From colossal whales and the ocean's gentle giants - whale sharks - to mass frenzies of pelagics in the deep, there's nothing more humbling than being dwarfed by creatures thrice your size. Yet, despite their monumental presence, seeing the ocean's larger animals is notoriously tricky. For starters, the ocean covers 70% of the planet, which is a lot of ground (or water) to cover. Some animals are also migratory, meaning timing is crucial. Then, there's the challenge of picking the right location, with over 4,028 dive sites across the world to choose from. Cue: a lot of head scratching. Fortunately, we know all the best places to dive with big animals, so keep reading to discover the destinations boasting the world's best big life diving.
The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
The Galapagos Islands initially found fame as the birthing ground for Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Today, this wildlife-rich archipelago, located some 620 miles west of Ecuador in the eastern Pacific Ocean, is best known for having the world's best big life diving. There are two seasons which draw in different sets of marine life. During the warm season (December to May), divers can see fevers of schooling hammerheads and manta rays. Meanwhile, the cold season (July to December) draws in huge pregnant whale sharks, mola molas and penguins.
Chances are you haven't heard of Palau (unless you're a seasoned diver). Yet, this remote archipelago in the remote corners of the western Pacific Ocean, has been quietly leading efforts towards global ocean conservation with a fully protected marine reserve covering 80% of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Palau's marine-rich waters are a testament to their efforts, offering truly world-class diving with over 1,500 species of fish and 700 species of coral. Palau's most famous site, Blue Corner, offers some of the world's best big life diving, with strong currents drawing in vast schools of barracuda, tuna, wahoo, eagle rays, hawksbill and green turtles, giant groupers and sharks.
Socorro Island is the largest of four islands that make up the Revillagigedo Archipelago, Mexico's largest marine reserve. Located 250 miles south of Cabo San Lucas, in the eastern Pacific Ocean, Socorro boasts some of the world's best big life diving for bucket-list pelagics. Aside from boasting the world's friendliest manta rays and dolphins, divers can see ten species of shark, including scalloped hammerheads, silkies, Galapagos, oceanic whitetips, silvertips, blacktips, bulls, tigers, whale sharks, and, on occasion, deep-dwelling thresher sharks. Visit between January and April and you might also see a humpback whale (or several) pass by.
Back on mainland Baja California, another wildlife migratory phenomenon quietly occurs every year. Between October and December, the waters of Magdalena Bay become frenzied, as giant sardine bait balls are pillaged by striped marlin, sea lions, whales and dolphins - this is the second-largest sardine run in the world.
The Bahamas Shark Sanctuary was established in 2011, and today over 40 shark species reside in its waters, making this island nation the undisputed shark-diving capital of the world. While some species, like Caribbean reef sharks, can be seen year-round, other migratory species require some forward planning. If you visit Bimini between January and April, you'll get to dive alongside elusive great hammerheads. Meanwhile, Grand Bahama Island attracts tiger sharks to the aptly named Tiger Beach from October to May. And between March and June, female oceanic whitetips congregate around Cat Island to feed on migrating tuna, giving divers the chance to see one of the world's most threatened shark species.
It's no secret that the Maldives has some for the best big life diving in the Indian Ocean. The waters of the Maldives are teeming with life, from the manta cleaning stations scattered across the atolls, to thrilling shark dives in deep channels, to coral reefs brimming with fish life.
Those keen to dive with whale sharks can see them year-round in the South Ari Atoll, while whale shark aggregations can be seen around the North Male Atoll between May and June. Thresher sharks, whitetips, blacktips, nurse guitars, grey reef sharks and hammerheads can be spotted in the Maldives' southernly Huvadhoo Atoll. Meanwhile, between May and December, Hanifaru Bay in the Baa Atoll hosts the world's largest aggregation of manta rays.
French Polynesia might be best known for its Robinson Crusoe-style tropical islands, but beneath the serene turquoise lagoons and channels, this South Pacific island nation is brimming with life. If joining a mass shark feeding frenzy tops your bucket list, beeline straight to the Tuamotu archipelago for the chance to witness one of the world's most thrilling underwater events. Each July, during the full moon, the Fakarava channel hosts a mass marbled grouper spawning, and while there may be thousands of groupers during the day, as night falls thousands of grey reef sharks pillage them to single digits in less than an hour.
Ningaloo Reef lies along the western flank of Australia, and while often overlooked in favour of the Great Barrier Reef in the east, this UNESCO World Heritage site hosts some of the world's most incredible marine creatures. Between March and July each year, whale sharks gather in the shallow turquoise waters to feed, while humpback whales pass through the area between August and November. While you're over there, it would be amiss to exclude the east coast. When it comes to seeing big life, Cod Hole, located on Ribbon Reef #10 on the Great Barrier Reef, is one of the best-known sites in the world for diving with inquisitive giant potato cod.
Cocos Island, Costa Rica
Another destination from the eastern Pacific Ocean, Cocos Island is the place to dive with sharks, sharks and more sharks. Every dive is rife with pointy-toothed predators, from huge schools of scalloped hammerheads at Alcyon to oceanic blacktips, silkies, whitetip reef sharks, the occasional whale shark and tiger sharks. Cocos is also home to 27 endemic fish species, including the red-lipped batfish, as well as huge schools of jacks and tuna. Strong currents mean this destination is best left to experienced divers, but for those up for the challenge, this island is a mecca for divers seeking big animal encounters in the open ocean.