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