I am sure most of us imagine the Galapagos Islands as a huge national park, full of natural wonders and wild animals. We forget that people actually live and work on many of the major islands.

A perfect example of everyday life takes place in Puerto Ayora on the island Santa Cruz. Every afternoon, local fisherman bring their catch to the outdoor fish market. Furthermore, everyone from soldiers at the nearby military base to restaurant owners to service staff come to buy their dinner.

However, this market is not just for locals. It has taken on a touristy feel. You’ll notice a few tourists in my photos as well. Like myself, they were snapping away at the unique wildlife opportunity. 

Tourist Snaps Photo of Fish Scrap Chaos | ©Angela Drake

Guide Tips Fund Feeding Frenzy

We learned that tour guides actually pay the fishmongers to allow the local wildlife to beg for food. While this makes for some great photo opportunities, of which I obviously took advantage, it worries me as well. Wild animals should not be encouraged to live off the trash that humans make.

Still, in a community where tourist dollars are very much needed for basic survival, this seems a minor concern. Folks that live on the Galapagos Islands earn very little. Worse, the cost of living is very expensive. Making an extra daily dollar or two for a few tourist photos can make a huge difference at the end of the month. 

The best chance of getting some fish guts is immediately in the front row | ©Angela Drake

Therefore, the practice continues to this day. Fishermen deliver their catch, fishmongers filet the fish, wildlife gorge on guts and fishheads.

As we watched the mele take place, it was interesting to watch the tourists happily taking photos. It can be tough to get close-ups of seals and birds, even in the wildlife-rich Galapagos. This spot was a boon for tourists who don’t own long lenses or have limited ability to afford trips that take them out closer to the animals.

Locals wait to be served at this Galapagos Fish Market in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, Ecuador | ©Angela Drake

Sea Lion and Pelicans Unite

Pelicans were by far the most numerous beggars at the butchering station. They lined up like patient puppy dogs hoping that the fishmonger will toss a scrap back over his shoulder. We noticed that the pelican with the longest neck and the gutsiest moves tends to get the most scraps. Survival of the fittest?

It isn’t just pelicans that hope for scraps. A lone sea lion waited patiently for his turn for a morsel of tasty tuna. 

At the end of the day, it was hard to say who was happiest, the tourists with their photos, the fishmongers with their profits, or the animals with their full stomachs.

Survival of the Fittest unlike Darwin imagined | ©Angela Drake