7 most exotic species to dive with in Malaysia
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7 most exotic species to dive with in Malaysia

By Ken Hunter 

Picture yourself diving in aquamarine waters as a whale shark the size of a school bus swims past you. Imagine the sea darken as thousands of barracuda swirl around you. Sound exciting? Well, if you want sun, sand and sea life, pack your scuba gear and head to Malaysia.

Malaysia boasts some of the world’s top dive spots, such as Layang Layang Island. Pic: UU.Nudi (matthew lee), Flickr.

One of Asia’s best diving destinations, Malaysia is home to some of the most exotic marine life on the planet. Because Malaysia lies near the equator, the water temperatures remain about 26 to 30 C (80 to 85 F) year-round. And those warm waters teem with biodiversity, including whale sharks, the largest fish in the world.

Although not as common as in other dive destinations like Australia or the Philippines, whale sharks can still be found roaming the waters off Malaysia. With a little luck and good timing, you too could find yourself swimming with these gentle giants.


Whale sharks’ mouths contain up to 350 rows of tiny teeth. Pic: Christian Steen (Christian Jensen), Flickr.

Whale sharks can weigh more than nine tons and reach more than 12 metres (39.37 feet) in length. Their mouths alone can stretch 1.5 metres (4.92 feet) wide, and hold up to 350 rows of tiny teeth.

While you might feel intimidated by their size, whale sharks wouldn’t hurt a fly. They’re peaceful and usually trusting of humans.

Having said that, however, whale sharks are more likely to stick around and pose for photos if you don’t touch or swim after them.

One of your best bets for some whale shark action in Malaysia is Lankayan Island, a small coral island in the Sulu Sea off Malaysian Borneo. You’re most likely to see whale sharks there from March to May.

There are, of course, plenty of other fish in the seas around Malaysia. Here are six other exotic species of marine life you might encounter while diving in Malaysia:

Manta Rays

These graceful gliders can grow to seven metres (23 feet) wide, and weigh nearly two tons. Like whale sharks, mantas are gentle and pose little threat to divers.

In fact, mantas are curious creatures and will sometimes approach divers. If you want a manta to approach you, try diving near Sipadan Island off the east coast of Malaysian Borneo.


Manta rays aren’t shy around humans. Pic: SteveD. (Steve Dunleavy), Flickr.

 Hammerhead Sharks

Fearsome-looking hammerhead sharks often ply the waters near Layang Layang Island, a deep-sea atoll about 300 kilometres (186 miles) northwest of Kota Kinabalu.


Hammerhead sharks enjoy 360-degree vision because of the location of their eyes. Pic: petersbar (Barry Peters), Flickr.

Layang Layang’s reefs host a rainbow of sea life, but the scalloped hammerheads steal the show, especially in March and May during mating season.


The best place to find barracuda in Malaysia is the aptly named Barracuda Point, at the easternmost tip of Sipadan Island. The sleek, silver, sharp-toothed “tigers of the sea” frequent the shoals here.

One of the world’s top dive spots, Barracuda Point provides great barracuda photo opportunities. You might even find yourself in a “barracuda tornado” containing so many barracuda it blocks out the sun.


A “ barracuda tornado” can consist of thousands of barracuda. Pic: JennyHuang (Jenny), Flickr.

Sea Turtles

Malaysia is home to four species of sea turtles: the leatherback, green, hawksbill, and olive ridley turtles. Sipadan Island is a famous nesting site for sea turtles so don’t be shocked if you see up to 30 of them during a single dive.

Not surprisingly, Sipadan’s Turtle Patch and Turtle Cavern dive sites are two of the better places to see turtles in Malaysia. You can also find them near the sandy beaches and islands of Peninsular Malaysia.


Malaysia’s largest population of hawksbill sea turtles can be found in the Turtle Islands of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Pic: Derek Keats, Flickr.


Malaysia is home to several species of dolphin, including the bottlenose, the most common type of dolphin. The Irrawaddy dolphin, on the other hand, is not so common.

Similar in appearance to beluga whales, Irrawaddy dolphins can grow up to 2.6 metres (8.5 feet) in length and weigh up to 150 kilograms (330 pounds).

Although they are oceanic, Irrawaddy dolphins tend to congregate near coastal areas and rivers. Your best bet to spot these rare dolphins is near the mouth of the Santubong River on Malaysian Borneo.


The dugong, or sea cow, is one of the stranger-looking sea creatures in Malaysia. The name comes from the Malay language and means, “lady of the sea.”


Dugongs are known as “sea cows” for a reason: they can eat up to 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of seagrass a day. Pic: flickkerphotos, Flickr.

If you’d like to catch a glimpse of a dugong, head to the Mantanani Islands, a small group of three islands northwest of Malaysian Borneo.

Dugongs have also been seen in the Johor Strait, which separates Malaysia and Singapore. The best time to see dugongs is between October and February, but sightings are rare.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to find out more about travelling to Malaysia, please visit the Tourism Malaysia website.


 About the author…

Ken Hunter (Japan)
Ken Hunter is a freelance writer based in Japan, where he has lived since 2003. You can connect with him on LinkedIn, circle him on Google+, and follow him on Twitter.

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