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Bats of Dear Cave, Sarawak, Malaysia
Head to Borneo’s Gunung Mulu National Park to get two superlatives for the price of one: the world’s most impressive bat gathering and the planet’s most gag-inducing stink. Sadly for those of a delicate olfactory sensibility, it is tricky to experience one without the other, and three million wrinkle-lipped bats create a lot of poop. Rest assured though, the spectacle is worth the stench. Settle into a viewing spot by the mouth of this colossal cavern and wait for dusk when the bats come flooding out as one snaking, coiling stream, heading off to hunt for airborne bugs.

Orca feeding, Valdés Peninsula, Argentina
The orca, you might think, is just a big, chubby dolphin. But head to Punta Norte, on Argentina’s Valdés Peninsula, and it becomes abundantly clear why orcas are also called “killer whales”. The beach here is home to sea lions nursing their pups, which are favourite orca snacks. The whales launch themselves from the surf right onto the beach, grabbing a tasty pup before the next wave breaks and allows them to wriggle back into the sea. It is risky, as stranding themselves would be disastrous, but the hunt is breathtakingly dramatic to watch. Sea lions pup in January, so orca attacks mostly occur between February and April, three hours on either side of high tide.

Starlings roosting, Somerset Levels, England
Late afternoon on a misty winter’s day, head to the wetlands of Westhay Moor National Nature Reserve. As dusk falls, a patch of sky darkens and a vast black cloud usually gathers. But it behaves strangely, ebbing and flowing, clumping and twisting, shifting sinuously. Millions of starlings in a swirling mass, gathered in a huge flock for safety, dip to escape the attentions of raptors. Then in one smooth flow, like a genie returning to its lamp, the swarm swoops down to roost. And then you remember to breathe.

Sardine run, South Africa
You might think watching fish is none too exciting – something for a computer screensaver rather than an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime spectacle. But if the fish are part of a swirling, silvery mass stretching more than seven kilometres long, it gets a lot more interesting. As millions upon millions of sardines dart and bunch their way around the Eastern Cape and along the KwaZulu-Natal coast, the waters boil with diving gannets and cormorants, along with thousands of hunting seals, dolphins and sharks. Whether you are watching from the safety of a boat or snorkelling near the embattled shoals, it is a phenomenal sight. The “sardine run” does not happen every year, and its location cannot be predicted, but it generally takes place between May and July.

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© 2011 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘The greatest wildlife spectacles around the world’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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