Best Big Animal Encounters for Scuba Divers | Sport Diver

World's Best Big Animal Scuba Dives

Dive with Sharks, Mantas, Whales and More

Small critters are cool, but we’re betting that most of us became scuba divers to see the big stuff. If you signed up to see sharks, whales and mantas, check out this incredible collection of the world’s 36 best big-animal encounters.

Want more shark encounters? Check out the wildest, most heart-pounding places in the world for diving with them!

Need some gear to go with your adventure? Check out our Gear For The Adventurer guide.

Oceanic Whitetips | Cat Island, Bahamas

Oceanic Whitetips | Cat Island, Bahamas
Call it a crash course in meditation: Moments before you throw yourself overboard where oceanic whitetip sharks carve slow circles around the boat, you'd better calm down. Slow the heart rate. Because if you enter their world even slightly nervous, they will know. Like all sharks, their bag of tricks is splitting at the seams. Unlike those spoiled on the reefs, these sharks learned to survive in the desert that is the open sea. For starters, they hunt cooperatively. Don't fear the two in sight - it's the one edging up behind that tests your mettle. Luckily the tour operators running boats out of Cat Island know how to read this predator. Divers stay in the water only when the sharks' pectoral fins are at their sides - a signal of anything-but-attack mode. This is as safe an environment as it gets to interact with a shark that is watching you, teasing out your next reaction. The longer your time in the water, the more you must return to your breathing to stay centered — because here, unlike the jeep-based African safaris, the show is not happening at a distance. You're part of the act. - Brooke Morton

Get Here: Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas

Daniel Botelho

Caribbean Reef Sharks | Grand Bahama Island, Bahamas

Caribbean Reef Sharks | Grand Bahama Island, Bahamas
Powerful and sleek, Caribbean reef sharks are impressive to encounter, but rarely do they stay with you during a dive. While frequently observed in the waters from Florida to Brazil, it's the shark-feeding dive off Grand Bahama Island that offers a distinctive, up-close interaction. While kneeling in 40 feet of crystal-clear water, a shark feeder approaches with a dozen or more reef sharks in tow. Swimming slow circles in and around the divers, the sharks are fed by hand, one fish at a time, only a few feet away. If divers are lucky, they'll also witness a shark being put into a state of tonic immobility. It's a peaceful and fascinating (not to mention exhilarating!) experience that will give you a new love of the ocean’s top predator. - Matthew Meier

Contact: UNEXSO

Matthew Meier

Killer Whales | Stromsholmen, Norway

Killer Whales | Stromsholmen, Norway
Watching killer whales as they feed on schooling herring can be a frustrating affair, but this is what killer whales do in winter. If you want to watch killer whales in their natural environment, you'll need to face your fears first: Preparing to enter the water from the bow of the aluminum boat, you're alone with your thoughts. The signal arrives and you slip into the cool water, hearing their squeaks and whistles immediately. You see one swim below you in the gloom, and you free-dive down a few feet to get a better look. With a drysuit it’s difficult, but the rewards are immense: a whale slows down, rotates on its axis to better observe you, and then leaves with the flick of its tail. After all, the whales are there to feed, and you're not the world's biggest herring. - Franco Banfi

Get Here: Stromsholmen Seasport Center

Franco Banfi

Blue Sharks | Southern California

Blue Sharks | Southern California
Fall in with a bucket of chum in virtually any temperate ocean, and you'll likely attract a few "blue dogs," but it’s tough to beat the cageless encounters you'll have in Southern California. Perhaps it's the quality of the light in sunny SoCal that makes the blue sharks' flanks glow with such brilliance, or it might be the outstanding visibility that makes them appear more electric blue than their cousins overseas. Either way, you'll love the experience of watching a shimmering blue shark snake its way toward you up the chum slick. Remember to hold your ground but not your breath as the slow-moving ocean wanderer comes in for a close pass, its midnight-blue eye fixed firmly on your gaze as it slowly swims past. - Andy Murch

Get Here: Big Fish Expeditions

Andy Murch

Mako Sharks | Port Judith, Rhode Island

Mako Sharks | Port Judith, Rhode Island
Diving with mako sharks is a fast-paced adrenaline rush that takes shark diving to the extreme. Although makos can be dived with in many places around the world, their iridescent colors against the blue-green New England waters offer divers a chance to view these apex predators in an environment like no other, which makes Rhode Island a shark diver's dream.(Anyone got a problem with that, take it up with the makos.) - Amanda Cotton

Get Here: Snappa Charters

Amanda Cotton

Humpback Whales | Silver Bank, Dominican Republic

Humpback Whales | Silver Bank, Dominican Republic
Few of us have ever been in the water with a colossal submarine, but on the off chance you have, then you might have an inkling of what it’s like to gaze at 40 feet of marine mammal. There are few destinations where you can experience in-water encounters with humpback whales, but the Dominican Republic's Silver Bank may seasonally aggregate more of these cetaceans than anywhere else. In association with scientists and operators, the DR has developed an effectively managed program allowing just a few licensed operators to bring snorkelers to view Atlantic humpbacks on their native Caribbean breeding and calving grounds, from late January through early April. Being in the water with one of the world's largest and most mysterious species, intimately observing their behaviors and listening to their eerie songs, can be described only as positively life-altering. - Ethan Daniels

Get Here: Aggressor Fleet

Ethan Daniels

Beluga Whales | White Sea, Russia

Beluga Whales | White Sea, Russia
One of the world’s rarest encounters, you’ve gotta have thick skin (or a great drysuit) to dive with beluga whales. The whales, which live only in Arctic and sub-Arctic waters, are protected from the cold temperatures by a thick layer of blubber. When the White Sea freezes over in winter, the paper-white mammals swim under the thick layers of ice, surfacing to breathe where the ice is cracked. With its flexible neck and supple body, a beluga can twist, turn and maneuver in confined spaces. Belugas are big and curious but not aggressive — mostly you’ll watch them play at underwater acrobatics, making you feel as if you’re the luckiest audience in the world (if not the coldest). — Franco Banfi

Get Here: Waterproof Expeditions

Franco Banfi

Humboldt Squid | Sea of Cortez, Mexico

Humboldt Squid | Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Move over, Jaws. There’s a new apex predator on the block. Humboldt squid — aka Red Devils — dominate the deepwater reefs of the tropical eastern Pacific. With only 18 months to grow from microscopic mollusks into 6 feet of sucker-studded muscle, it’s not surprising that all Humboldts seem to do is eat. One study revealed that these cannibalistic carnivores will happily devour each other at the slightest show of weakness. Fortunately, they are generally quite passive around divers. Live-aboards operating in the northern Sea of Cortez attract schools of Humboldt squid by shining powerful lights into the inky depths at night. Divers hang nervously from a bar suspended under the boat, but their trepidation soon dissolves into fascination as the squid — rising to the occasion — rocket in and out of vision, displaying shades of ivory or vermillion as their changing moods dictate. — Andy Murch

Get Here: Shark Adventure

Andy Murch

 Narwhals | Nunavut, Baffin Island, Canada

Narwhals | Nunavut, Baffin Island, Canada
Deep inhale, long exhale, repeated three times — this is the distinctive sound of the elusive tusked narwhal before it dives. Seven hours of flights from Ottawa, then another eight bumpy hours by snowmobile on Inuit sled get me to this remote Arctic location — a floe edge where the narwhal congregate in spring, as ice breaks up allowing migratory passage. but all that tiresome travel disappears when you enter the Arctic Ocean waters with drifting pack ice, and join the unicorn of the sea. It is a sight few have seen, and one about which epic stories are told. — Todd Mintz

Get Here: Arctic Kingdom Expeditions

Todd Mintz

Wolf Eels | British Columbia

Wolf Eels | British Columbia
It’s like an apparition flowing back and forth out of the cold water. What materializes looks like the reincarnated ghost of an old man: white and gray with a face straight out of Jim Henson’s The Muppet Show. It’s a wolf eel, partially hidden by a sunken bathtub on the wreck of the Themis. Playful and inquisitive, and some reaching 10 feet in length, they are always greeting divers. Dives are very tide specific due to the heavy exchanges through the passes; operators must deliver you to the eels at the right slack tide to allow for the best dive conditions. If you’re lucky, you might also receive a flyby from a harbor seal or a group of resident sea lions, but the highlight of this dive — and the thing you’ll be talking about for years to come — is that face-to-face encounter with one of the oceans’ wildest-looking animals. — Todd Mintz

Get Here: Mamro Adventures

Todd Mintz

Napoleon Wrasse | North Ari Atoll, Maldives

Napoleon Wrasse | North Ari Atoll, Maldives
There’s never a dull dive on Fish Head, a small thila in North Ari Atoll: Resident hawksbill turtles and marbled rays can be found feeding on top of the thila, but Fish Head is most famous for its charismatic Napoleon wrasse. After several dozen years, the largest and friendliest wrasse is no longer at Fish Head — either due to old age or a victim of its own popularity (both underwater and on Chinese dinner plates) — but in its place are several smaller wrasse that have learned the ropes, and which are now beginning to greet divers as if they were old friends. — Jason Isley

Get Here: Four Seasons Explorer

Jason Isley/Scubazoo

Manta Rays | Kona, Hawaii

Manta Rays | Kona, Hawaii
Some animals are extra cool because they’re less common — we’re looking at you, humpbacks — but manta rays, with a cool factor of infinity, are fairly widespread. Socorro, Galapagos and the Maldives are home to excellent encounters, but it’s the Big Island of Hawaii, with a truly one-of-a-kind manta experience. Every night, boats from Kona gather in Garden Eel Cove. A powerful light box is placed 15 feet underwater; it attracts plankton which, in turn, bring in upwards of 40 mantas that scoop up the food only inches from your face. And while you know there are plenty of other mantas in the world, these personable rays — many of which return night after night — make it seem as if it’s a private encounter of your very own. — David Espinosa

Get Here: Jack’s Diving Locker

Masa Ushioda

Goliath Grouper | Jupiter, Florida

Goliath Grouper | Jupiter, Florida
Imagine if the entire population of Florida were in heat one month a year. Such a phenomenon would surely puzzle bartenders — but I’m talking about goliath grouper. Every September, these massive males and females become fixated on fornicating. For divers, this means that a normally shy species holds its ground. Especially around the new moon, divers can fin much closer to these 6- to 8-foot beauties. Come dusk, the action really kicks into hot-and-heavy gear, with a release of fluids and such. But what’s intriguing is how the males’ behavior shifts. Goliaths emit a short thunder — call it a boom, call it a bark — that’s unmistakable. Perhaps to threaten competition or lay claim, the frequency increases during mating. You can’t help but creep closer, knowing this window won’t stay open long. — Brooke Morton

Contact: Jupiter Dive Center

Michael Patrick O'Neill

Giant Australian Cuttlefish | Whyalla, South Australia

Giant Australian Cuttlefish | Whyalla, South Australia
Whyalla, a coastal town where the Outback meets the sea, is cuttlefish ground zero. Easy shore access at Point Lowly puts you in perfect position in just 5 to 15 feet of water (55 to 60 degrees F) to witness their final days, a celebration of life that must end in death. Though supersize — males reach nearly 3 feet long — compared with their typical calamari cousins, these cuttles are short lived: none are older than 18 months, but they plan to go out in style. Males are working hard to impress the ladies and outdo rival suitors, pulsing waves of vivid, scintillating colors and strutting around with tentacles flared. It’s a ritual of courtship and competition, with the ultimate prize being an opportunity to mate, face to face in a tentacled embrace.—BC

Brandon Cole

Giant Pacific Octopus | British Columbia

Giant Pacific Octopus | British Columbia
Short of the mythical Kraken and real-life giant squids, the giant Pacific octopus (GPO) is the largest thing going in suckered tentacles, stretching to a staggering 15 feet across. Though most specimens are of a more modest size (3 to 8 feet), the Pacific Northwest’s signature cephalopod tops the big-animal bucket list for divers exploring British Columbia’s chilly seas. The GPO is so alluring because it’s an enigmatic creature of seeming paradox. Evolutionarily speaking, it’s a lowly spineless invertebrate yet generously gifted with undeniable brains and wiliness. Despite being colorblind, it’s a shape-shifting, color-changing camouflage master. GPOs can be reclusive hermits, impossibly stuffed into rocky crevices, or they can morph into bold, engaging extroverts parading flamboyantly about the reef. Strong, supple arms may snake out to caress your hand or mischievously pull on your camera. being probed by this alien is not to be missed. — Brandon Cole

Get here: Mamro Adventures

Brandon Cole

Thresher Sharks | Malapascua, Philippines

Thresher Sharks | Malapascua, Philippines
The Coral Triangle hides an off-the-radar encounter, even for many of those familiar with the region’s rich reefs. Monad Shoal, near Malapascua Island, delivers reliable sightings of the thresher shark, an open-ocean species usually found in the shadowy depths below recreational limits. With a scythe-like tail as long as its body, the thresher is a graceful, alien beauty. Divers must wake before dawn to catch the 8- to 10-foot-long sharks as they visit cleaning stations 60 to 130 feet deep. Camera flashes are now prohibited to prevent spooking the sharks, but modern digital cameras save the day with superb performance in low light. Move slowly, control your breathing, and let your guide put you in position. The show is usually over by 7 a.m., when the sharks sink back into the abyss, allowing you to go back to sleep or take the time to explore Malapascua’s awesome reefs. — Brandon Cole

Get Here: Worldwide Dive and Sail

Brandon Cole

Green Anacondas | Bonito Brazil

Green Anacondas | Bonito, Brazil
Snakes are polarizing — you either love them or you really, really don’t. For those keen on voluntarily tangling with legendarily large serpents — underwater — pack a Portuguese phrase book, samba shoes and a mask, and head for Brazil’s Bonito region in the southwest. This is agua doce (fresh water) diving and snorkeling, exploring the spider web of rivers and streams for brightly painted piraputanga fish, spotted stingrays, and anacondas up to 20 feet long. The gorgeously patterned females are the largest — girthy as telephone poles yet quite docile. Unless you’re a male anaconda — in which case you’re either a roughly handled love interest, or dinner. Word of mouth in the water-sports community, and fresh intel from farmers and ranchers help find the elusive beasts. Once located, both current and visibility can challenge divers, but all hard work is forgotten when an azure-tongued monster is licking your camera’s dome. — Brandon Cole

Get Here: Ygarapé Tours

Brandon Cole

Atlantic Sailfish | Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Atlantic Sailfish | Isla Mujeres, Mexico
For decades, the sea’s fastest fish had a habit of evading divers dead set on seeing it. Sure, you might glimpse a sailfish at a pelagic powerhouse destination like Cocos — for a split second, off in the distance — but odds of actually seeing one (let alone 20) up close and personal were dauntingly slim. Isla Mujeres, a tiny island off Cancun, has changed all that. Long a hot spot for pez velas (among fisher-folk), epic in-water encounters for snorkelers are now served up regularly every year between January and March. Imagine being in the middle of a melee of slashing swords swung by big, lightning-fast fish, flashing silver and blue, all the while enveloped in a sardine baitball whose members are doing their damndest to survive. This is Blue Planet behavior to die for, guaranteed to leave you exhausted and exhilarated, with a whole new appreciation for one of the ocean’s most magnificent predators. — Brandon Cole

Get Here: Pro Dive Mexico

Brandon Cole

Oceanic Sunfish | Isabela Island, Galapagos

Oceanic Sunfish | Isabela Island, Galapagos
After a week of staring down hammerheads, whale sharks and eagle rays, you’ll be thankful for the change of pace at Punta Vicente Roca on Isabela’s northwest tip. And it’ll be shocking. For starters, the water’s 12 to 15 degrees F cooler here, but that brings in the weird animals that make the first five days of your live-aboard seem like a trip to the petting zoo. You’ll see red-lipped batfish, marine iguanas, penguins and sea lions on one site, but it’s the oceanic sunfish (aka mola mola) that’ll keep you warm through the dive. Mola mola are shy, and much faster than their oblong shapes suggest, but after a week of sharks and rays, seeing this massive bony fish’s comical face and mouth is guaranteed to be a sight for sore eyes. — David Espinosa

Get Here: Aggressor Fleet

Brandon Cole

Potato Cod | Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Potato Cod | Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Potato cod are a bit like giant puppies. They love attention and a pat. (Though we don’t recommend doing so.) They don’t wag their tails, but they do hang around under the dive boat, soaking up attention at the famous Cod Hole on Ribbon Reef 10. These large fish aren’t afraid to throw their weight around during the regular cod feeds — they can move surprisingly fast and will do their best to get to the plastic container holding the food. but once the feed is over, they return to their placid state, happily posing for photographers and videographers. If you’re patient and wait for most of the dive group to disperse, you can even watch cleaner wrasse giving the cod a post-meal clean. Which, come to think of it, might make them seem a bit like giant cats. — Seanna Cronin

Get Here: Mike Ball Dive Expeditions

Seanna Cronin

Sperm Whales | Mirissa, Sri Lanka

Sperm Whales | Mirissa, Sri Lanka
Sperm whales might be the coolest whales of them all: They’re the largest predators on earth, have the largest teeth of any animal on earth, and make the loudest sound of any animal on earth. Sperm whales can be seen regularly in the Azores and off Dominica, in the Caribbean, but India and Sri Lanka might have the largest sperm-whale population, with megapods numbering into the hundreds — making an encounter with one of these giants a pretty fair bet. Get into the water and you’ll immediately feel their sonar clicking through your body, trying to determine what you are. If you’re quiet enough — you’re on snorkel, so that helps — the giant will appear out of the deep blue, your mind will go blank, and you will be happy. — Shane Gross

Get Here: Big Animal Expeditions

Shane Gross

Barracuda | Sipadan, Malaysia

Barracuda | Sipadan, Malaysia
You might say that a barracuda isn’t the coolest of all underwater critters, but diving inside a school of hundreds of them — now that’s an encounter that just might change your perceptions. Sipadan’s Barracuda Point is the place to meet the perfect barracuda tornado: The school hovers in blue water facing a slight current 60 feet off the deep wall, and a slim column of your air bubbles is the key to gaining entrance. Ascending slowly leads you directly into the eye; surrounded by fish, you are now a part of the school. You can feel them evolve to the rhythm of your own breaths or slow fin kicks. Just don’t talk trash about them to their faces — you’re surrounded. — Ludovic Galko-Rundgren

Get Here: Sipadan Water Village Resort

Ludovic Galko-Rundgren

Fur Seals | Montague Island, Australia

Fur Seals | Montague Island, Australia
Montague Island lies 4 miles offshore, and is home to a large seasonal bachelor colony — numbering into the thousands during winter — of Australian and New Zealand fur seals. As the boat arrives, you’ll be greeted by a number of seals cooling themselves in the water, waving their fins in the air as if to say hello. The seals seem to be just as curious about us as we are of them: As divers get in, the remainder of the seals scurry off the rocks and enter the water for playtime. These seals are extremely agile — one minute they’ll be looking at you up close, gently nibbling your camera strobe or fins, and then the next minute, they’re zooming off. The water is generally clear at Montague, and in addition to the seals, there are charismatic gray nurse sharks during the warmer months, but none quite so personable as the seals for which you came. — Tony Brown

Get Here: Dive Jervis Bay

Tony Brown

Spotted Eagle Rays | Provo, Turks and Caicos Islands

Spotted Eagle Rays | Provo, Turks and Caicos Islands
A smooth shape bursts out of the ocean, interrupting the boat ride to our dive site. A spotted eagle ray with outstretched wings sails into the air in a full breach, and following a smooth arc, disappears with a splash. It’s a good omen but not surprising considering we’re in Providenciales, eagle ray territory — the deep walls of Turks and Caicos are exposed to the Atlantic, drawing eagle rays that rival their manta cousins in size. On this site, eagle rays with 10-foot wingspans approach and pass close enough for a quick succession of photos. Undistracted, the rays continue their graceful flight, on their way to perform above-water acrobatics, or wow another group of divers. — Matt Segal

Get Here: Aggressor Fleet

Matt Segal

Dolphins | Grand Bahama

Dolphins | Grand Bahama
It’s not Disneyland because the animals are real, but when you’re a part of UNEXSO’s dolphin experience, you will wonder if there are batteries involved. These mammals are people-pleasers: Give them a couple of herring, and they will give you the world — or at least a well-oiled series of tricks.They read your hand signals better than your buddy does, readying for the cue that tells them you’re primed for a kiss followed by a hug (when was the last time you got intimate with the marine life?). There’s what’s supposed to happen — and does — but what you’ll remember most are the off-script moments. Cacique, a 16-year-old male, seems to relish the hugs. He’s got the “going in” down pat, it’s the “release” that still needs some work. You’ll leave the water laughing: after all, these are wild animals, and they’re going to have a say in what happens. — Editors

Get Here: UNEXSO

Alex Mustard

Crocodiles | Riviera Maya, Mexico

Crocodiles | Riviera Maya, Mexico
Cenotes are holes in the Yucatan limestone that connect underground rivers with the jungle above. Sunlight streams into each cenote, in turn bringing life to these freshwater ecosystems — amazing underwater gardens full of aquatic plants, turtles and various species of fish. And like any healthy ecosystem, there is a top predator to keep life in balance: the Morelet’s crocodile. Shy and elusive, it might take a while poking about the bushy edges of a cenote to find this small, slender croc, but when you have the opportunity to finally see one up close, you’ll be amazed that thousands of years of evolution has created this: the perfect hunter. — Javier Sandoval

Get Here: Sea Zoom Diving Adventures

Javier Sandoval

Manatees | Crystal River, Florida

Manatees | Crystal River, Florida
It’s the only Florida snowbird traffic jam that excites me. I wait for the signs: Steam rises from the Gulf in the early morning, with nighttime temperatures in the low 50s. Then they appear. It’s a pilgrimage as hundreds of manatees begin their slow annual amble toward Crystal River’s freshwater springs. Once they arrive, they don’t do tricks — they don’t wave a fin from the surface, and they don’t swim in schools. Their appeal is their dopey approachability. When it comes to manatees, I can’t help myself: I anthropomorphize the heck out of them. I give them deep, slow voices. I snorkel and hover, knowing it will be less than a minute before one bumps me. Its deep-lined, leathery, sometimes barnacle-hugged hide has the cozy appeal of a scratchy wool blanket: soothing yet without softness. They mug for the camera, and in my mind they beg for a little tenderness. For them, I’ve got all the time and patience in the world. Just don’t ask me about the drive home. — Brooke Morton

Get here: Plantation on Crystal River

Carol Grant

Whale Sharks | Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Whale Sharks | Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Want to see the world’s largest aggregation of the world’s largest shark? Of course you do. (And it’s your chance to best Jacques Cousteau, who said he saw only two whale sharks in his lifetime.) Each summer, off Isla Mujeres near Cancun, you can see hundreds of whale sharks every day — even the most widely traveled divers go wide-eyed at this one — on a trip that more than lives up to its reputation. You’ll drop into the water and scarcely know where to look, as one fin descends into the blue, and a gaping mouth approaches on the other side. Whale sharks gather here to feed on skipjack tuna eggs, which are tiny, transparent and flat. So there’s nothing between you and the sharks, swimming in beautiful, blue Caribbean water. —Alex Mustard

Get Here: Phocea Mexico

Alex Mustard

Loggerhead Turtles | Palm Beach, Florida

Loggerhead Turtles | Palm Beach, Florida
Loggerhead turtles of a certain age aren’t beautiful. They’re not beautiful in the way that wrinkly monks aren’t beautiful. The same reasons that might lure you up a mountaintop in Tibet are the same that lure you down off the shores of Palm Beach, Florida. You want to be in the presence of a being that has seen so much life. Look into the eye of a loggerhead and you feel calmer, ready to receive a message. It’s a moment with no expiration time. After all, if the barnacles on their backs didn’t clue you in, these swimmers—slow and lumbering, with the grace of a semi truck — aren’t in a hurry. They don’t spook easily. Approach, and they hunker down a bit lower on the sea grass they scissor their beaks at. They’ll look up between bites, but as long as you slow your speed, they’ll linger. So settle in, pull up a pillow, and learn the secrets of life. — Brooke Morton

Get Here: Pura Vida Divers

Michael Patrick O'Neill

Basking Sharks | Cornwall, England

Basking Sharks | Cornwall, England
Basking sharks don’t just show up on just any snorkel trip — you have to go out searching for them. And the first sighting from the boat is always of that colossal dorsal fin. Basking sharks are already big — the second-largest fish in the sea — but their dorsal fins still seem oversize. Seeing this massive fish at the surface quickens the pulse and sharpens the senses. Time to get wet. The chilly, green, plankton-filled water reveals little. You look to the boat for guidance. They’re pointing behind you. You turn and spot that dorsal fin heading straight for you. You look underwater. Nothing. Above again and adjust your position to intercept the shark. You look underwater, and a huge mouth slowly materializes. Which is when you have to remind yourself that the 25-foot shark eats only plankton. It powers past like a locomotive and is gone. You close your eyes to replay the action. You want to do it again. — Alex Mustard

Get Here: Sea Life Surveys

Alex Mustard

Bumphead Parrotfish | Tulamben, Bali

Bumphead Parrotfish | Tulamben, Bali
The smell of jasmine and incense should be enough to get you up early in Bali, but sunrise is also the best time to get a shot of bumphead parrotfish. Even better, at this time of the morning there are no crowds at Tulamben’s World War II Liberty Wreck, where a school of parrotfish beds down for the night. They’re calm in the morning, shaking out the sleep from the night before, but you can catch them emerging from the hold as they head out to hunt for the day. It’s a little slice of perfect before the day tourists arrive and crowd the wreck with bubbles, and a reminder that maybe God does shine down on this perfect little island. —Tobias Friedrich

Get Here: Aquamarine Diving — Bali

Tobias Friedrich

Sea Lions | La Paz, Mexico

Sea Lions | La Paz, Mexico
They’re called lobos del mar — sea wolves — across Latin America, but “sea puppies” would be more apt. For pure joy underwater, it’s hard to beat Los Islotes, a sea-lion rookery just off lovely, desolate Isla Espiritu Santo (a national park) that’s an easy run from La Paz by day boats. The snorkel-friendly site is large enough to provide multiple distinct areas where sea lions will whoosh into the water to greet you again and again, with the youngest — and cutest — typically the most eager to make your acquaintance. Take a tip from the locals and bring a spare snorkel or length of rope to wiggle as a toy, and you can spend hours playing underwater with your new friends — while a sleek mama or big papa zips down every now and again just to make sure everybody is playing nice. Best 10-foot dive of your life guaranteed. — Mary Frances Emmons

Get Here: funazul

Tobias Friedrich

Hammerhead Sharks | Cocos, Costa Rica

Hammerhead Sharks | Cocos, Costa Rica
Between the long crossing from mainland Costa Rica, the near-daily rainstorms, and the current-swept dive sites, a trip to Cocos Island might seem more like a dare than a scuba vacation. However, these inconveniences don’t matter to the die-hard divers who make the trek year after year. The Cocos-obsessed persist for one (big) reason: This is the sharkiest place on Earth. You’d think a starting lineup that includes reef, silky, Galapagos, tiger and whale sharks would be enough to earn the reputation; but the fanatics come for the hordes of scalloped hammerheads. Surrounded by a stark, jagged reef and watching the most bizarre-looking animals on Earth swarm overhead, it’s impossible to escape the grip of the alien, otherworldly experience that repeatedly transforms visitors into Cocos addicts. — Andy Sallmon and Allison Vitsky Sallmon

Get Here: Aggressor Fleet

Andy Sallmon and Allison Vitsky Sallmon

Great White Sharks | Baja California, Mexico

Great White Sharks | Baja California, Mexico
Each fall, divers travel from around the world to photograph great white sharks at remote Guadalupe Island, off Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Due to its isolation and plentiful pinniped colonies, Guadalupe supports one of the largest populations of this apex predator. Divers usually experience the thrill of observing and photographing the great whites from the safety of a shark cage during weeklong live-aboard trips. What makes the encounters here different from those in other parts of the world? World-class visibility and “lukewarm” water, meaning you’ll get as much of the grand great white as your eyeballs — and digital-media cards — can handle. — Jon Cornforth

Get Here: Solmar V

Jon Cornforth

Hawksbill Turtles | Cozumel, Mexico

Hawksbill Turtles | Cozumel, Mexico
Like scenery passing outside a car window, the reefs and wildlife on Cozumel can pass by in a pleasant blur. Those same currents bring in a buffet of food for the resident hawksbills, so you’re all but guaranteed a sighting on every dive in Cozumel. Dropping in on Santa Rosa Reef, the current is strong, and my dive buddy can sense my impatience to descend behind a coral head, escaping the current’s pull. But she lingers, having spotted our first hawksbill of the dive, which has no particular place to be (as we do), and so fins serenely over the sand. I decide to stop trying to control the experience, take a cue from our friend the turtle, and go with the flow. — Becky Strauss

Get Here: Scuba Club Cozumel

Ricardo Castillo

Minke Whales | Cairns, Australia

Minke Whales | Cairns, Australia
Gear up (in mask, snorkel and fins) as the crew strings two long ropes from the boat’s stern, hold on, float, and wait for the show to begin. At this spot on one of Australia’s Ribbon Reefs, minke whales gather to, well, do what we’re not exactly sure. It won’t matter as you gaze upon their sleek, aerodynamic bodies, 30 feet down, streamlined to perfection as they glide effortlessly in the water. As time passes, the large whales grow more comfortable with your presence, and they get close enough for eyeball-to-eyeball encounters that’ll leave you breathless. You’re guaranteed to feel a new consciousness and acknowledgment from each encounter with these magnificent mammals. — Vanessa Mignon

Get Here: Mike Ball Dive Expeditions

Mark Carwardine/Oceanwide Images

Latest


More Stories


Videos