8 Ocean Dwellers to Meet on Your Next Eco-Adventure

Wendy Worrall Redal by Wendy Worrall Redal | June 3rd, 2010 | 1 Comment
topic: Eco Travel

humpback whale breaching in Alaska

I finally saw Disneynature’s new film, Oceans, the studio’s follow-up to last year’s acclaimed Earth, an equally dazzling visual tour-de-force. If it’s still on a big screen near you, dash out and see it while you can. Then, consider the suggestions below for an offshore vacation to awaken your eco-sensitivity.

Oceans’ French directors, Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud, reveal whole worlds beneath the sea, introducing us to denizens of the deep we never knew existed, such as the Spanish dancer sea slug with its flowing red flamenco-style ‘cape’; the leafy sea dragon, a seahorse that looks like a fluttering plant; and warring battalions of spider crabs off the Australia coast, attacking each other in two phalanxes of tens of thousands battling claws.

The oceans’ tiny wonders are as amazing as its more charismatic fauna, which the film also showcases with great drama and beauty: Leaping herds of porpoises soar in rhythm over the waves; whales breach and crash; and polar bears hunt on pack ice — they’re marine mammals, too!

Leaving the theater, I wanted to hop the next plane to some tropical locale, don a snorkel and fins and come face to face with some of the captivating creatures I had been marveling at. But, you needn’t submerge yourself to enjoy an encounter with the ocean’s menagerie. Just getting onto the water can bring you into proximity with all sorts of engaging animals, from sea otters to spinner dolphins.

As the film observes, the Earth’s oceans are in peril — not least the Gulf of Mexico, where millions of gallons of gushing oil have damaged the deep and the shore alike. But pristine waters still exist, and the more we can experience their fragile treasures, the more likely we are to advocate for their protection.

Think about an ocean-based adventure for your next vacation. Here are some enticing possibilities.

Watch humpback whales in Alaska or Hawaii

Great viewing opportunities exist in Southeast Alaska’s protected waters in summer, especially from the seat of a kayak. Maui and the Kona Coast are also a superb place to see humpbacks between January and April.  Humpbacks migrate more than 12,000 miles a year, feeding in polar waters in summer and returning to the tropics to breed and give birth. They are acrobatic entertainers, breaching, spy-hopping and slapping their flippers on the water. They are also avid vocalizers, and most whale-watching cruises offer an opportunity to listen to their songs on a hydrophone.

Look for orcas in the Pacific Northwest

Also called “killer whales” for their finely tuned hunting abilities, these sleek black-and-white creatures are not whales — in fact, they are the world’s largest species of porpoise. See them from a kayak as they cruise in large pods in Johnstone Strait off the coast of Vancouver Island from July to September, in search of spawning salmon. Year-round resident pods also live in Washington state’s San Juan Islands.

Float among belugas in Northern Canada

These charming and docile white cetaceans congregate by the thousands at the mouth of the Churchill River each summer, where it empties into Hudson Bay in Northern Manitoba. Meet them at eye level from motorized rafts or close up in a kayak on a genuine Arctic summer adventure. You may see Arctic fox, caribou and even polar bears on shore, too!

Swim with sea lions in the Galapagos

In this Edenic archipelago 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, it’s possible to lie on a beach surrounded by a hundred or more sea lions that are completely nonchalant about human presence. But they can be curious, too, especially the youngsters, who often cavort with snorkelers beneath the waves. Try a boat tour of the islands, or, for an even more intimate vantage point, opt for a kayak adventure. You’ll commune with penguins and sea turtles and marine iguanas, too.

Snorkel with whale sharks in Mexico

These sweet-natured beasts, weighing 45,000 pounds and growing to 45 feet in length, are not sharks at all, but the world’s largest species of fish. Their dark gray skin is mottled with a striking checkerboard of yellow spots and stripes. An ancient creature originating some 60 million years ago, whale sharks live in the open tropical seas, feeding mostly on plankton and microscopic plants. From tiny Holbox Island off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, cruise offshore to meet these gentle giants up close.

Help sea turtle hatchlings reach the ocean

At La Escobilla Turtle Camp in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, visitors can participate with turtle conservation efforts helping to guard the beach at night as hundreds of olive ridley turtle hatchlings scurry out of their shells and crawl across the sand to the safety of the water. This stretch of Pacific coast is one of the best in the world to watch the endangered turtles’ “arribada,” Spanish for arrival, a word describing the mass nesting of the turtles.

Pet a baby gray whale in Baja

The Pacific gray whale’s annual journey from the frigid Bering Sea to Baja’s warm lagoons is the longest mammal migration on earth. Every spring, hundreds return to their traditional breeding grounds at San Ignacio Lagoon on the Baja Peninsula, where 15-foot-long babies are birthed and displayed proudly by their mothers. In fact, the whales are so friendly that it is sometimes possible to reach out and touch them from a motorized skiff.

Paddle with manta rays in Belize

Not to mention a whole host of other fascinating sea creatures that you’ll meet up close and personal in this underwater garden wonderland. Second in size only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Belize’s Barrier Reef runs the entire 185 miles of its coastline, submerged beneath transparent aqua seas. The perfect adventure combo includes paddling and snorkeling the cays among colorful sponges and coral, rainbow schools of tropical fish, and friendly dolphins.

Wherever your travels take you, I hope you’ll spend some time on or in the ocean.

Sea-dreaming in land-locked Colorado,



  1. Great post, Wendy! Thanks for all the tips. Am looking at my calendar now to see where and when I might visit one of these places…

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