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A Serpent Submersion: Diving with Anacondas

Wildlife photographer Leighton Lum's most unforgettable dive was spent 40 minutes underwater with this rare reptile.

By Tiffany Duong | Updated On November 21, 2023
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A Serpent Submersion: Diving with Anacondas

Leighton Lum recalls this female green anaconda coming up to him underwater and curiously flicking its tongue at his camera dome.

Leighton Lum

As scuba divers, we’re privileged to explore, enjoy and play beneath the surface—something the vast majority of people on the planet will never experience. While it’s hard to pick a favorite, each of us certainly has a dive we’ll never forget. Whether it’s crossing something off our scuba diving bucket list, making eye contact with a humpback whale, or simply enjoying a perfect day underwater with our favorite dive buddies – we love to share these dive stories with other aquaholics.

To celebrate the beauty, variety and joy that this sport brings, we’re sharing some truly unforgettable dives from around the world, as told by the divers who lived them first-hand. We hope you’ll enjoy them as much as we do!

Wildlife photographer Leighton Lum’s unforgettable dive involves 40 minutes with this female green anaconda.

Leighton Lum

Name: Leighton Lum

Certification: I got certified in Hawaii in 2017 because I really wanted to photograph great white sharks in Guadalupe, which actually ended up being my first dive trip

Current: Photographer and Trip Lead at Photography by Leighton

Follow: @photography_by_leighton

My ‘Must Have’ On Any Dive Trip

Baby shampoo to keep my mask from fogging up. It’s cheap and easy, but makes all the difference if you’re trying to get a good shot and can’t see clearly.

It’s not common to find a giant anaconda in Bonito, let alone to spend 40 minutes photographing it!

Leighton Lum

My Unforgettable Dive: Brazil

My most memorable dive was in Brazil when we encountered a 22 foot female green anaconda.

Nestled on the stunning Brazilian coast, Bonito is a paradise for nature enthusiasts and thrill-seekers alike. The crystal clear waters and over 500 caves draw tourists to the region to swim and dive.

On a hot August day, we were cruising down the river, searching for big snakes. We turned a corner and right there, basking in the sun, was a massive snake. The green anaconda (Eunectes murinus) is the heaviest snake (550 pounds) and second longest (30 feet) snake species in the world. For these reasons, they’re also known as giant anaconda. You can read those facts and numbers, but seeing them live, first-hand with your own eyes is something else.

A massive green anaconda coiled up on a river bank and spent 40 minutes underwater with divers.

Leighton Lum

This one was a female. After observing her for a few minutes, we got our dive and camera gear together and hopped in the water to wait. Taking her time, the snake slid down the bank, and we all got a glimpse of her as she moved effortlessly down the river. She completely ignored us, going in and out of the vegetation lining the river. She eventually settled in a little opening in the rocks, and we spent a good 40 minutes with her underwater–observing, admiring, photographing and experiencing this wild animal.

Being literally face-to-face with a giant snake like this was unimaginable. The girth on her was amazing, as thick as a truck tire! She was just a beautiful creature. Every so often, she would get curious and swim up to the cameras, flicking her tongue. Not once did I feel like myself or anyone else was in any danger. She remained so calm throughout our encounter and seemed to enjoy our company as we followed her down the river.

Then, with one swish of her long tail, she stirred up the sand and was gone without a trace. It was crazy to see how quickly something of that size could just disappear.

This was on day one of our trip, and it turned out to be the only female green anaconda spotted the entire week, so we felt very fortunate to have had such a great encounter with her.

Finding a snake like this is not easy. Unlike sharks, they aren’t attracted to food. Anacondas also aren’t territorial, nor creatures of habit, so predicting where one will show up is a complete shot in the dark. It's not very common to find such a large snake, let alone enjoy the opportunity to dive with one in clear water–making this dive unforgettable!