Home > California > Shelly Bunge > Intimate Wildlife Encounters

Shelly Bunge

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.  

Share my profile:

Related Travel Experiences

Underwater DreamingUnderwater Dreaming
Adventures in Palau
Crowded South GeorgiaCrowded South Georgia
My World Travels


47 of 79 people found this review helpful

Amazing Custom-Designed Trips!

Reviewed By Sandy Williams - Los Angeles, CA | Traveled to Thailand ~ East and Southeast Asia
Shelly has planned two trips for us -- to Fiji and to Thailand. Shelly's attention to detail, thorough research, meticulous planning, patience and willingness to listen to what kinds of trips we wanted insured that our trips were custom designed for us. Both trips far exceeded our expectations. We wouldn't think of going on a travel adventure without Shelly's creative and careful guidance!
I would recommend this agent to my family and friends
Was this review helpful to you? YES | NO
54 of 93 people found this review helpful

What a trip of a lifetime!

Reviewed By Holly - San Diego, CA | Traveled to Arctic Ocean ~ At Sea ~ At Sea
I have used Shelly Bunge for two amazing travel trips. One to the Arctic and one to Loreto, Mexico. I highly recommend her services. She is awesome! The recommendations, attention to detail and response time to all my questions is incredible. She is my go to person for booking my dream trips! Not only has she seen so many places in the world, she also has the best taste! I know she would never steer me wrong with travel plans.

I would recommend this agent to my family and friends
Was this review helpful to you? YES | NO
41 of 73 people found this review helpful

Best Trip EVER!!!

Reviewed By DJ - Fountain Valley, CA | Traveled to Loreto ~ Baja California Sur ~ Mexico
I’d long-heard about the many wonderful trips Shelly planned over the years, but I’d never had occasion to engage her services until now, and she did NOT disappoint! I had a life-long bucket list of looking into the eye of a whale while “petting” it, and after a tough personal year in 2018, I decided to go for it in 2019. Enter Shelly who knocked it out of the park! From the perfectly quaint & charming 1 bedroom, full-kitchen Casita in – and tour of Loreto, to the ABSOLUTELY mind blowing excursions she planned with THE most knowledgeable guide (THE go-to guy when National Geographic comes to film) which resulted in my being able to finally check it off, and a few others as well! She even found and recommended the most amazing restaurants! Everything planned went off without a hitch – from the land & air transportation, to our tours, to our excursions – and her communication was superb. I’m forever grateful & appreciative – and look forward to all of my future trips – planned by Shelly!
I would recommend this agent to my family and friends
Was this review helpful to you? YES | NO
52 of 98 people found this review helpful

Thank you Shelly for a wonderful trip!

Reviewed By Bobbie - Scottsdale, AZ | Traveled to Arctic Ocean ~ At Sea ~ At Sea
Shelly was so very helpful in planning my trip to the Arctic. She has experience and knowledge of so many destinations so she could personalize my trip for me . . . the right ship and activities. She advised me on what to expect and even had great tips on what to wear. Her travel experience made my trip the best! I am now enjoying working with Shelly planning my next trip to Thailand.
I would recommend this agent to my family and friends
Was this review helpful to you? YES | NO
49 of 93 people found this review helpful

Shelly is the best

Reviewed By chris - los angeles, ca | Traveled to Mexico
I have relied on Shelley’s advice for years and have benefited from the astonishing range of travel experiences she has had her self and she has arranged for others. Shelly has arranged multiple trips for me, both domestic and international (the review form doesn’t let me list them all). She is truly exceptional on every dimension. She is incredibly thorough, detail oriented, knowledgeable about a wider range of destinations than I will ever travel to, and also a complete pleasure to work with. She has amazing taste. I will always work with Shelly.
I would recommend this agent to my family and friends
Was this review helpful to you? YES | NO