If, like us, you are hooked on David Attenborough’s latest masterpiece Blue Planet II, then you might be starting to see the appeal of making marine life more of a focus on your next holiday. We asked our specialists to choose the five most exciting marine species and identify where best to spot them.
1. Blue whale
The blue whale is the largest mammal in the world and is similar in size to a Boeing 737. This almighty creature can measure up to 30 metres in length and weigh up to 180,000 kilograms – its tongue alone can weigh as much as an elephant. Even more astounding than the blue whale’s epic proportions though, is the fact it manages to reach these dizzying heights while surviving almost exclusively on krill (tiny crustaceans similar to shrimp). It devours almost 4,000 kilograms of krill every single day. Blue whales produce calls louder than any other animal on Earth. Often these are at such a low frequency that they go unheard by the human ear, but it is believed that through these sounds, they can detect one another from up to 1,000 miles away.
Our favourite place to spot them: Sri Lanka, from November to April
2. Bottlenose dolphin
Bottlenose dolphins are incredibly intelligent and charismatic creatures that are a particularly popular species. They have gently curved mouths which give the impression they are sporting a permanent smile. Dolphins communicate via a series of squeaks and whistles and are experts in echolocation, which is the method they use to track down their prey. They can send out an incredible 2,000 clicking noises per second, which then travel through the water, eventually bouncing back once they reach an object and thereby alerting the dolphin of possible prey. These acrobatic creatures can swim at up to 18 miles per hour and can breach almost five metres out of the water, captivating onlookers as they land with a splash.
Our favourite place to spot them: Zanzibar, year-round
3. Emperor penguin
Emperor penguins are the largest of all the penguin species and are only found in the most remote reaches of Antarctica, making them particularly rewarding to spot. They are the only birds that breed during Antarctica’s winter, which boasts the most violent weather known on Earth. During this long, harsh season, emperor penguins rely on their partners immensely. As soon as the female lays the egg, she leaves it in the care of her loyal mate, while she embarks on a two-month journey in search of food for the family. The male keeps the egg warm, balancing it on his feet under a feathery layer of skin, until it is ready to hatch. During this time, he eats almost nothing, saving his last bits of stored food for his newly hatched chick.
Our favourite place to spot them: Antarctica, from October to March
4. Galapagos sea lion
The Galapagos sea lion is of course endemic to the unique volcanic islands after which it is named. It is the most abundant marine mammal to be found on the archipelago, and whether you see them lazing on the beach or playing in the water, you are unlikely to visit the Galapagos Islands without spotting a pod of these sleek and silky creatures. With its streamlined body and powerful flippers, the Galapagos sea lion is an acrobatic animal and can dive almost 600 metres and stay underwater for up to 10 minutes. Male sea lions weigh up to four times that of their female counterparts, and have been known to reach almost 400 kilograms in weight.
Our favourite place to spot them: Galapagos, year-round
5. Whale shark
Whale sharks are the largest existing species of fish, and have been known to reach a length of over 12 metres and weigh more than 20,000 kilograms. They are filter feeding sharks that swim with their mouths wide open, scooping up plankton and other small fish. Despite their immense size, they are harmless to humans. They are incredibly graceful and calm creatures and often glide right alongside swimmers. These majestic giants have distinctive white spots on their backs and white bellies, and their slow movements allow swimmers time to observe their intricate markings up close. Whale sharks are very elusive and are believed to take part in a complex migration which scientists still know relatively little about.
Our favourite place to spot them: Mozambique, from October to March