Best Ocean Safaris: Top 6 Marine Wildlife Watching Destinations

Aug 15, 2023 BY AWE365 Team

Once upon a time the word ‘safari’ could only mean an overland trip. Usually in an off-road vehicle in Africa to see wild animals dwelling on terra firma. However, that definition has expanded. The best ocean safaris give you rare access to the big game beneath the waves! So let’s check out the top 6 marine wildlife watching destinations.

best ocean safaris blue whale NOAA public domain image from GoodFreePhotos

From wales to sharks to whale sharks and seals to lion fish to sealions! The life beneath the waves is far more varied than the naming implies. With aquatic iguanas, phosphorescent corals and manta rays there is a whole world of marine wildlife watching to enjoy.

Six Best Ocean Safaris

Top 6 Marine Wildlife Watching Destinations

There is some of the world’s most exotic flora and fauna in the seas and oceans. From Australia to Canada and Mexico to Antarctica, there’s a whole world of wildlife to see beneath the waves. Here’s our pick of the best marine safari destinations.

South Africa

Located in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, Plettenberg Bay is blessed with the big hitting marine wildlife providing one of the best ocean safaris. Humpback and the southern right whales are easy to spot between July and December, while the endangered humpback dolphin is a rarer sight.

Tour boats will not travel within 50 metres of the whales, but the whales themselves often voluntarily get closer. You can also stop off at the Robberg Peninsula and watch the cape fur seals saunter about in their natural habitat among the keurboom trees.

Sardine run in South Africa one of the top 6 marine wildlife watching destinations Flickr CC image by majiedqasem

The sardine run, along the east coast of South Africa, from the Eastern Cape to KwaZulu-Natal is an annual spectacle occurring between June and July. Enormous shoals of sardines migrate north, drawing a host of predators including dolphins, whales, sharks (notably the dusky and bronze whaler sharks), and Cape gannets and cormorants, as well as various species of game fish. 

South Africa also offers some of the best opportunities to encounter the great white shark. With cage diving available in Gansbaai, Mossel Bay, and False Bay. Beyond great whites, divers can also explore the Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks for encounters with tiger sharks, bull sharks and the elusive oceanic blacktip.


There are 340 species of shark in the Northern Territory waters and only a handful are dangerous to humans. The best way to spot them is to go scuba diving in Cairns. You’re most likely to see a mean-looking but shy and harmless 1.5 metre-long blacktip reef shark. The other usual suspects are weird-eyed hammerheads, the large but docile tawny nurse shark and the grey reef shark.

Of course the Great Barrier Reef is a must visit for marine wildlife enthusiasts. It spans 133,000 square miles, so a liveaboard scuba diving holiday would serve you best. The reef goes psychedelic in early December with a mass-spawning of fluorescent coral. You’ll want to snorkel for a ringside seat to this show, although the view from the surface is impressive too.

At the other end of the country you could dive with fur seals in Tasmania where you can also see humpback and southern right whales. While from Port Lincoln in South Australia you can swim with seals or cage dive with great white sharks (hopefully not both at the same time!).

Scuba dive with sharks 10 best shark diving spots worldwide flickr CC image by lwpkommunikacio


Mexico has a vast coastline spanning both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Undoubtedly one of the top marine wildlife watching destinations, it’s home to pristine waters and diverse ecosystems. Perfect for those in search of the best ocean safaris.

On the Pacific side, the Sea of Cortez (a.k.a. Gulf of California), was described by Jacques Cousteau, as “the aquarium of the world”. Humpback and gray whales migrate to the warm waters of the Baja Peninsula every year, offering a unique chance to watch these majestic giants up close.

The Yucatán Peninsula, in the Caribbean Sea, is home to playful dolphins, graceful sea turtles, colourful coral at Cozumel and the occasional manatee. But perhaps the most remarkable experience is to snorkel or scuba dive with whale sharks near Isla Holbox, where these gentle giants accumulate from June to August.


Antarctica, the last frontier of wilderness, is undeniably one of the best marine wildlife watching destinations on the planet. The enveloping Southern Ocean hosts a rich diversity of marine life, and adventure cruises off some of the best ocean safaris on the planet.

Sailing through Antarctica’s icy waters, you’ll experience marine life among colossal icebergs and towering glaciers. Schools of orcas, with their distinct black and white patterns hunting seals and penguins. Humpback whales breach and slap their tails, plus you may even spot the blue whale, the largest creature ever to exist on earth.

marine wildlife watching destinations Royalty free pickpic image of antarctica penguins

During Antarctic tours you’ll see penguins aplenty! From the regal Emperor to the sprightly Adélie they dart through the water and form bustling colonies. Weddell, crabeater and leopard seals lounge on floating ice platforms, while various seabirds such as the albatross soar overhead.


With its expansive Pacific and Atlantic coastlines, Canada is one of the top marine wildlife watching destinations. Canada’s seas are teeming with whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions and a plethora of seabird species.

The Pacific waters of British Columbia are a hotspot for orcas, with pods of these magnificent creatures seen frequently around Vancouver Island. Humpback, grey and minke whales also grace these waters. You can often see whales during British Colombia kayaking holidays where you paddle along beside these inquisitive creatures.

On the opposite coast, in the chilly Atlantic waters of Newfoundland and Labrador, humpbacks and the world’s largest population of minke whales feed among icebergs. Further north, in the Arctic circle you might even glimpse the elusive narwhal or beluga whale.

Galapagos Islands

Located roughly 1,000 kilometers west of Ecuador, adventure holidays in the Galapagos Islands are a beacon for marine enthusiasts and nature lovers. Touted as one of the best marine wildlife safari destinations, these islands are an evolutionary wonderland, shaped by volcanic activity and isolation.

Marine Iguana Guide to Galapagos Islands scuba diving holidays Flickr CC image by Derek Keats

You can swim with playful sea lions, watch in awe as marine iguanas forage on the sea floor or admire the elegance of green sea turtles. The islands also boast a multitude of shark species, from the harmless white-tipped reef sharks to the enigmatic hammerheads that school in large numbers around Wolf and Darwin Islands.

Above the water, majestic frigate birds soar overhead and blue-footed boobies plunge into the sea in search of fish. The Galapagos penguin, the only penguin species living north of the equator, can also be spotted.

We hope you found this guide to the best ocean safaris inspirational! If the top 6 marine wildlife watching destinations have you itching to get away then check out these safari holidays worldwide.


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