There are a lot of advantages to an island getaway. You get to enjoy sun-tanning sessions on white-sand beaches, massages in calming spas, and indulgent meals on patios overlooking the Pacific Ocean at sunset. You also get to explore the crystal-clear waters of the world’s oceans. During your afternoons spent snorkelling, diving, or embarking on water safaris through picturesque lagoons, you’ll have the chance to see (and maybe even encounter) some of the most fascinating wildlife that lives in the ocean.
From gentle whales to eerie-looking molluscs to inquisitive turtles, there is a lot of incredible underwater wildlife to see on an island getaway. While there are thousands of animals to see off the islands of the South Pacific and Indian Ocean, we’ve highlighted the following six animals to amaze you on your journeys to the world’s most idyllic islands. There are some favourites included, as well as at least one animal that might surprise you. These are our choices for incredible underwater animals that we hope you see on an island getaway.
We dedicated an entire article to letting you know where you can see humpback whales on our vacations (see link below) and we have to list them again here as there are few things as magnificent as spotting a whale breaching on the open water. A humpback whale can reach up to 16m in length and are known to breach and sing, making them easy to notice when you’re on the water. Most of the time, you’ll spot humpback whales in the midst of their migration, heading from the cool Antarctic waters to warmer spots in the South Pacific to breed and give birth to calves. Refer to our previous article for in-depth information on where to spot these aquatic mammals, but know that if you head to Bora Bora, Hawaii, or the Maldives during these animal migration patterns, you have a good chance of spotting them in the wild.
Green Sea Turtle
These large turtles are more olive than green, but quibbles about the precision of their name aside, they’re some of the coolest animals to spot during your time on a tropical island. A large part of what makes them so incredible is their mosaicked skin and massive shell, but they’re also friendly and swim relatively slowly, making them easy to spot and catch up to on a diving adventure. They subsist mainly off the tops of the long sea grass growing along the ocean floor, but juvenile sea turtles are carnivorous, eating everything from fish eggs to small molluscs and sponges. Unfortunately, green sea turtles are endangered as their population has shrunk due to rising sea temperatures, pollution, and hunting. However, you’ll still find them throughout tropical waters and laying their eggs on sandy beaches. In particular, you’ll find green sea turtles in the waters of the South Pacific, from French Polynesia to Fiji to the Hawaiian Islands. You’ll even find them in the aptly-named Turtle Islands of the Philippines and off the coast of Madagascar and Central American nations like Mexico and Costa Rica.
When you watch a manta ray swim beneath the waves, it almost looks like they’re flying through the air. That’s how elegant they are. We could’ve easily included smaller rays like giant reef rays, eagle rays, and even your average spotted stingray on this list, but the manta ray is the largest and most fascinating species of ray you’re likely to find when snorkelling through the waters off a tropical island nation. Although manta rays are carnivorous, their diet mostly consists of zooplankton, which they swallow as they swim through the waters. People initially thought manta rays were monstrous and had the capability to sink boats, but in more recent centuries, we learned that they’re largely docile and friendly to interact with. They’re listed as a vulnerable species, as people harvest them for their gills and often kill them with pollution and with discarded commercial fishing nets. However, there are enough of them in the waters that you can still see them on an island getaway. Fiji and the Maldives are your best spots to see the magnificent rays. You can also spot them off the coasts of Thailand, Indonesia, and Australia.
If you knew nothing about underwater animals, you might think a whale shark was a terrifying creature. A shark the size of a whale? Could there be anything scarier to find sharing the waters of the ocean with you? Well, yes. Although the name makes them sound like the shark from Jaws blown up to the size of a blue whale, whale sharks are actually the gentlest sharks you’ll ever come across. These filter feeders mainly subsist off plankton and krill and wouldn’t ever think of eating anything larger than a small squid. Snorkelling or scuba diving alongside a whale shark is a bucket list item for a lot of people, but there are only a few spots in the world where you can make this happen. The Maldives are lucky enough to have whale sharks in their waters all-year round, with sharks passing through the western waters of the archipelago between May and December and passing through eastern waters from January to April. Alternatively, if you head to the south of the island of Mahe in the Seychelles between August and November, you’ll catch the whales in the midst of their migration patterns. Beyond these islands in the Indian Ocean, you’ll also find whale sharks in the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia and off the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.
Dolphins are basically the smartest creatures on the planet. These brilliant marine mammals have complex social systems, communicate through a series of clicks and whistles, and have even been known to recognize themselves in mirrors. They’re smart, friendly, and ought to be treated with respect when encountered in the wild. Oh, and let’s not forgettable how adorable they are, with their perpetually-smiling mouths and kind eyes. There are few things as memorable as coming across a dolphin in the wild on your island getaway. If you’re really lucky, a dolphin may even let you touch them and rub their nose. But even if you don’t get a chance to touch a dolphin, simply seeing one is excitement enough. To increase your chances of seeing one of these mammals in the wild, head to the islands of Oahu or Kona in Hawaii or Moorea in French Polynesia. Fiji is also home to spinner dolphins. And beyond tropical islands, New Zealand, Iceland, and Australia all have coastal areas where dolphins are common.
These tentacled invertebrates are not the first animals many people want to see when diving beneath the waters, but they are among the most fascinating animals to observe on a diving or snorkelling trip. If you’re not easily spooked, spotting an octopus while on an island getaway can be very exciting. Part of what makes it so thrilling is that octopuses are hard to spot (and yes, I didn’t spell it wrong; people often use the word octopi to refer to more than one octopus, but it’s technically incorrect). They have natural camouflage and some species like the mimic octopus can even take on the colours of other animals such as lionfish or starfish. Often, you’ll swim by an algae-covered rock and not even know that you’re looking at a camouflaged octopus (it’s usually their bulbous eyes that give them away). You’ll find octopuses along most coastlines around the world, especially in temperate or tropical waters. The islands of Hawaii have many good coral reefs where octopuses are common. The Coral Coast of Fiji is another good spot to catch them underwater. Just be sure to keep your distance if you do come across one on the ocean floor; although not typically dangerous, they may blast you with ink if they get spooked.
Seeing any of these six animals on a snorkelling or diving adventure in the Indian Ocean or South Pacific would be a definite highlight of your entire vacation. If you head to Bora Bora, Fiji, Hawaii, or the Maldives, you’ll have the opportunity to see some of these animals and so many other undersea wonders. The ocean is a fascinating place. Be sure to take full advantage of its incredible sights on your next island getaway.