Your Complete Guide To Swimming With Sea Lions in the Galápagos

Sea lion underwater looking at camera. Learn more about the Galápagos sea lion with The Travel Yogi.

When it comes to swimming with wild animals, you’ve probably heard of paddling next to dolphins or diving with whale sharks. But what about sea lions? These creatures line the shores of the Galápagos Islands, and they love swimming with humans! Here’s why swimming with sea lions in the Galápagos is an absolute must.

Pop Quiz: What Are the Galápagos Islands?

The Galápagos Islands are a chain of volcanic islands 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. But they aren’t your typical island getaway: the islands are famous for thousands of animal, plant, and marine life species that can’t be found anywhere else in the world! (Talk about an animal lover’s paradise!)

Enter: The Galápagos Sea Lion

One of the quintessential animals you’ll experience in the Galápagos are sea lions. They are everywhere! As you stroll down the beach, you’ll see them swimming close to shore or lounging around like lazy spring breakers.

Lion or Seal?

Galápagos sea lions are often confused with the Galápagos fur seals. Fur seals are smaller in size with thicker fur, broader heads, and eyes and ears that bulge out more. With their thicker fur, you’re less likely to see fur seals splayed out on the beach.

What Makes the Galápagos Sea Lion So Special?

Here are five fun facts about Galápagos sea lions:

1. They Don’t Fear Humans

The only predators for Galápagos sea lions are sharks, killer whales, and dogs. So they actually don’t fear humans! You’ll see them not only on the beach but on park benches, passed out under the shade, and even waddling down the street. Visitors carry an extra special duty to treat these animals with care and respect (including giving them space!).

2. Males and Females Hang Out Separately

Because male sea lions compete to mate, the males and females hang out separately except for the one dominant male that lives with the females. (The other males hang out in “bachelor colonies”…ha) Being king is no easy task, however. The dominant bull will spend most of its energy patrolling the area against threats and other bulls. The work is so exhausting that he will only hold the position for up to three months before another bull fights him and takes over.

3. You’ll Swim With the Pups…

When you go swimming with sea lions, you’ll most likely be swimming with the pups. This is because the mothers are usually exhaustedly snoozing on the sand while the pups spend all their youthful energy swimming and playing in shallow water, still too young for the duties of hunting or fighting for territory. They are quite inquisitive creatures, so be prepared for one to come right up to you in the water for a closer look!

Did you know?

Sea lions can stay underwater for over 10 minutes!

4. …And Sunbathe With the Females

The bachelor colonies tend to hang out on rocky cliffs or farther inland, while the females hang out on the beach so their pups have easy access to shallow waters. It’s easy to tell the males and females apart: Males weigh up to four times more, have darker fur, and have a prominent bump on their forehead.

5. They Gallop

Unlike seals, sea lions can use their hind legs to walk and even gallop across rocky terrain faster than a running human!

Why Galápagos Sea Lions Are Endangered

Even though there are 20,000 to 50,000 sea lions on the islands, they are an endangered species. Rising sea temperatures affect nutrient levels in the ocean that in turn reduces the number of fish available for sea lions to eat. 

Many sea lions also die from consuming plastics in the ocean, which they mistake for squid. Because the species is endemic (which is just a fancy word meaning you can’t find them anywhere else in the world), slight adjustments to their ecology have vast consequences on their already-small population.

Before you go swimming with sea lions, remember: you are entering a fragile, one-of-a-kind ecosystem that has operated according to its own rules for thousands of years. Animals are oblivious to humans and thus completely vulnerable to thoughtless behavior.

Dos and Don’ts When You’re Swimming With Sea Lions

Ethical animal tourism has never been more crucial than with these furry little friends. By simply following the Galápagos park rules, you can help preserve this priceless ecological marvel! Here are some key tips:

1. DO: Keep Your Distance

As tempting as it is to want to pet a sea lion, it’s important never to touch them. Even if they approach you, you should stay at least six feet away. This is for two reasons: 

  1. If a sea lion pup smells like a human, the mother will reject the pup, leaving it defenseless
  2. Despite being friendly to humans, sea lions are still wild animals and thus unpredictable

Remember: the only reason Galápagos animals don’t fear humans is that they’ve never had to. Let’s keep it that way!

2. DO: Dive and Spin In the Water

Sea lions looooooooovvvveeee spinning and playing in the water and will be inspired to join anyone who’s doing the same! There’s nothing more exhilarating than when a group of these little guys approaches you of their own free will. (So practice those twirls!)

3. No, Seriously—DON’T: Feed the Animals!

These aren’t just squirrels in the park! As we’ve mentioned, Galápagos sea lions are a very special species that is sensitive to outside influence. Feeding them human food is not only bad for their health but will impact how they interact with humans.

4. DO: Be a Good Visitor

Some other important things to remember when swimming with sea lions in the Galápagos: The islands are plastic-free (so leave your Nalgenes at home!). Don’t take or buy anything made from natural substances (i.e. black coral, shells, lava rock, sea lion teeth (or other animal parts), or any native plant). And in general, it’s always good practice to “leave-no-trace.”

The Sea Lions Await!

Join The Travel Yogi on our Galápagos Adventure! Besides swimming with sea lions, you’ll also visit a tortoise sanctuary and enjoy penguins, sharks, marine iguanas, and blue-footed boobies—all in their natural habitat! Get ready to snorkel with diverse sea life and kayak secluded bays. On top of it all, book-end your days with yoga in a private open-air yoga studio with Pacific views. Book your adventure.