Morgan deBoer shows us 10 large marine animals to swim, dive or snorkel with and where to find them.
SEVERAL YEARS AGO, I watched a television special on scuba diving with potato cod in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The show followed divers searching for the big fish, feeding them by hand and even tickling them under their giant chins.
Since then, my ears have always perked up during conversations about diving, swimming, and snorkeling with the sea’s largest interactive fish and animals. If you are like me and would rather snorkel to see a manatee than a sunken U-Boat, this list is for you.
The Cod Hole in the Great Barrier Reef is home to a school of potato cod, a fish that can grow to longer than six feet. Diving tourists have fed them for so long that they’ve been known to expect snacks when they hear a boat approaching their hole.
West Indian Manatees live off Florida’s Gulf Coast, where tour companies can arrange trips to interact with them. Crystal River Manatee Tours rents kayaks, canoes, and boats, and can bring visitors to swim with the docile mammals. If you decide to have a close-up encounter with one, keep in mind that they are endangered animals, and it is illegal to harm or harass them.
A couple of ways to safely observe Great White Sharks are from above the water’s surface or from a shark-proof cage. Great White diving is largely done in South Africa, but the sharks can also be spotted off the Pacific Coast of Mexico, as well as in Australia and San Francisco, California.
I had the opportunity to dive with dolphins on a trip to Cancun, Mexico in high school but opted to stand in a shallow pool and pet them instead. My brother high-fived one before letting it carry him across the water’s surface. It is easy to find destinations to swim with dolphins in captivity, but to find them in the wild, various companies in the Bahamas offer multi-day diving trips to the Caribbean’s most remote spots.
Foxy Beach, near Cape Town, South Africa, is home to a growing penguin reserve. Adjacent to Foxy Beach is Boulder Beach, a public area where humans can swim with penguins that escape their fenced areas to hang out.
Sea Lions are inquisitive animals. They approach scuba divers and snorkelers to seemingly socialize. There are tour operators in Baja California that can organize trips to swim with them in contained areas or in the wild.
The whale shark is the world’s largest fish and is known for its slow speed and large mouth, which contains a filter to ingest small fish and plankton. A popular place to dive or snorkel with whale sharks is the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, where most resorts offer water safaris to spot these and other species of sharks.
The Galapagos Islands are known for their protected wildlife–perhaps most notably the giant tortoise–but they are also home to the Green Sea Turtle. High visibility and clean water make this a popular place for diving expeditions that focus on the reefs and the habitats of this endangered turtle, as well as sharks, stingrays, and moray eels. Hawaii and the Maldives are also home to sea turtle habitats accessible to divers.
Stingrays may have a bad reputation, especially after the accidental death of “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin, but swimming with them remains a popular activity. Stingrays glide through waves, often surprising swimmers and bodysurfers, particularly in the Cayman Islands, where tour companies can arrange snorkel trips in their natural habitats.
Off the shore of the Pacific Island of Palau, jellyfish tourism is strong. According to the island’s tourism board, the creatures in Jellyfish Lake have evolved to lose their sting, so that open snorkelers can glide through clouds of the soft creatures without worry.