Night Snorkeling with Giant Pacific Manta Rays
After a day of exploring the coast of Hawaii, the Big Island, we prepared for the ultimate adventure–night snorkeling with Giant Pacific Manta Rays. We had an early dinner, during which a guest speaker from the Kona Diving Company, Katie, joined us and explained the process that many of us would voluntarily take part in.
If someone asked you if you wanted to spend an hour in the dark holding on to a surfboard encouraging manta rays to swim within inches of you underwater, what would you say? Only about half our group chose to participate in this adventure.
After dinner we donned wet suits to stay warm in the evening water. Next, we attached water activated lights to our wrists to be able to see each other. We grabbed our masks and flippers and hopped in the skiffs. After motoring just a few minutes to a site off the shoreline of crashing waves, we tied up to another boat to begin.
Holding on to the modified surfboard as the manta ray glides past
Our guides led us one by one into the water to hold on to modified surfboards. Padded rope handholds around the board were attached, and holes in the middle of the board had waterproof flashlights shining down into the water to attract the manta rays. Eight of us held on with tight grips to the handholds and plunged our masked faces into the water as our guide maneuvered our board around other groups and into areas with nearby manta rays. Our guide told us about the size and history of the manta rays as we waited patiently for the main event.
And then…it happened! Giant Manta rays began swimming within inches of us with their jaws hinged open. Before they reached us, they gracefully turned their belly up, swimming parallel to the board, and then plunged downward to make a circle and repeat the cycle again and again.
Each time it seemed as though they were getting closer and closer to us and we tried not to touch them. As scuba divers and other snorkelers bobbed around, we heard out squeals of laughter and delight as the manta rays teased us. It was an unbelievable experience!
Manta Rays scoop up the plankton...and fish get in on that action as well!
Did you know?*
-The Kona Coast on the Big Island of Hawaii is perhaps the best place on earth to see manta rays up close and personal. In lighted waters along the coast, manta rays congregate nightly to feed. After dark, millions of minuscule organisms are attracted to the glow. As thick clouds of these microscopic animals gather, manta rays come to feed on this favorite food.
-Why are we told not to touch? Like many many sea creatures, manta rays have a thin coating of protective mucous on their skin and this mucous can be rubbed off.
* Information from the Manta Pacific Research Foundation