Humans aren’t the only animals that enjoy soaking up the summer sun. In the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, crocodiles sunbathe along the muddy banks that line the steep cliffs of Sumidero Canyon. On the small, rural island of Tashirojima, off the coast of eastern Japan, cats lounge peacefully as waves tickle the shore of “Cat Island.” From June to September in Manitoba, some 3,000 beluga whales sing and swim their way along northern Canada’s Churchill River. With a bit of luck, you may even find yourself eye to eye with some of these incredible creatures as they’re busy migrating, raising their young, and getting their tan on during the warm summer months.
We recently asked readers on our Facebook page to tell us about their most memorable animal encounters as part of our ongoing Summer of Wonder series. We pulled together some of the most astounding responses, from making dolphin friends in the Red Sea to following a blue morpho butterfly to a 10-story waterfall in Mexico. If you’d like to join the conversation (and potentially be featured in other Atlas stories throughout the summer!), watch for more opportunities to share on our Facebook page. We can’t wait to hear from you!
Locking Eyes With a Mountain Lion
“I was driving my MGB sports car with the top down at midnight in Big Sur where I lived. I headed up a steep, winding, narrow section of road, and suddenly a full-grown mountain lion jumped in front of me. We locked eyes, his green with my hazel, and time seemed to stop! After perhaps 15 seconds, he bounded across the road and disappeared. I sat still for a while just astounded and very grateful to have been given that beautiful encounter.” —Janet Madison, Oregon
Playing With Foxes
“I was on vacation with my family as a child, and some of us decided to do a sunrise hike. (I believe it was on Sunset Mountain in Idaho.) I am not a morning person, so a sunrise hike is a rare experience for me. We made it up the mountain in time and had a lovely view. On the way down, I ran a bit ahead of my family. On a grassy slope in the light of the sunrise, a very young fox appeared nearby. It approached and started to run around me, looking like a dog wanting to play. It was magical—until my family appeared and it ran away. This was decades ago, but I hope I never forget it; I felt like a Disney character!” —Madeleine Oh, Tennessee
“While [I was] scuba diving in the Red Sea in Egypt, an adult dolphin came swimming up to my dive buddy and me, checking us out. The dolphin swam off and returned a few minutes later with another adult plus a baby dolphin. The three of them were circling us, looking at and playing with us, and then swam off again. I almost forgot to breathe. The good vibes I got from that encounter stayed with me long after that dive.” —Odette Langermans, Alajuela, Costa Rica
A Sea Turtle Snorkel
“I was in Kauai snorkeling with my friend on the north side of the island. We were not really finding much to look at, but were enjoying ourselves just the same—when a giant sea turtle swam between the two of us. It couldn’t have been more than 3 feet from either of us, and very calmly stopped and popped his head out of the water. It was very clear he was curious about us and seemed to enjoy our company. We tried to snorkel on because we didn’t want to disturb the wild animal, but for about 20 minutes it stayed between us as we slowly snorkeled around the area, never getting more than five to 10 feet away from us the whole time. After a while, it eventually turned toward us underwater and seemed to give a nod, then just swam off towards the reef. It was the coolest thing I’ve ever experienced.” —Chris Heiner, Middletown, Pennsylvania
“When you’re on a safari in Africa, of course, you have to keep a respectable distance from the animals. But at the Giraffe Centre, just outside Nairobi, you can get not only up-close but also face-to-face with a giraffe. A raised platform allows you to get eye level with a handful of giraffes and feed them. You can feel their tough tongues as they take food from your hand or even your mouth! They’re playful, and it’s amazing to be able to get so close to an animal that you normally have to observe from a distance.” —Stephen Padre, Washington D.C.
Follow the Butterflies
“I was adventuring through Mexico with friends and we were hopelessly lost. We were going down a washed-out road and we didn’t know what waited for us at the bottom. I saw a beautiful blue morpho butterfly flying next to us at the same speed we were traveling. I decided to hop out and walk (it was faster than staying in the car anyway). I followed the butterfly down this long road until we reached a wide, beautiful river that ended in a 10-story waterfall. It was utterly exceptional.” —J Sykes Iness, West Hollywood, California
Sea Lion Tag
“While snorkeling in the Galapagos, I felt something strange on my right knee. Almost as if something had grabbed it very briefly, but I saw nothing around. I dismissed it and started watching juvenile sea lions playing with each other. I then felt a tug on one of my flippers, and another a bit later. I realized the sea lions were trying to play tag with me! Another man on the trip had the same thing happen to him. Going through my photos, I saw one where a sea lion had his mouth open trying to pull on another’s fin, just as they must have done to me. One of the best memories of my life.” —Amy Denniston, Washington D.C.
Holding Hands with an Orangutan
“I walked for about a mile and a half in the jungle in Borneo with a semi-wild orangutan holding my hand. He waited at the bottom of a fire observation tower while I climbed up. When I came down he walked in front of me for about 100 yards. He waited until I reached him then he did a roly poly down the slope. He stood up to see [if] I had watched, then he disappeared into the jungle and I never saw him again.” —David Horder, Torremendo, Valenciana, Spain
Diving with Mermaids
“I was diving off Maeda Point on Okinawa, going through my deep diver certification [training]. As part of the training, we had safety divers above us as we were supposed to experience nitrogen narcosis. I remember following the most beautiful creature away from the reef (and deeper than was safe) half convinced it was a mermaid. I was told it was a squid. Iridescent colors shimmered as it swam away deeper into the ocean. I was grabbed by two safety divers and brought up enough so the effects of the narcosis were reduced. It was less than a minute, but the image of that squid is still vivid in my mind 35 years later. I think it was a bigfin reef squid, but I am not 100 percent sure. It could have been a mermaid after all.” —David Susman, Massachusetts
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.