Curious creatures

Written by Becky Roberts

Written by Becky Roberts

PADI talk us through their favourite curious sea creatures and share their tips on where to dive with them responsibly.

One of the greatest benefits to obtaining your PADI Open Water Diver certification is that you can start to seek adventures beneath the surface all over the world, encountering curious creatures of all shapes and sizes. 

From the tiniest and most colourful nudibranchs to witnessing a pod of orcas swim by, the humbling moments of connection with marine life are what draws many to exploring and protecting the ocean. To make your connection with these curious creatures of the sea even more meaningful, there are a range of PADI Distinctive Specialty courses that you can take – where you’ll learn how to responsibly interact with marine life while contributing to some of the largest citizen science initiatives on the planet. 

With over 236,878 named marine species that call the ocean home, and an estimated 91% of marine species still not registered, PADI Divers are poised to be some of the first to discover a new marine species.

But of the curious sea dwellers that we do know about, here are PADI’s top suggestions for your bucket list.

Whale Sharks (Rhincodon typus)

A swim with the biggest fish in the world is top of most scuba divers’ wish lists. Whale sharks play an important role in keeping the oceans healthy while also creating sustainable income for local communities through tourism. However, like many other shark species, whale sharks are classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, with declining populations worldwide. 

The best way to dive with whale sharks safely, for both you and the creature, is to enter the water as quietly as possible and stay at least three metres away. It’s important to let the whale shark stay in control of their own movements, without being influenced by your presence. You’ll want to capture your encounter on camera but try to avoid the flash and certainly keep the flash clear of the whale shark’s eyes.

In most places around the world, if there were no diving with sharks, there would most likely be no sharks. Responsible shark tourism must be seen as an act of conservation, because it creates a strong economic incentive to protect sharks rather than kill them.   

Want to swim with this friendly fish? Head for the Galapagos, Philippines, Mozambique, or the Maldives.

Manta Rays (Manta birostris)

The Oceanic Manta Ray typically has a width of 13 to 16.5 feet, with the biggest ever recorded being 23 feet wide. The Manta Ray is constantly on the move – if it stops swimming it’ll sink – which makes it an excellent diving companion. When taking an underwater tour with a Manta Ray however, procced slowly, avoid flash photography, and stay at least five feet away – they might want to come closer to see what you’re all about but that’s their call, not yours.

Responsible ecotourism that will allow you to meet a Manta Ray can be enjoyed at the Great Barrier Reef, the Maldives, and Hawaii.

Octopus (Octopada)             

These blue-blooded creatures have a whole lot of heart (three hearts, in fact!) but they scare easily, which causes them to release an ink that inhibits a predator’s sense of smell and sight. A female octopus can lay up to 100,000 eggs, but shortly after these hatch the mother will die – it’s a hard circle of life for these curious beings.

To seek out the minic octopus, you’ll want to venture to Papua New Guinea. Put Indonesia on the itinerary for the coconut octopus, or you can find the common species in the Canary Islands.

Leafy Sea Dragons (Phycodurus eques)

Sea dragons, both weedy and leafy, are indigenous to the waters of Australia, more specifically the western and southern coasts, and only found here. These creatures have mastered the art of camouflage and blend in almost perfectly with the seaweed – seeking one out is certainly an achievement!

While they are not particularly in danger from predators, they are extremely delicate critters and are affected by human activities. The Australian Government placed complete protection over leafy sea dragons in the early 1990s and they are currently listed as near-threatened, still requiring protection.

Your best chances of locating a leafy sea dragon are at Rapid Bay, near Adelaide, in South Australia. 

Dugongs (Dugong dugon)

Dugongs are another gentle giant of the sea. These herbivores can live for up to 70 years and average eight to ten feet in length. While they live in the water, dugongs are more closely related to elephants rather than dolphins or whales. 

Dugongs are eaten by sharks and crocodiles, but its human activity that is the main reason for their vulnerable species status. Construction has caused habitat loss, they get caught in fishing nets, and they’re hunted in many countries, all of which means that their population numbers are steadily shrinking.

These beautiful marine mammals have a very slow rate of reproduction and usually only have one calf at a time. And, if there is a lack of sea grass in their habitat, they delay breeding. Even in prime conditions, dugong populations would only increase by five percent in one year.

To dive with a dugong, keep a safe distance and move slowly around it. They’ll likely continue dining on their sea grass lunch and give you plenty of photo opportunities. With a dugong, practice passive interaction, meaning that you let them initiate any sort of contact. And watch your bubbles and fin kicks, these might disturb them.

Dive with a dugong in Australia, Vanuatu, or Egypt.

Hammerhead Sharks (Sphyrnidae)

There are nine different species of hammerhead, ranging in size from 35 inches to 20 feet in length. These sharks prefer temperate, tropical waters, and a healthy population of stingrays to keep them well fed. Often found in schools comprising over 100 sharks at a time, an encounter with hammerheads can be quite the sight.

Most species of hammerhead sharks are classified on the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable. Populations are declining, and habitats are changing. In testament to the underwater discoveries still to be made, the Caroline hammerhead was only detected in 2013.

Hammerheads can be found at Socorro Island in Mexico, Bimini in the Bahamas, or at ‘hammerhead triangle’: Malpelo Island, Cocos Island, and Galapagos Island.


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