The wonderful and mystical country of India is known for its incredible population size and vast number of endemic species on land. However, it is less well-known that the same diversity can be found under the sea. India is flanked by three different bodies of water – the Arabian Sea in the west, the Bay of Bengal in the east, and of course, the Indian Ocean in the south. Each has a different topography and boasts a unique collection of majestic marine life that will almost certainly leave you spellbound. Here are 10 of the most notable marine creatures to look out for.
1. Sea Snakes
Sea snakes have earned a reputation as underwater beauties due to the striking patterns and colours of their scales. Roaming the eastern Indian ocean is the banded sea krait, a highly venomous but extremely docile sea snake that is commonly sighted off the coast of Pondicherry City at Aravind’s Wall. Its eye-catching black and white striped body with a backdrop of the deep blue ocean makes for some amazing photos.
2. Sea Turtles
Recognised as a symbol of marine conservation, sea turtles are endearing and gentle creatures that are always a delight to encounter. In India, there are no shortages of sea turtles, as five different species utilise the country’s islands as feeding and breeding grounds. They are a common sight at all of India’s major dive sites, from Goa to Pondicherry. However, the best place to see turtles is undoubtedly The Wall at Kadmat Island in the Lakshadweep archipelago
3. Whitetip Reef Sharks
This species of requiem shark is a frequent visitor to many of India’s dive sites. Due to their small size, whitetip reef sharks are well-known for manoeuvring through caves and crevices throughout their coral reef habitats in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, so make sure to look out for them circling in caves or resting under rocks and coral ledges.
Renowned as one of the fastest and deadliest predators in the sea, the barracuda is a surprisingly large fish that is best admired from afar. Watch out for these fearsome creatures when you’re diving in Suwarmundi in the South Andamans.
5. Whale Sharks
Known as the largest fish in the ocean, whale sharks are widely known as gentle giants. These mighty plankton feeders are protected by the Indian government, though divers can still encounter and respectfully interact with them. Manta Point in Lakshadweep, the Andamans and Pondicherry offer the best chances of encountering them as these locations intersect with the shark’s migratory routes. Sightings are not guaranteed and are often fleeting as these giants cruise by, unmoved by divers’ presence. While a sighting is rare, it is not impossible, and it will certainly be an unbeatable highlight in your logbook
6. Eagle Rays
The eagle ray’s unique spot pattern, distinct bird-like head and extended tail make it easily identifiable. They venture throughout the oceans and have been sighted at all depths. Eagle rays are commonly seen in blue water. Divers should be cautious when interacting with them as they can deliver painful stings with their tail when threatened.
7. Napoleon Wrasses
If you are planning to dive around Havelock Island (Swaraj Island), keep your eyes peeled for one of its largest residents. These vibrant giants can reach immerse sizes but are incredibly
docile. The Napoleon wrasse, or humpback wrasse, is frequently spotted cruising over the corals of Dixon’s Pinnacle.
8. Mantis Shrimps
Small but mighty, mantis shrimps brighten the sea beds of the Indian ocean with the vibrant colours of their shells. Look out for them on shallow reefs and coral rubble patches. If you’re really lucky, you might even see these mouth- egg carriers with their brood. Temple Reef in Pondicherry is a great place for sightings of the charismatic peacock mantis shrimp, though they can also be found across many of India’s dive sites.
Generally found in shallower waters, dugongs are typically seen around Palk Bay, the Gulf of Mannar in Tamil Nadu, the Gulf of Kutch in Gujarat, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Havelock Island’s Dugong Reed is also a common dive site for those looking to encounter these friendly animals. The best times to see dugongs are around sunrise and sunset.
10. Manta Rays
Despite their intimidating size, manta rays do not have poisonous stingers. An undisputed highlight of any dive, these mighty creatures are something to look out for. Lakshadweep is periodically graced by the presence of these impressive rays as they come to the reef to be cleaned by the smaller reef inhabitants. If you are diving Goa, then a trip to Pigeon Island off the coast of Karnataka also offers occasional sightings of manta rays. From the Andamans, Barren Island offers your best chances for mantas – and look out for passing eagle rays when you are there too!
To read more about the best dive destinations in South and West Asia, check out Asian Diver Magazine Issue 4/2021 coming to the shelves soon, or reserve your copy by emailing email@example.com.