The Manta's Underwater Dance
By Lauren Cutler, Expedition Leader on the Safari Explorer
It is an evening of both anticipation and excitement as everyone gathers on the back deck. We have all squeezed into our neoprene wetsuits and are now loading up into the skiffs as the hot Hawaiian sun bids her aloha before tucking down below the everlasting horizon. As night approaches, a spectacular array of navigation lights, dive lights and glow sticks set the scene. A large circle of boats set the scene as we get ready to slide into our snorkel for the night.
The ocean is lit with an ethereal glow. Within the water column are silvery schools of aholehole (Hawaiian flagtail fish) circling in the lights. In a few moment's time, dark shadows begin to glide under the lights—the show has begun. Coastal manta rays (Manta alfredi) dance underneath our boards as if it was an underwater ballet. The mantas, however, are not here to perform for us but to come feed on tiny microorganisms called plankton.
Phytoplankton, a plant-based plankton, is attracted to the dive lights in an ill-attempt to photosynthesize. Then, zooplankton, animal-based plankton, come in and feed on the phytoplankton; the plankton almost look as if they were little pieces of snow shaken up inside of a snow globe.
After a few moments of floating atop the water, I hear a shriek of excitement—the show has begun. A large female manta swoops in over the divers, scooping up as much plankton as possible before she moves up the water column and dances underneath our lights. These giant creatures move effortlessly with such grace and beauty, it is no wonder why it is called the underwater ballet.
Everyone watches in wonderment. Time passes quickly as we are captivated by the otherworldly experience, and soon we must return to the ship.
Once back on board, everyone seems to have a whimsical smile on their faces. The manta ray night snorkel is definitely the opportunity of a lifetime.