Beverly Hills, California Travel Agent
Intimate Wildlife Encounters
Imagine being submerged in a lake, surrounded by forest, just before dawn. The water is still and clear but you can’t see the bottom. It’s quiet, the crowds haven’t yet arrived. Then slowly, as the sun begins to rise and its rays permeate the water, you begin to see it. As you look down, you see a crescendo of movement, as hundreds of thousands of stingless golden jellyfish, slowly but with purpose, begin their ascension towards the sun. They magically surround you. It is eerie yet beautiful, the moment surreal. The lake is Jellyfish Lake in Palau, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the only place in the world open to tourists where you can experience this natural wonder. The jellyfish, which evolved in isolation and have lost their ability to sting, have algae in their bodies that photosynthesize in sunlight. Thus they race to the sun, feed on phytoplankton (literally eating sunlight) and descend each night into the abyss once the sun sets.
This is just one of the memorable experiences I can recommend that lets you observe and interact with animals, birds, marine creatures and other wildlife in their natural habitats. I’ve spent decades researching and seeking out the best places and guides for these spectacular encounters.
For example, there are only a handful of places in the world to safely swim with humpback whales: the islands of Tonga and the warm, shallow atoll of the Silver Bank, 60 miles off the Dominican Republic (it is illegal to swim with humpbacks in the US, including Hawaii). In the Silver Bank, it’s estimated between 5000-7000 whales migrate through this whale sanctuary every year, to breed and to calve, making for reliable encounters.
In Tonga, there are some accommodations and camping on the beach. However, I chose to go to Silver Bank so that I could stay close to the action; we were on one of only a handful of boats that are granted weekly government permits to anchor on the atoll. Once your captain spots a pod, it’s important to ascertain what type of humpbacks are there; is it a mother and a calf (preferred), or is there a male present, and if so, is the male an “escort” or a “rowdy” male, which can dangerously throw its weight around to impress females. If no “rowdy” males are present, you slowly, quietly slip into the water with your mask, fins, and snorkel and patiently wait for the encounter. The calves are often curious and may even glide by to check you out, as one did to my partner a mere four feet away, looking directly into her eyes. Although humpbacks here are generally tolerant, we were instructed to stay together as a group with our guide, as one startling move might evoke a reaction that could seriously injure you. While the in water encounters were spectacular, especially hearing the whale songs; equally impressive was the above action of the “rowdy” groups with lots of breaching, spy hopping and pectoral fin flapping.
Another intimate whale encounter takes place in the shallow, warm lagoons along the coast of Baja California in the spring. Hundreds of gray whales return here every year to calve and they are literally scattered everywhere in the lagoon. Local fishermen permitted by the Mexican government take you out in pangas (small skiffs), while you wait patiently for the whales to approach the boat. Mothers and babies will often come right up to you, sometimes leaning into the boat, wanting to be stroked which helps rub off the sea lice that attach to them. Sometimes (as was the case with our group) they’ll even rub themselves on the underside of the panga, making for a lively encounter! So if touching a whale is on your bucket list, I can make that happen.
As a scuba diver, I have seen unimaginable sights. In the waters of Raja Ampat, Indonesia, which boasts the highest biodiversity in the world, you can dive with giant manta rays or go muck diving in search of otherworldly creatures. One of my favorites was the ghost pipefish, which slightly resembles a sea horse and floats in and among the sea fans. Or you can dive with nautilus as I did in Palau, one of the few places I’m aware of where such a dive is possible.
I am also an avid birder so I’ve been known to travel both near (such as to Colorado to watch displaying male sage grouse strutting on their leks) and far (such as to Papua New Guinea to see spectacular birds of paradise who, after evolving in isolation for eons, have some of the most wildly-colored and extravagant plumages and dramatic courtship rituals in the avian world).
The key to great wildlife encounters is knowing where to go, when to go and who best to guide you once you’re there. A reliable, knowledgeable and articulate guide is paramount. There are amazing wildlife experiences everywhere in the world, from the mountains to the depths of the ocean. Please call me if you would like me to arrange a life-changing, intimate wildlife encounter.