Updated on January 15, 2024

Ever since I was a little girl I have been enamored by the ocean and the creatures that live there. How my beloved Free Willy video cassette didn’t become destroyed from being played on repeat is a mystery.

This love of the ocean lead me to become a scuba diver and dive all over the world. Recently Antonio and I have had close encounters with scalloped hammerhead sharks and whale sharks while diving Malpelo Island. Sharing a moment with animals in their natural habitat is a powerful experience.

One of the pioneers of big creature experiences is Amos Nachoum. He is a professional wildlife photographer, explorer and guide. He is the owner of Big Animals Expeditions, a tour operator that specializes in worldwide, small group expeditions to experience large, wild animals in their natural habitats. I have long been a fan of the work Amos does and when I was writing this post I couldn’t think of a better person to get in contact with. He was very kind in allowing me use his photography in this post to illustrate the power and beauty of these creatures. 

Here is my list of ocean creature experiences I want to have in my lifetime.




Big Ocean Creature Experience Bucket List

These creatures are highly intelligent, powerful and beautiful. Despite popular belief, orcas are not aggressive killing machines. The name killer whale is a result of a mistranslation from when an Englishman translated the manuscripts from the galleons of the 14th and 15th centuries. When the Spanish and Portuguese sailors were crossing the Atlantic they had witnessed orcas preying on whales and they called the creature “ballena asesina” which literally translates to killer whale. This name insinuates they are aggressive creatures, that kill anything in its path. This is far from the truth. In fact, there has never been a reported incident with an orca and a human in the wild. 




There are 9 species of hammerhead sharks in the sea and the great hammerhead is the largest, growing up to 6 meters (20 feet). While we have seen schools of scalloped hammerheads we have never seen a great hammerhead. 





Big Ocean Creature Bucket List

Blue whales are the largest creatures to ever inhabit the earth. They can reach up to 100ft (30 m) and weigh between 120-180 tons. Their heart his the size of a Volkswagen beetle. The blowhole of the whale shoots water up to 30ft (10m). The gracefulness and beauty of this creature are equal to its size. 






We’ve been fortunate to see humpbacks jumping and passing by the boat while we on our way to Coiba Island but we’ve never seen them while diving. In Tonga, you can encounter the humpback whale heat run.

While diving in Coiba we could hear them singing, which isn’t as graceful as you might imagine but keeps your eyes staring into the blue with fingers crossed that one might make an appearance. 





Big Ocean Creature Bucket List

In 2011 Antonio and I traveled to the Big Island of Hawaii where went a for night dive/ snorkel to see giant manta rays. At the time I wasn’t a diver so I had to snorkel. While the experience was incredible I still can’t wait to see these impressive creatures while I am diving. 





Sperm whales are easily distinguished by their massive head which holds large quantities of a substance called spermaceti. Whalers once thought that the oily fluid was sperm, but scientists still do not understand the function of spermaceti. One common theory is that the fluid helps the whale alter its buoyancy so it can dive deep and come to the surface again. Sperm whales are known to dive as deep as 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) in search of squid to eat. To accomplish these deep dives they must hold their breath for up to 90 minutes.





Big Ocean Creature Experience Bucket List

Great Whites are notorious for being one of the top predators of not only the sea but the world. They are misunderstood and mysterious, making an encounter with one all the more appealing.  Despite their bad reputation, they are not man eaters.


When I tell people that diving with hammerhead sharks has been one of the greatest experiences of my life, many ask, “but aren’t you afraid they will attack you?” Below is a presentation that Amos Nachoum gave a TED conference called There are No Demons in the Sea. Here he tells about his first experience with a great white shark and explains why there is no reason to fear sharks or any ocean creature.



“Knowledge and relationship are the enemies of all fears.” – Amos Nachoum 


Big thanks to Amos of Big Animals Expeditions for the use his photography.



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15 Responses

    • Amanda Zeisset

      Hey Mike, whale sharks are very impressive and beautiful. They are a great introduction to big animal experiences because they can be very curious and you can get quite close to them. But why stop there, there are so many other creatures see. Check out the video at the end, it’s called There are No Demons in the Sea. The presenter does a great job at explaining why there is no reason to fear these beautiful animals 🙂

  1. Katrina the Two Week Traveler

    I did a great white shark dive in Australia (just recently posted about it on my blog) and it was hands down the most incredible experience of my entire life. Weather permitting I’ll be doing it again in South Africa in May!

    • Amanda Zeisset

      Katrina, thanks for sharing your post! It must be hard for anyone who has never had an experience with a shark to believe that it is indeed a peaceful experience. Hope you make it diving in May.

  2. Winederlusting

    I think at the top of my list is diving with Whale Sharks! So majestic and I love their coloring. I’ve seen Hammerheads up close from living in Florida for many years, but have yet to actually swim with them. My next big diving adventure will be in Iceland! But I don’t think they have any particularly large creatures I’ll encounter on that dive =[.

    Side note…this is one of the more interesting posts I’ve read on a blog in a long time. I grew up on the water in Connecticut and learned about every species I could that lived in the Long Island Sound. I moved to Florida when I was 18 and then tried to do the same there, but the number got intimidating. I really have a deep appreciation for the ocean…and I know I’ll ultimately reside beside it once I slow down on traveling. Just not sure exactly where yet!


    • Amanda Zeisset

      Thanks for your kind message Greig! Seeing a massive whale shark appear out of the blue has been one of my most exciting experiences while diving. Diving in Iceland should be an adventure. Where do you plan to dive there? Let us know how it goes.

    • Amanda Zeisset

      Becky, it is usually a snorkeling trip. One way I’ve seen it happen is a helicopter scouts for the whales. you go out in a boat to the general area and then you go in a kayak to get up close. It would be an amazing experience for sure!

  3. Ryan Biddulph

    Amanda all these guys fascinate me! I lean towards the huge manta rays in particular these days because when we visited Koh Lanta we lived beside a diver. He shared images of trips out to sea, with these gorgeous rays gracefully swimming around him. Brilliant!

    Thanks for the inspiring share Amanda!


    • Amanda Zeisset

      Ryan, how long do you plan on being in Bali? If you and Kelli are going to be there in between July to September you could have a chance to spot them. Mola molas are also seen which would be very cool as well.

  4. Priyanka Mishra

    Hi Amanda your posts are incredible. Your ocean creature experiences is awesome specific to shark. This video also excellent content to educate people about shark. I can’t stay without twitt this….

    • Amanda Zeisset

      Thanks Priyanka! I do love sharks 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed the post and found it educational. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Goni

    This is indeed a great bucket list… With all the big stuff 😉 Till recently mine looked about the same plus like a million things. I’ve just been to Socorro – there you get to dive with the friendliest giant oceanic mantas and with some luck with humpback whales (Feb/Mar). Where are you planning on diving with the great whites?

    • Amanda Zeisset

      Socorro is one of my dream dive destinations. We went to Malpelo a few months ago and so many of the divers on the liveaboard were raving about it. From your post it looks like you had a great time. I love the picture with the silkies and manta! I’d like to make it to Guadalupe to do some cageless dives. What about you?

  6. Escape Hunter

    These photos are amazing.
    Sharks are stunning – they remind me of submarines and fighter jets.
    We tend to forget: we are living on a planet of water. It’s a watery world! Dry land is only a smaller portion of the Earth’s surface.