Looking for the ultimate wildlife encounter? Here’s a list of places where you can get in the water and swim alongside some of the ocean’s largest – and sometimes deadliest – predators.
Killer whales in Norway
In the deep, icy fjords off the coast of Tysfjord in Norway, 300 km north of the Arctic Circle, tourists cram themselves into tiny Zodiac boats in hopes of swimming with one of the largest marine carnivores: the killer whale. Growing to a length of almost 10 meters, and weighing over 6 tons, the killer whale is fully capable of eating the tourists that spill over the side of the Zodiac in their diving dry-suits, hoping to spend a few moments in the water with these giant ocean predators. Anyone adventurous enough to make their way to the remote regions of northern Norway to swim with killer whales can take comfort in the fact that these dolphins (despite their name, killer whales are actually classified as dolphins) have never attacked and killed a human swimmer in the wild. Staring down a killer whale in the open ocean, however, is still a rather harrowing experience.
Leopard seals in Antarctica
Adrenaline junkies looking for extreme eco-adventures will be happy to learn that a number of tour companies offer the chance to dive and swim with wildlife in the frigid waters of Antarctica. This includes up-close encounters with a fearsome predator: the leopard seal. These seals can grow to over two meters in length, and have a mouth full of ferocious-looking teeth that they use to rip apart penguins. They are unafraid of human swimmers, and have garnered a reputation for approaching and interacting closely with divers. Their curiosity makes them a lot of fun to swim with, and they are generally harmless, although on one occasion an encounter turned deadly for a British marine scientist. Swimming with leopard seals in the open ocean is not for the faint of heart.
Great white sharks in South Africa
There are plenty of places where thrill-seekers can dive or swim with sharks around the world, but nothing beats an up close and personal encounter with the legendary great white shark, especially those that prowl the waters off the South Africa coast. Most experts would agree that the safest way to makes friends with a great white is from inside a shark-proof cage – although there’s no guarantee that an oversized great white won’t be able to tear its way through even the strongest steel cage. While these fearsome predators might strike terror into the hearts of most swimmers, let’s not forget that if you go swimming in the ocean, you’re far more likely to be injured by a jellyfish than a great white.
Whale sharks in Mexico
Whale sharks are gentle giants that drift through the ocean sucking algae, krill, and small fish into their gaping jaws. Based on their diet, whale sharks are technically carnivorous predators, but these nearly-toothless sharks are about as likely as a butterfly to attack and eat a human. Despite being larger than a London bus, their slow, graceful movements make it feel more like you are swimming with an oversized teddy bear than a deadly ocean predator. Whale sharks attract a steady stream of tourists to Mexico and other warm-water countries, where you can snorkel or dive with these ginormous fish.
Manta rays in Hawaii
Like their cousin the whale shark, manta rays are filter-feeding giants that slowly cruise through the water, seemingly unaware of the humans in their midst. Tourists discovered a manta ray feeding hotspot off the coast of Hawaii back in the 1990s which quickly grew into a must-see destination for the eco-adventurer. Tourists can swim, snorkel, or dive alongside these giant rays as they prowl the warm Hawaiian waters in search of a meal. It’s even possible to go diving at night, where huge underwater floodlights illuminate the ocean as these magnificent animals emerge from the blackness and glide overhead.
Bonus destination: Pigs, The Bahamas
If you are hoping for a magical experience swimming with charismatic megafauna, but get nervous at the sight of foot-long seal incisors or bitey shark faces, why not consider swimming with feral pigs? Legend has it that a group of domestic pigs survived a shipwreck in the Caribbean a few decades ago, and doggy-paddled (piggy-paddled?) to safety on a nearby island. This uninhabited Bahamian island, affectionately called “Pig Beach,” is now home to the only swim-with-the-pigs tourist encounter in the world. The small colony of feral pigs lives happily on their tiny tropical isle, content to forage for food in the sand, drink from the freshwater springs dotted around the island, and take daily swims in the clear blue waters of the Caribbean. Tourists now flock to Pig Beach for the chance to swim alongside these happy-go-lucky swine in their unique ocean paradise.
Read the original article (with images) over at Earth Touch.