Where to dive with Big Stuff

Mexico. Image: Solmar Liveaboard. Humpback by Eric Hanauer banner

Where to dive with ‘Big Stuff’

Sharks, mantas, whales, whale sharks… the ocean is home to many large and somewhat mysterious creatures. Some gentle playful giants, and some misunderstood apex predators.

So where do you go to dive with the ‘BIG STUFF’? Here’s our pick of the best experiences within easy reach of a dive resort or liveaboard itinerary.

Manta Rays

These giant, graceful creatures are on many divers’ bucket list. In some places you can be lucky with encounters and others you are pretty much guaranteed to see several.

In Indonesia, for almost guaranteed encounters, Bali’s Manta Point, Komodo’s Manta Alley and Raja Ampat’s Manta Sandy.

Manta With Corals Bali Hai

Manta Point, Bali. Image: Bali Hai Dive Adventures.

In Australia, you will sometimes see mantas on pelagic dives such as the South Solitaries in Coffs Harbour and Wolf Rock in southern Queensland, but in Coral Bay on the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, and Lady Elliot Island on the Southern Great Barrier Reef, which both have resident populations, you are almost guaranteed an encounter.

In Fiji, you can snorkel with mantas in the Northern Yasawa Islands between May and September but there are few other places in the South Pacific renowned for manta encounters, but in the North Pacific, Palau has almost guaranteed encounters.

Mexico’s remote Socorro Islands, only accessible (by liveaboard) between November and April, is one of very few places for an encounter with the enormous oceanic manta rays.

Nautilus Belle Amie Manta Ray

Mexico. Photo: Nautilus Belle Amie

Over in the Indian Ocean, Cocos Keeling Islands has a popular manta cleaning station and the Maldives’ Hanifaro Bay has possibly the world’s largest resident population, with some lucky divers seeing hundreds on a single encounter.

Whale Sharks

Despite their popularity, we know very little about whale sharks. We don’t know where they breed, where they’re born, or how far they travel in search of food. We do know, like mantas, they are filter feeders, and are often encountered in places where mantas are also spotted. But not always.

Dive Thailand and Myanmar aboard MV Smiling Seahorse Liveaboard image by Franck Fogarolo

Photo: The Smiling Seahorse

In Australia, Ningaloo Reef is well known for whale shark encounters between March and August and on Christmas Island between November and April.

In Indonesia, there is an aggregation point in Raja Ampat’s Cenderawasih Bay and in the Philippines, Oslob and Donsol, all three of these formed historically by the sharks’ attraction to fishing boats. They are also frequently seen in Myanmar and Thailand, in both the Andaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand dive destinations.

Whale sharks are frequently sighted in the Maldives, with a 90% chance of encounter at South Ari Atoll, a secondary nursery populated mainly by juvenile males year-round.

Maldives South Ari Atoll Whale Shark Dive_5488

LUX* South Ari Atoll

In the Americas, whale sharks can be seen in Cancun, Mexico from May to September, and in the Pacific in Galapagos from June to November.

Reef Sharks, Hammerheads, Great Whites, Tigers and Bull Sharks

Sadly, many shark species are endangered, and encounters with large aggregations are rare, especially in Asia but there are still several spots around the globe where it’s possibly to have a close encounter.

Great Whites can be viewed from an underwater cage in South Australia, South Africa and Guadalupe.

Tiger sharks are a popular attraction in the Bahamas and can also be seen, along with bull sharks year-round at the shark dives in Beqa Lagoon and the southern Yasawa Islands in Fiji. Bull sharks are also common in the Bahamas and from November to March in Playa de Carmen, Mexico.

Tiger shark, The Bahamas. Image: Kat Spruth

The best places to see schooling reef sharks and Galapagos whaler sharks are Lord Howe Island, the northern Great Barrier Reef, French Polynesia (especially during the grouper aggregation between June and August) and, of course, Galapagos, with increased shark activity from December to May.

Schooling Hammerheads, Layang Layang

Schooling Hammerheads. Image: Layang Layang Dive Resort.

For schooling hammerheads, dive Layang Layang of the coast of Malaysia in March and April, the remote island of Yonaguni, Japan in February and March, and Galapagos from January to May.

Whales

There are not many places with easy access to diving or snorkelling with the giant pelagics of the ocean, however more and more opportunities to snorkel with whales are emerging.

humpback whale Tonga Pete McGee

Tonga. Image: Pete McGee

In the South Pacific, Tonga is well-known for the annual aggregation of humpbacks as is Moorea in French Polynesia.

In Australia, you can swim with minke whales in the far north Great Barrier Reef between June and August, and humpback whales in Coffs Harbour, Hervey Bay and the Ningaloo Reef.

Great Barrier Reef Dwarf Minke Whales

The Banda Sea in Indonesia, accessible by liveaboard on crossover Komodo to Raja Ampat tours in September and October, is a great spot for encounters with several species of whales, including humpback, pilot and blue whales.

In Timor-Leste, between October and December it’s possible to spot sperm, pilot, humpback and blue whales as well as orcas and several species of dolphin.

Crocodiles

If you’re bold (or maybe crazy?) enough to dive with saltwater crocodiles, there are two places you can do this. The Gardens of the Queen National Park in Cuba, or Banco Chinchorro in Xcalak, Mexico.

Mexico Crocodile Kat Spruth

Mexico. Image: Kat Spruth

(Banner Image credit: Solmar Liveaboard, Mexico. Humpback whale and calf photographed by Eric Hanauer)

Where to dive with whales, where to dive with sharks, where to dive with manta rays, where to dive with whalesharks and where to dive with crocodiles.