Visitors to the Caribbean are ever-eager to dive or snorkel with sea turtles, sharks, stingrays and other famous sea life. Whether tiny or enormous, slow-moving or slick and predatory, indigenous marine animals are fascinating to observe, especially in their own natural environment.

The swimming pigs of Exuma may have dominated headlines for a few years, but feral pigs are not actually the cuddliest creatures you could splash around with–as many tourists discovered to their dismay. They don’t belong in the environment, and gravitate toward visiting humans as food sources.

This is probably the point where you’re noticing that I have a shark as the main image of this blog post. Sharks are also not cuddly creatures, but they don’t see humans as a food source. It’s a key difference, and something all responsible tour operators should strive to maintain. In general, I think humans should be respectful of the marine animals they’re visiting.

In my career, I’ve been lucky enough to shoot a hammerhead shark dive, film a short piece on a manatee rescue (pictured) and a sea otter rehab center, and swim in the wild with turtles and rays.

Here are five animals who won’t mind if you visit their marine home

(as long as you don’t touch them inappropriately)

  1. Whale sharks – the largest of sharks, yet harmless to humans due to their lack of teeth.
  2. Sea turtles — intelligent, inquisitive, featured in Nemo, but nonetheless not pets. So, you should not pet them. If you’re lucky, you can witness the babies hatching at certain times of the year in Dominica or Costa Rica.
  3. Manatees — I’ve swum with them, and you think they’re going to be like dogs, but really it’s like swimming with a couch that has come to life and acquired a very skittish personality.
  4.  Stingrays — Now these guys really are a bit like cats or dogs, at least in the sense that if they’re used to people, they’ll come up and swim around your legs. The feeling of a stingray brushing up against your naked skin is so bizarre, especially when unexpected but really EVERY TIME. And if you’re in their house, you really can’t get away from it…
  5. Other sharks, particularly reef sharks, but also hammers and bull sharks — I can’t. You, get out there, and swim with all those teeth! I’ll be on the boat.

Here is a video supercut I produced, of underwater animal encounters in the Caribbean.