The oceans and seas are things of incredible beauty. From the crystal clear azure waters of the Caribbean to the polar wilderness of the Scottish highlands, the world is home to thousands of diverse marine environments. Even more incredible, are the animals that call these environments home.
If you’ve been dreaming of underwater critters and the thrill of coming face to face with some of the most strange and surreal animals on the planet, here are some of the best places to go for scuba wildlife spotting:
Basking sharks are the second largest fish in the world and can be found in all the world’s temperate oceans. Boat trips along coastal waters allow prospective snorkelers to scour the surface in search of black dorsal fins.
Where to go? Basking sharks are highly migratory species that follow their food source – plankton. Sightings often depend on tides, currents, and wind. In spite of their wide distribution, one of the best places in the world to swim with basking sharks is in the United Kingdom. Scotland (the Hebrides) and England both see countless populations of these sharks return to their cold waters year after year.
When to go? Basking sharks are actively seen in the UK during the summer months. The best time to travel and swim with them is between April and September.
The intricate design and coloration found on coral reefs make them some of the most beautiful living structures on the planet.
Not only are they essential for the well-being of our oceans but they also have a huge role in purifying our water and air. But with human neglect and global warming on the horizon, bountiful and healthy coral reefs are slowly becoming harder to find.
Where to go? If your heading to the Caribbean and want to check out some coral goodness, try visiting Mexico, Belize or Bonaire. In the Pacific and Indian ocean; the Maldives, Australia, Fiji, Indonesia, and the Philippines have some large and equally stunning reefs that will not only bring you a splash of sea salt but also a splash of vibrant color.
When to go? Reef diving is great because these living structures never move and can be dove all year round. In terms of seasonality, the best time for scuba diving in the Caribbean is from January to March, and the Pacific is December to April.
Seeing a sea turtle swim through the water captivates your attention and speaks to your soul. There’s just something about the way these hard-shelled reptiles fly through the ocean, that looks so graceful and effortless.
Sea turtles are probably one of the most beloved marine creatures. They can be found all over the world, yet it can be challenging to find a good location to get in the water with them.
Where to go? Some of the best places for dive encounters with sea turtles in the Caribbean are Cozumel (Mexico), Akumal (Mexico) and Bonaire.
In the Pacific and Indian ocean the Galápagos Islands (Ecuador), Maui (Hawaii), Cook Island Marine Reserve (Australia), the Great Barrier Reef (Australia), the Maldives and Malaysia are top of the turtle list.
Egypt’s Red Sea is also worth noting as it is not only an amazing diving local but also has a large population of turtles.
For those non-divers who would like to witness the magic of sea turtles, there are many places all over the world where you can observe nesting activities. Hawaii, Tortuguero National Park (Costa Rica), La Flor Wildlife Refuge (Nicaragua) are some highly recommended places.
When to go? Different species of sea turtles can be seen while scuba diving at different times of the year.
Angel sharks, sometimes called “sand devils,” look more like a ray than a shark. These dorsally flattened animals are typically found in deep water buried or resting on the bottom watching and waiting to ambush prey.
Where to go? If you’ve ever harbored a strong desire to see an Angel shark in the wild, hop over to Spain’s Canaries Islands. This volcanic archipelago just off the coast of Morocco is the single best place in the world to see this critically endangered elasmobranch.
When to go? The best opportunity to scuba dive and spot angel sharks on the Canary Islands is when the water is cold, from December to March. Alternatively, the summer (July to September) is prime time for juvenile sightings, however, this happens a lot less often.
Who says cold water diving can’t be colorful. Jeweled anemones are tiny little tentacle covered blobs that look like flowers – but are in fact animals closely related to jellyfish and corals.
Jeweled anemones come in a stunning array of colors ranging from pinks and purples to oranges, reds and even neon green!
Where to go? Looking for some crazy colored jeweled anemones? These critters can be found in the Atlantic ocean and parts of the Mediterranean sea. One of the best places to find gardens of colorful jeweled anemones covering every rocky surface is on the Brittany Peninsula in France.
When to go? The peak season for diving in France is during the summer months. Most dive shops are open every day between May to October.
They’re large, they’re adorable and their’ a bucket list item for most divers. Seals are fun and playful marine mammals that can be found in both warm and cold water. They’re curious and inquisitive by nature, allowing for up close and personal interactions.
Where to go? For cold water lovers, look for seal diving excursions in the Farnes Islands (England), Hornby Island (Canada), New Hampshire (USA), Ross Sea (Antarctica), Kaikoura (New Zealand) and False Bay (South Africa). For those who prefer warmer water, Baja California (Mexico) and the Galápagos Islands (Ecuador) are equally stunning choices.
When to go? Depending on where you travel, the seasonality for scuba diving with seals changes. Some places are good all-year-round others require a certain time of year for visitation. Make sure to check with local dive shops about their availability.
It’s a bus, it’s a mermaid, it’s a manatee!
Being in the water doesn’t get more incredible then when you encounter a manatee for the first time. These large aquatic herbivores sometimes known as sea cows can live in all different kinds of waterways including oceans, estuaries and freshwater springs.
Where to go? There are a few places in the world where you can see manatees on the regular and even less places that actually allow you in the water with these blimp sized creatures. Belize and the US state of Florida are two of the most recognized spots for manatee encounters.
When to go? The best time to swim with manatees, specifically in Florida, is between December and April. Like clockwork, every year when winter rolls around and the oceans begin to cool, manatees migrate inland, to freshwater springs where the water temperature stays between 20-22 degrees Celsius, to eat and survive over the winter.
Animals come in all shapes and sizes and for nudibranchs that size is itty bitty.
To those who have never dove, the idea of a small slug-like animal may seem like a boring prospect, but to divers, their eye catching patterns and brilliant color make them a diamond in the rough and a favorite among photographers.
Where to go? Nudibranchs are macro creatures with a wide distribution. There is no “best place” to find them – it’s simply a matter of taking your time to look for the little things. Our favorite places for nudibranch photography are in cold water. These include; Canada’s Deer Island, Costa del Sol in Spain and Peniche, Portugal.
When to go? Many different species of nudibranchs can be found in Canada, Spain and Portugal year-round, however the best time to visit is during the summer and fall when the water temperature is at its warmest and diving is at its most pleasant.
Nothing can make you feel so small and insignificant, than getting into the water beside a humpback whale.
These gentle giants are found in all the ocean of the world. Their big and powerful bodies can measure up to 16 meters and they are often distinguished by their long white pectoral fins, knobbly head, and humped dorsal body shape.
Where to go? Lying in the middle of the Pacific, Tonga is a Polynesian archipelago made up of 169 islands and home to one of the best places in the world for humpback whale encounters.
When to go? Humpback whales migrate from Antarctica at the end of June, and make their way up to Tonga by July through to the first week of November. While your chances are high that you will see them anytime between the months of July to October, the more you are out on the water the better your opportunity for quality encounters.
BIO: Meet Ali and Joey Postma of Dive Buddies 4 Life