13 Amazing Wildlife Encounters in the Ocean from Different Parts of the World
Marine Life in Great Barrier Reef from Bundaberg, Australia
A great place to see marine life is on the Great Barrier Reef. We have visited many times from various points. Recently we visited the Southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef from Bundaberg.
We snorkeled in the coral reef off Lady Musgrave Island where we were surrounded by hundreds of colourful tropical fish. On board the glass bottom boat we saw 7 turtles, some people were even lucky enough to see the turtles whilst snorkeling.
On our way back on the boat to Bundaberg we had a wonderful experience where the boat was surrounded by 10 or so dolphins entertaining us as well as giant manta rays swimming by the boat.
Of course being out in the wild you can never guarantee to see wildlife, but when you do it is a magical experience.
– Melissa from Thrifty Family Travels
You can also check this post: Diving the Great Barrier
Dwarf Minke Whale in Sydney, Australia
To explore the wildlife of the open ocean, I took a Pelagics & Nature Watching tour with Sydney Pelagic Group. On a sunny autumn morning, we travelled 15 nautical miles east of Sydney to the Brown’s Mountain – an underwater mount that seats on the edge of the continental shelf.
Once we reached the site of the mountain, the captain turned off the engine and we drifted with the current spotting wildlife that was all around us. The magnificent Wandering Albatross soared just above the surface of the water, Australian fur seals lolled in the gentle swells and the bizarre Sunfish cruised along with its dorsal fin protruding out of the water like the sail of a small boat.
As we started making our way back, we spotted a large shape moving swiftly in our direction. The captain turned off the engine again, and when the animal came closer, we could see that it was Dwarf Minke whale.
It came right up to the boat and went on to swim in circles around it, lifting its beautiful head out of the water to get a better look at us. It seemed to be as taken up with us, as we were with it. And that is the beauty of a wildlife encounter when it happens on the animal’s terms. No doubt, if we were chasing the whale to have a look at it, it would’ve simply swam away.
-Margarita from The Wildlife Diaries
Whale Watching in Santa Barbara Channel, California
There’s something endlessly enticing about setting off for a far away land in search of epic wildlife. And no doubt, many of our most memorable encounters with marine life have been far from home – experiences like snorkeling with whale sharks in Mozambique or observing orcas hunting among icebergs in Antarctica. But some of our most memorable encounters have been in our own backyard. California’s Santa Barbara Channel is a vibrant marine ecosystem that hosts everything from blue whales to white sharks. During past trips into the channel, we’ve spotted a diverse array of marine life that includes humpback, fin, gray, and minke whales, basking sharks, sea lions, and harbor seals. It’s dolphins, however, that steal the show. The Santa Barbara Channel is brimming with dolphins. And when I say brimming I mean pods in the thousands (the largest pod we’ve spotted was estimated at over 2,200). For the nature lover it’s a lively, fast-paced, and immersive experience where it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of dolphins swimming past.
There are several options for exploring the channel. Whale watching trips ranging from three hours to full day excisions (depending on season) depart Ventura on a regular basis. Alternatively, taking the ferry to Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa or one of the other Channel Islands offers opportunities for not only wildlife viewing but hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, and camping as well. To learn more, check out Island Packers in Venture Harbor.
-Sheri from Wander Libre
Bull Sharks in Bat Islands, Costa Rica
Diving with sharks is an activity on many people’s bucket list, and there are countless places around the globe where you can get up close and personal with all kinds of species. Any diver will tell you that attacks by sharks on divers are extremely rare, and sharks are usually more scared of us than we are of them. Sharks don’t want to bite us, we are not on their menu and they don’t seek out the taste of humans. However, there are certain places around the world where sharks are being fed in an attempt to guarantee that divers will see them.
I went to Fiji a few years ago and heard you could dive with Bull Sharks. I was super excited, I have always been fascinated by sharks, and after seeing many reef sharks I wanted to see something bigger! I looked into doing a dive with Bull sharks, and quickly realised the dives were baited. It means you are almost guaranteed to see a Bull shark, but it’s also not natural, and actually not good for divers and sharks alike.
Why is feeding sharks bad practice? Sharks get a pretty bad rep, especially from the media. People remember Jaws and think every shark is out to kill them, but it’s just not true. Imagine these sharks that become used to seeing humans with buckets of meat everyday. They associate us with food, and this makes it more likely they will become aggressive towards us. Furthermore, it stops them from hunting naturally, and they become reliant on humans for their meals.
I never did do the dive with Bull sharks in Fiji. Years later, whilst in Costa Rica, I took a trip out to Bat Islands (Isla Murcielago), a protected Marine Park on the Pacific Coast. The waters are patrolled by wardens, and there are strict rules on feeding and interacting with the sharks. It means you wont be guaranteed a sighting, but it is nature and that is part of the excitement. The feeling of seeing a huge, wild Bull shark up close and personal, 30m under the ocean is like nothing else you will ever experience!
-Demi from Around the World with her
Manta ray in Komodo, Indonesia
Please find below my contribution on diving with manta ray in Komodo, Indonesia, and photo attached.
One of the aquatic ‘big five’ most divers would love to see on their travels is manta rays. I’m super lucky to have spotted them twice, in both the Similans in Thailand and Komodo in Indonesia. These majestic giants are most likely to be found gathering at feeding and cleaning stations before with one ‘flap’ of their ‘wings’ they disappear back into the blue.
As the currents tend to be quite strong around the areas where you’ll find manta rays, with the currents bringing the nutrients which they are coming to find you’ll likely have to kick a little to float within the areas they frequent. Although the easiest way to stay still would be to grab onto the rocks, this is strongly discouraged to ensure divers do not harm the delicate and beautiful corals, fines have also been put in place for divers using reef hooks to try and prevent any reef damage.
Watching these magnificent creatures glide effortlessly by around you is otherworldly. Sometimes they even come right up to you and play with the bubbles floating up to the surface from your regulator, it truly is an incredible experience.
-Laura from The Travelling Stomach
Sea Turtle in Malaysia
My family and I volunteered to assist sea turtle conservation on a Malaysian island last year. Pulau Tioman is off Peninsular Malaysia’s east coast, and although much of the island is still pristine, pollution and tourism have driven away two of the four species of sea turtles that used to nest there.
The Juara Turtle Project aims to protect the two remaining species that continue to return to Tioman island, by educating the public and locals about why it is so important, and by transferring eggs to their hatchery for careful monitoring and release of hatchlings. The Project accepts volunteers to help with most aspects of their work, and we spent a week talking to visitors, helping with daily tasks, and patrolling the beaches looking for evidence of nesting mothers.
During our week a new nest was discovered and brought to the hatchery, which was amazing to watch and learn about. And we were blessed to watch little hatchlings scurry to the water a few times as well!
It was wonderful to see all of the effort and research involved in a project such as this, and to learn about turtle conservation alongside our children. Now we all know first-hand about why it is so important to collect litter, not interfere with wildlife, and keep lights low on the beach at night. We understand that the stats for sea turtles are low and that not many of the hatchlings we saw will reach adulthood. But we also know how much hope people have, and how committed people are to changing the fate of our ocean’s creatures. We left inspired to do as much as we can to help them too.
-Emma Walmsley from Small Footprints, Big Adventures
Gray whale nurseries in Baja, Mexico
Visiting gray whale nurseries in Baja, Mexico is one of the most incredible ethical wildlife encounters in the world. Every winter thousands of gray whales migrate to the warm ocean lagoons of the Baja peninsula in Mexico to breed and give birth. There are three major gray whale nursery lagoons in Baja, and they are heavily protected by the Mexican government.
Only government licensed boats with trained and educated guides are allowed to enter the gray whale nursery lagoons. In order to visit the lagoons you will need to pre-reserve your spot on a boat, OR you can show up at the docks very early in the morning to try to book a seat.
Once you are in the boat be prepared for a life-changing encounter with the gentle gray whales. The mother whales often swim right up to the boats with their babies, occasionally rubbing the side of the boat with their heads! Since the lagoon is filled with thousands of whales, everywhere you look you will see whales jumping, spouting, and swimming. The guides are careful not to disturb the whales, and any whale encounters are due to the whales approaching the boat, not from the boat chasing the whales.
-Brittany from The Rolling Pack
Wild Dolphins in Mozambique
Swimming with wild dolphins is a magical experience. One of the best places to have a wild dolphin encounter is in Mozambique, in the Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve where this activity is highly regulated. There are only two authorized dolphin operators within the Ponta do Ouro region. These companies promote responsible marine mammal tourism and apply a strict NO-touching rule for any marine mammals or marine life encountered during a tour. Furthermore, before anyone can jump into the water with the dolphins, the guides carefully assess the dolphins’ behavior to search for signs of stress. If the dolphins are not in the mood for human visitors then no swimmers are allowed in the water and the activity is postponed.
We were very impressed not only by these high standards of ethics but also with the entire experience. The setting is wild and beautiful and seeing a huge pod of dolphins floating peacefully beneath us in crystal clear water is an experience we’ll never forget. Best of all, your money will be used for the study and conservation of this important marine reserve. Skip the captive dolphin swims and head to Mozambique where you can visit dolphins responsibly, on their own terms and in their natural environment.
-Cristina from Travel for Wildlife
Fur seals in Kaikoura, New Zealand
For marine wildlife, New Zealand’s best spot is Kaikoura, a small town on the South Island. The first encounter everyone visiting it should have is with the adorable fur seals. They are everywhere! I really mean everywhere: on the road, in the carpark, on the walkways, over the rocks, in the sea, on the sand, everywhere! If you’re patient and observant, you can see dolphins swimming in the sea too. They’re lovely and very active. Now, if you want to see whales, you’ll need to go on a boat and find them. Whale Watch Kaikoura is a great choice! There are even albatrosses flying around. Kaikoura is a wonderful place to encounter sea creatures. One of the best moments for us was to watch a fur seal pup swimming in the sea and coming toward us: at the carpark. The pups are utterly adorable, fearless, and super noisy.
-Thais from World Trip Diaries
Whale sharks in Donsol, Philippines
Donsol is famous for their unique and ethical Whale Shark encounters in the ocean. It’s one of the few places in the world where you’re able to swim alongside the world’s largest fish, the Whale Shark. Unlike other destinations in the Philippines like Cebu, the Whale sharks here are in their natural environment. Donsol bay is a hub for migrating Whale sharks, with hundreds flocking here each year.
Whale Sharks like to congregate around Donsol because of the high concentration of plankton and krill in the water. Thus making it a feeding ground for the breathtakingly beautiful whale sharks. Typically Whale Shark season is from November to May. During peak season you can swim with up to 20 wild whale sharks in an ethical manner. However, it’s all luck of the draw as these are wild animals therefore they can’t guarantee that you will see one on this expedition.
My husband and I came to Donsol at the end of May and were lucky enough to see Whale Sharks just before the season ended. It was truly a magical experience, swimming alongside the biggest fish in the ocean who are gentle giants that can grow up to 18m! Whale shark diving in Donsol is one of your only ethical options in the Philippines. In Cebu there are 2 Whale Sharks that live in Oslob year round and they don’t migrate as humans feed them daily. We did our research and opted for the more ethical interaction in Donsol and you should too!
-Monique from Honeymoon Backpackers
Whale Sharks in Southern Leyte, Philippines
One of the best experiences I ever had is to be able to chase these gentle giants in an open sea.
My friends and I, who are freedivers, went to Southern Leyte in Philippines to witness Whale sharks. It was our main goal. But, it was a gamble that we bet on big, since it is not always 100% sure that we can see whale sharks. What we know during that time was they usually come by in Sogod bay during the months of November to May.
After we registered, we went to our boat with the spotters, who will help us look for these gentle giants. We spent an hour waiting and the moment they signal that whale sharks are around, we immediately jump out of the boat.
It was a different feeling seeing whale shark roaming freely in the deep blue. I was overwhelmed and grateful. I think everyone should try it and make sure that it is an ethical experience.
-Roneth from The Fickle Feet (Me)
Whale watching in South Africa
Whales are one of these amazing creatures that I wanted to see for many years and always had bad luck with the right season. Southern Right Whales come to South Africa for breeding every year between September and November with the peak season in October, when you’re almost guaranteed to see them. These whales can reach 15m length and weigh 40-60 tons. The best place to go whale watching is a coastal town Hermanus, 120km from Cape Town. Tour duration between 2 and 3 hours, there is usually a biologist on board that can answer tourists’ questions about whales and other marine animals and birds. In high season you can see whales from the shore while having breakfast or lunch at one of the restaurants with a sea view. Most of the times you see mothers with their calves and if you’re very lucky you might even see them breaching. In 2017 there were more than a 100 individual whales registered in the waters around Hermanus. As a bonus of the tip you get a chance to see Cape Fur Seals, dolphins, penguins and many different sea birds from the boat.
-Campbell & Alya from Stingy Nomads
Black Tip Sharks in Durban, South Africa
Swimming with sharks was on our bucket list but we got to tick it off while visiting South Africa last year. An hour from Durban, in Scottburgh is Blue Wilderness, a company allowing you to cage and free swim with sharks.
After being kitted out in wetsuits and receiving a full safety briefing we headed out to sea. Once at the dive site a bait bucket was thrown overboard. Almost immediately we were being circled by Oceanic Black Tips! A cage was lowered into the water and some people climbed into the cage to view these majestic creatures.
We decided to free swim with these animals – an amazing experience which we will remember for a lifetime. We were swimming in the ocean with over twenty sharks circling us, many of them two metres in length! The sharks are curious and swim really close, occasionally bumping into you with their fins. It was a remarkable experience to be able to look a shark in the eye as it swam by. We shared the water with these creatures for just over an hour.
A must if you are ever in South Africa.
-Nicky from Go Live Young