Dive with the most fascinating animals under water. Here you can find out which animals you should go diving with and where you can find them.
For many years, the manta was considered a sea monster. Ancient societies felt these large, dark, mysterious ocean-dwellers could only manifest from a place of anger. National Geographic even published a hair-raising report in 1919 describing a manta that was said to have wrapped a boat’s anchor chain around it to pull the ship out to the open sea. Fortunately, today the myth of the manta as a monster has been refuted. On the contrary, these “devil rays” are now a favorite among divers.
Mantas live in temperate, tropical, and subtropical ocean waters. They prefer to stay close to the coast; you will rarely meet a manta far out over deep water. Most of these rays swim near the surface, preferring a depth between 0 and 30 meters where their food of choice, plankton, is most abundant.
Mantas are known to come close to reefs when they are foraging. You can see them soaring over reefs as they feed or when they stop to visit cleaning stations, where you can observe several mantas at a time practicing their personal hygiene.
A little luck and a lot of advanced planning is the only way to dive with a whale shark, as seeing these big plankton-eaters is rare. Even Jacques Cousteau saw only two in the first 20 years of his expeditions. The biggest fish in the sea, these sharks live in all tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world’s oceans. The largest documented whale shark measured 12.18 meters. These gentle giants move slow and steady through the water with a maximum speed of only 5 km/h.
Whale sharks can dive deep but are easiest to find while filter feeding at the surface. Because these massive sharks move slowly and calmly through the water, it makes snorkeling and diving with them an extraordinary experience. Most times, you can get up next to them and swim right alongside them. Since whale shark’s favorite food is krill, you have the best chance of seeing them if you plan your vacation to areas where krill blooms will be happening. Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia gives you one of the best opportunities for diving with whale sharks. The largest collection of them is documented here during the coral spawning season.
Many divers dream of meeting a great white, but much more hope never to swim across its path. It is true; the great white shark still has an image problem. However, it has long been proven that they are not monsters with an appetite for humans. There are only four locations worldwide where you can go cage diving with great white sharks. These great white expeditions book up years in advance, however, so make sure you plan ahead!
Hollywood has helped create an image of the great white shark being a ruthless killer in the minds of most people. The truth is that great white sharks often only eat every 4 to 8 weeks; hardly the image of a greedy monster. The high-fat content of their favorite prey, seals and sea lions, helps them through the lean times. In fact, these amazing hunters should be more afraid of humans than we are of them, as populations continue to decline.
Hardly any marine animal conjures up such strong emotions of empathy and fascination within humans as dolphins. They exude a pure zest for life, evident every time they playfully swim through the water and jump in the air. They are extremely intelligent, even if it is disputed how high this should be valued. In any case, they show complex behaviors, curiosity, play instinct, and complex social structures. And if that does not intrigue you, there is that gorgeous smile.
Dolphins are highly social animals. They live in large groups called pods. In some species, multiple smaller family groups come together to form huge pods. These can consist of over a thousand individuals, an amazing sight to see!
Evident on the map, different species of dolphins can be found in many places around the world. Even in the Mediterranean, there are more dolphins than you might think. You can dive with them particularly well in Egypt, where entire dive sites, like the “Dolphin House,” are named after them.
Most divers only see what they know. No marine species knows this better than the pygmy seahorse. Countless divers, day-after-day, swim right past this tiny Indo-Pacific fish without realizing their existence. It was no different for scientists, as it was not until 1970 when the first pygmy seahorse was scientifically described.
Pygmy seahorses have since become famous as more and more photos started appearing. Suddenly, avid divers from around the world flocked to the Indo-Pacific in search of these elusive seahorses. Pictures of possible new species began appearing as well. In fact, a second one was described in 1997, Minotaur hippocampus, considered native to South Australia.
The fact that pygmy seahorses remained undetected for so long is not only due to their tiny dimensions. Living on horn coral, they have evolved to mimic the color and structure of their surroundings almost exactly. Many times, it is hard to see them even if your buddy points directly at it.
Like no other freshwater fish, the catfish is surrounded by legend. Everyone knows him, but in many countries the catfish is more elusive and can grow to be the largest freshwater predator.
Catfish can reach up to 2 meters in length and 75 kilograms. This freshwater giant likes cloudy, standing, or slowly flowing water. Chances of seeing catfish are higher in the early morning as they love the dawn, hiding under branches or roots during the day. If you can spot one in its shelter, chances are good to see it in the same spot again on the next dive.
Tiny fish of 20-30 cm in length, sardines may not sound like the most thrilling fish to see while diving, but what if they were streaming past you by the millions? One of the most impressive spectacles in the animal kingdom is when these fish gather in gigantic swarms just off the coast of South Africa every year.
The great sardine run takes place annually between late May and July. These fish gather at the Agulhas Bank in front of the southern tip of Africa. As they move northeast toward Durban, they congregate in schools that can exceed 15 km long and over 3 km wide! Dive down to 30 meters deep, and you will see these spectacular sardines follow a cold current that forms along the coast every year at this time.
Anyone who has seen one will never forget the encounter. The sunfish (Mola mola) is not only the largest bony fish in the world, but is also the most unusual. Its German name, "Floating Head," aptly describes it. As if the torso was severed, the body looks like it ends abruptly. Instead of a caudal fin, it has a blunt body end. Flattened laterally, sunfish look disc shaped. The heaviest individual to-date weighed over 2,200 kilograms.
These gentle giants are often sighted individually and close to the surface, found in temperate and tropical waters all around the world. Sunfish are easy to spot from a boat because they enjoy basking in the sun. They enjoy lying on their side, floating at the surface. Scientists are unsure of the reason for this behavior; however, it is believed that they kill parasites with the UV light from the sun. Seabirds have also been seen picking off parasites from the large fish from the air. An astonishing sight is seeing this colossal fish jump several meters out of the water. Another behavior thought to knock parasites off their skin.
The leafy seadragon is an amazing sight. Its body is wavy, flattened on the side, and perfectly camouflaged despite its striking color pattern of yellow dots, blue stripes, and red-violet shades. It is hard to believe that such a colorful fish can merge with their surroundings right before your eyes.
The leafy seadragon can grow up to 40 cm long and belongs to the seahorse and pipefish family. They are endemic to only a single area in South Australia. As with all seahorses, their bodies are covered with bony plates that offer protection but restrict mobility.
The leafy seadragon moves with the help of their dorsal fin, producing up to 70 waves per second. The color of the leafy seadragon heavily depends on their food. The greenish-yellow hue of their main food source, crab, is reflected in their exterior. Deep-water species are colored reddish-brown, like the crayfish they eat in deeper regions.
Long gone are the days when the knowledge of marine animals was limited, and imagination immeasurable. Stories of giant octopuses pulling people down into the depths of the sea are now just fairy tales. However, if an octopus could serve as a template for such stories, then the giant Pacific octopus would be the main character. It is the largest of all octopus species, with arm spans of over 4 meters.
Seeing these eight-armed giants is fairly restrictive. Giant Pacific Octopuses are only found along the Pacific coast of the United States and Canada. These giant octopuses are not just big; they are also often colored in a beautiful orange-brown hue. These predominantly nocturnal predators feed mostly on shellfish such as crabs and lobsters, but will also eat smaller fish.
The giant Pacific octopus is widespread. They can be found in shallow water to depths of 1500 meters. In the summer, these animals are attracted to mate in deeper water. In autumn and winter, they come to lay their eggs in shallow water.
This article was written by divers and editors of the underwater magazine. Read more in the Unterwasser digital subscription.