Looking for the ultimate wildlife encounter? Here’s a list of places where you can get in the water and swim alongside some of the ocean’s largest – and sometimes deadliest – predators.

Killer whales in Norway

2014 02 19 Orca Norway
An orca off the coast of Norway. Image: Pavel Lunkin

In the deep, icy fjords off the coast of Tysfjord in Norway, 300 km north of the Arctic Circle, tourists cram themselves into small inflatable boats in hope of swimming with one of the largest marine carnivores: the killer whale (a.k.a orca). Growing to a length of almost ten meters, and weighing over six tonnes, the killer whale is fully capable of picking off any tourists that happen to spill over the side in their diving dry-suits. But anyone adventurous enough to make their way to the remote regions of northern Norway to swim with killer whales can take comfort in the fact that these dolphins (despite their name, killer whales are actually classified as dolphins) have never attacked and killed a human swimmer in the wild. Staring down a killer whale in the open ocean, however, is still a rather harrowing experience.

Leopard seals in Antarctica 

2014 02 19 Leopard Seal
A leopard seal showing off its impressive teeth. Image: Chad Rosenthal

Adrenaline junkies looking for extreme eco-adventures will be happy to learn that a number of tour companies offer the chance to dive and swim with wildlife in the frigid waters of Antarctica. This includes up-close encounters with a fearsome predator: the leopard seal. These seals can grow to over two metres in length and have a mouth full of impressive teeth used to rip apart penguins. They're unafraid of human swimmers and have garnered a reputation for approaching and interacting closely with divers. Their curiosity makes them a lot of fun to swim with and they are generally harmless (although on one occasion, a swim encounter turned deadly for a British marine scientist).

Great whites in South Africa

There are plenty of places where thrill-seekers can dive or swim with sharks around the world, but nothing beats a close encounter with the legendary great white shark, especially those that patrol the waters off the South African coast. Most experts would agree that the safest way to make friends with a great white is from the safety of a shark-proof cage – although there’s no guarantee that an oversized great white won’t be able to tear its way through even the strongest steel cage. While these fearsome predators might strike terror into the hearts of most swimmers, let’s not forget that if you go swimming in the ocean, you’re far more likely to be injured by a jellyfish than a great white.

Whale sharks in Mexico

2014 02 19 Whale Shark
Diving with the biggest fish in the ocean. Image: Daniel Kwok

Whale sharks are gentle giants that drift through the ocean sucking algae, krill and small fish into their gaping jaws. Based on their diet, whale sharks are technically carnivorous predators, but these nearly toothless sharks are about as likely as a butterfly to attack and eat a human. Despite being larger than a London bus, their slow, graceful movements make it feel more like you're swimming with a (seriously) oversized teddy bear. Whale sharks attract a steady stream of tourists to Mexico and other warm-water countries, where you can snorkel or dive with these ginormous fish.

Manta rays in Hawaii 

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Manta Ray, Kona Coast, Hawaii. Image: Steve Dunleavy

Like their cousin the whale shark, manta rays are filter-feeding giants that slowly cruise through the water, seemingly unaware of the humans in their midst. Tourists discovered a manta ray feeding hotspot off the coast of Hawaii back in the 1990s, which quickly grew into a must-see destination for the eco-adventurer. Tourists can swim, snorkel or dive alongside these giant rays as they prowl the warm Hawaiian waters in search of a meal. It’s even possible to go diving at night, where underwater floodlights illuminate the ocean as these magnificent animals emerge from the blackness and glide overhead.

Bonus destination: Feral pigs in the Bahamas 

2014 02 19 Pig Beach
In the Bahamas pigs don't fly … but they do swim. Image: Christopher Dorobek

If you're hoping for a magical experience swimming with charismatic megafauna, but get nervous at the sight of foot-long seal incisors or bitey shark faces, why not consider swimming with feral pigs? Legend has it that a group of domestic pigs survived a shipwreck in the Caribbean a few decades ago and doggy-paddled (piggy-paddled?) to the safety of a nearby island. This uninhabited Bahamian island, affectionately called 'Pig Beach', is now home to the only swim-with-the-pigs tourist encounter in the world. The small colony of feral pigs lives happily on their tiny tropical isle, content to forage for food in the sand, drink from the freshwater springs dotted around the island and take daily swims in the clear blue waters of the Caribbean. Tourists now flock to Pig Beach for the chance to swim alongside these happy-go-lucky swine in their unique ocean paradise.