The Indo-Pacific encompasses the richest marine ecosystems on the planet, and houses some of the most incredible marine life. Here, the staff of Scubazoo picks our personal favourites, to showcase some of the wonderful creatures that would be on most divers’ wish lists, ranging from the tiniest critters to the biggest animal that has ever lived. How many have you ticked off your list so far, and which will you choose next?
Blue Whales: Sri Lanka
Over the last few years, Sri Lanka has opened up to tourism, and people are now flocking to meet the greatest of cetaceans. Blue whales can be seen throughout the year off the south of the island. Most people get a whale-watching boat early in the morning and spend the day watching dolphins, sperm whales and blue whales. However, if you want to get in the water with them, you will need to arrange a special tour to (hopefully) get close enough to catch a glimpse of these gigantic creatures from below the surface. Patience and stamina are required, but swimming with the biggest animal ever to have lived on Earth is not something that many people can say they have experienced.
Humpback Whales: Vava’u, Tonga
As with most large nomadic ocean creatures, coming across a passing whale is a rare experience for a diver, and it is only by knowing more about their behaviour that we can up the chances of seeing them underwater. Humpback whales migrate from colder feeding grounds to warmer waters, where they mate and give birth, and Tonga is now one of the places where they can be seen regularly. These animals are, thankfully, protected by strict laws so permission has to be obtained to swim with them, but the effort is well worth the unforgettable experience of sharing the sea with an inquisitive mother and her playful calf.
Manta Rays & Whale Sharks:
Hanifaru Bay, Maldives
Now a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, Hanifaru Bay is one of the few places in the world where you can encounter two of the largest and most majestic fish in the ocean and watch the behaviour of both in a relatively small area. Large schools of manta and whale sharks gather in this bay to feed on the plankton trapped there by the ocean currents. In what appears to be an orchestrated dance, trains of mantas feeding in formation can be seen “barrel-rolling” through the rich waters, sometimes up to 150 at once, whilst huge whale sharks suck large volumes of water through their gills to extract the tiny plankton.
Mola Mola: Bali, Indonesia
The largest bony fish in the sea, the Mola mola, otherwise known as the sunfish, is also one of the most bizarre looking. These huge animals are best seen when visiting cleaning stations; they wait patiently in line for bannerfish to rid them of parasites. Currents can be strong and unpredictable, and the water can be (relatively) cold, but the experience is a must-have for many divers. Sunfish sightings are better during certain stages of the moon, so make sure you check your lunar calendar before you go.
Great White Sharks: Neptune Islands, Australia
For the most dramatic and exciting underwater experiences, diving with sharks is as good as it gets for most divers, and great whites are the ultimate encounter. Nothing can match the rush of adrenalin you get when you encounter a great white shark face-to-face for the first time, when you experience their sheer size and power up-close. Diving off the Neptune Islands in South Australia offers you the chance to see these magnificent creatures from cages at the surface and on the seabed.
Hammerhead Sharks: Layang Layang
Layang Layang, lying off the west coast of Borneo in the South China Sea, is Malaysia’s only atoll. It is blessed with stunning coral reefs, colourful and diverse fish species, and even hawksbill and green turtles. But this is not what divers come for. Divers here spend most of their time hanging out in the blue waiting for pelagic fish to swim by, the highlight of these being huge schools of hammerhead sharks. Hammerheads are solitary hunters by night, but during the day they can be seen en masse in social groups, sometimes numbering hundreds of individuals.
Thresher Sharks: Malapascua
Malapascua Island in the Philippines is still the place to go for sightings of the beautifully elusive thresher shark. Its large eyes are an indication that this shark usually spends its time in the depths of the open ocean, so the best chance of catching a glimpse of its streamlined body is when it visits shallow reefs and accepts the services of cleaner wrasse and other cleaning species that remove parasites from its body. Rare sightings of the shark using its long tail to stun shoals of sardines are also possible around this area.
Turtles: Sipadan, Borneo
Sipadan Island off Borneo is a famous dive site for many reasons. Some say it has everything – stunning corals, sharks, huge schools of barracuda, turtles, and even passing mantas and whale sharks. At certain times of year though (around July we have found) the turtles there get somewhat frisky, and it is possible to see several pairs mating during a dive! This is a frantic time for the turtles and it is possible to see many males competing to mate with a single female over many hours, leaving the female struggling for breath as she desperately attempts to reach the surface under the weight of the pursuing pack.