Swimming into the Light – Diving with Manta Rays

September 26, 2013

The underwater torches attract the plankton, which wafts this way and that in the soupy current, picked out like fluffy bits of dust by our incandescent beams. Soon after we are settled on the bottom of the sea floor (only about 7 metres deep), the first manta ray appears, gliding in from the darkness of the deeps and drifting between us divers and the snorkelers on the surface above. To eat, these peaceful creatures merely open wide their mandibles and vacuum up the tiny water bugs. While closely related to the shark, they feed more like the whale.

But now it’s time to just watch them, graceful denizens of the beautifully warm Pacific Ocean, zooming through the little ampitheatre we have created with our torches, stars of the show with their effortless slide through the water, then suddenly swooping up in an arc just before they reach your face, feeding off the micro-organisms floating mere centimeters from you, utterly unconcerned by your presence, confident that you pose no threat and in fact have enabled them this otherwise unlikely harvest at night. Many sea creatures are at home in the darkness, but the plankton usually only come out for that other life-giving show of the daytime, photosynthesis. This little feast happens because of our artificial lights, confusing the tiny organisms to come out from their homes in the reef, to the delight of the local Manta Ray population.

Big Island, Hawaii has its own count of local Mantas, all known by their signature belly markings, around 214 I think we were told at the latest count. The expecting mothers carry their young for around 13 months, then give birth to fully independent offspring at some unknown location, a secret Manta nursery off-island where they live for their first year before they return to the territorial patterns keyed into them by ancestry, DNA, the lay of the underwater land, the array of other creatures, the flow of the currents and swell, the runoff from the island and the cycles of natural light (presumably the full moon creates a similar effect as our torches every month and everywhere, as opposed to this concentrated rock concert just off shore).

The plankton comes out for the light, the Mantas come for the plankton, we come out of awe. Their grace sends thrills of pleasure up the spine, as does their closeness – at times, they will come so near as to bless me with a skim of their beautiful wings, just as they bank to one side or curve into a roll over my face, scooping up a feed and playing in their elegance in one smooth maneuver. It is a great honour to have had this opportunity to remain underneath the water with them, thanks to scuba technology; but from what I heard the snorkelers at the surface enjoyed an equally captivating experience.


One comment

  1. Wow, this must have been an incredible experience, thanks for sharing. It reminded me of snorkelling in the Pacific, wonderfull!

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