish and molluscs, extracted from the sand by sucking or digging them out.
Diamond and Marbled Stingrays get their name from the venemous spike on their tail. This is their self-defense mechanism, used against predators like sharks, or occasionally against humans if they feel threatened. They are usually a docile and curious species, so don’t be surprised if they swim up to you during a dive. As long as humans respect their space, stingrays are rarely aggressive or dangerous.
In conclusion, a close encounter with Galapagos rays is a magical experience. They are common at many Galapagos snorkel and dive sites, and are often curious and inquisitive with humans. They are among the most graceful creatures of the deep, so embrace the moment. Happy snorkelling & diving!