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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sea Things #26: Manta Rays

Sea Things is a regular feature on my blog where I profile a different sea creature. Look for it weekly, or something close to weekly. It is back from hiatus after taking a few weeks off during our post-Hawaii, pre-holiday chaos.

When looking for the first Sea Things to do after our trip to Hawaii, it was an easy choice. We went to Hawaii knowing we were hopefully going to see Manta Rays, and we were not disappointed. We saw 11 manta rays on our first Manta Ray night dive, and then 1 more on our return to the dive site a few days later.

In Kona, it all started with the Sheraton. When it opened, they placed lights along the waterfront to give the hotel a better look. The lights attracted plankton. The plankton attracted Manta Rays, who eat them. Divers started coming to the Sheraton, bringing lights of their own and watching the manta show. Then, the Sheraton closed and the lights went out. The mantas stopped coming.

Divers later noticed that the Kona airport was attracting Mantas. It didn't have the same amount of light as the Sheraton, but it did have enough to attract plankton. Now, divers come nightly to view the mantas each night. It's almost a guarantee to see at least one manta ray on the dive - that's never been said about any other dive. This dive is noted as one of the top dives in the world, and it is incredible. Since then, the Sheraton has reopened, so there are in fact two dive sites to see mantas each night.

After dinner, we geared up. Manta Rays were already circling - at least four were around our boat (the Kona Aggressor II). We were not allowed to wear snorkels on our masks, and we were not allowed to touch the mantas (no worries, they touched us). As soon as we splashed, the lights below the Aggressor were doused - that way the mantas wouldn't stay under the Aggressor, but would move over to the manta circle.

There is an area at Garden Eel Cove (the site in front of the airport), where urchins and rocks had been cleared, so that divers can sit and watch the mantas. Many boats come each night - 5 or 6 at least - so, there were already divers in the manta circle when we got there. I would estimate that there were maybe 100 divers there that night. Others were not on scuba, but were snorkeling on the surface. The snorkel tour operators had put out rings for the snorkelers to hold on to, so that they could watch the mantas from above. They were not permitted to dive down - the 25 feet or so of water between the snorkelers and the divers was reserved exclusively for the mantas. The divers knelt on the bottom, and we'd added extra weight to be sure we stayed put.

We all had flashlights, and we shined them upwards to the mantas. Plankton swam all around us. The eleven mantas that had shown up circled, dipped, and swam above us, knocking us with their wings, rubbing on our heads, and just generally getting very close. Over and over, I was able to stare right down the mouth of a Manta Ray, as he ate his meal. When the dive was coming to an end, we swam back to the Aggressor, with a couple of Manta Rays following behind. As we did our safety stop, two Mantas swam around us, and Todd happily shot photos. He stayed in the water for a few extra minutes, snapping photos and being terribly happy.

So, what are Manta Rays? Well, they are a type of ray, from the devil ray family. They don't have stingers, and they only eat plankton, but have wing spans of as much as 20 feet across. They're called Devil Rays because of their little thingies that stick out on either side of their mouth, that look like horns. Manta Rays have a scientific name - Manta birostris. Mantas can be many different colors, but in Hawaii are typically black on top, white on the bottom, with a pattern of black spots on their bellies that is different for each Manta. They can be identified by these spots and other markings, and the Manta Pacific Research Foundation identifies them and names them. Because of this, we know the names of all 11 Manta Rays on our dive.

Mantas are covered in a mucus coating, so after the dive, my hoodie that I was wearing was covered in a layer of slime where the Mantas had rubbed on it while trying to get close to my flashlight. A diver sign for a ray is to flap their arms, just like a ray does. There was no need to make this sign during the Manta Ray night dive.

Here is a video of the Manta Ray Night Dive (note: this is not OUR dive, this is stock footage. We do have a DVD of our dive though) It is amazing, like nothing I've ever done before, and looks like something out of a science fiction movie:

Do you like the weekly Sea Things? Want to see more? Want to have these lovely images in your home, keeping track of your important dates? If so, check out the 2010 Calendar Sale.

Is there a creature that you would like to see featured in Sea Things? If so, shoot me an email and if I can, I'll write about it. Photos on this post are courtesy of Todd Krebs.

1 comment:

diving Boracay said...

I'm a bit envious. You had such a wonderful experience. I would be very happy to experience such thrill.

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