Jul 22 2008

Night Diving with Manta Rays

Published by at 9:27 pm under Hawaii,The Big Island

While we stayed near Kona on the Big Island, I took an afternoon/evening to go scuba diving while Meredith relaxed back at the resort. One of the recommended dives in that area is a night dive to see manta rays. I admit I was on the fence before going. I felt like I could take it or leave it since I was really in the mood to relax but in the end, I’m really glad I went because it is one of the best diving experiences I’ve ever had.

I went with Dive Makai (hello, David, Trish, and Alison!) and was glad I did. We had a small group and everything was very smooth. We did two dives with the first one in the late afternoon. It was a decent dive with some colorful fish and several rays. We went back to the boat after an hour to chill out, dry off, and warm up. I’ve noticed that in the last few years I’m a little more sensitive to motion sickness and that combined with a small, rocking boat and a stomach still not 100% after the antibiotics I was given for my finger meant that, after an hour back in the boat, I was feeling pretty ill. We went through the pre-dive briefing for the manta ray dive which I’m sure took only about 5-10 minutes but by that point, I wanted to get back in the water so badly that it seemed to take forever. Luckily, as expected, once I was back in the water, I felt just fine in less than a minute.

So here’s how the dive works: there’s a spot off the coast south of Kona where someone has set up some spotlights on the bottom (about 35 feet under) pointing toward the surface. These lights attract krill and small fish. The krill then attracts manta rays who feed on them. And then the mantas attract the humans who sit/kneel on the bottom while the mantas swoop and fly around while they feed. They’re harmless to the people even though they come extremely close sometimes. The number of mantas is a bit unpredictable in practice. Supposedly two months ago they had about 30 manta rays at the site. When I set up the dive, they said that they’d seen only 2 the week before.

It was my first night dive and what people said was kind of true. They said it was like floating through space. The boat gives each person an underwater light (basically a waterproof, handheld flashlight) and if you’re not close to others in your party, you see just a bunch of floating lights. We dropped down to 30 feet and swam over to the site. When we got there, there were no mantas yet. The spotlights were on though and shining upward which made a beautiful scene. In a light blue column from floor to surface, schools of shimmering silver fish swam around. We waited about 5 minutes and one manta arrived. It had about a 6-7 foot wingspan and it was incredibly graceful as it swam around. I was amazed how close it came to the divers – sometimes within inches of them. After another 5-10 minutes, another larger manta showed up – perhaps an 8-9 foot wingspan. Both swam around and around. I’m not sure what I was doing right but, for much of my visit, both mantas seemed to circle around me, diving towards me and skimming past me. It’s an amazing sight when they open their giant mouth and come directly for you and at the last minute, they “pull up.” They continued to buzz me, sometimes just an inch or two over my head. There were a few times when I needed to duck and once one of their wings grazed me. I could have stayed for a much, much longer time and I was surprised when, David, our divemaster pointed to his watch to say we’d been down for an hour and needed to head back up.

Usually at this point I’d show you a bunch of pictures and video that I took underwater. The problem was that, because we went to Hawaii via Mongolia, I didn’t want to haul my heavy underwater housing gear around the world. (I took the housing to the Galapagos for the video I showed here on the blog and the housing alone is 5 pounds!) So, linking you to other people’s photos and video will have to do (it’s not legit for me to embed their photos in my site). The best still photo’s I’ve found are right here on Dive Makai’s page about their Manta Ray dives. The picture on the top left (including the bug-eyed diver and the ray an inch above his head) are pretty accurate for what I must have looked like. The picture on the bottom left is what a ray looks like when its mouth is wide open and headed straight in your direction. The bottom right picture is a typical view of the white bottom of a ray as they swim past you. The best video I’ve found is located on the manta ray dive page of a competing dive shop (it should auto-play if you load the page). It replicates very well how I saw the lights and the manta rays.

If you’re a diver and if you’re going to Hawaii’s Big Island, I can’t recommend this dive enough!

– Dave

One response so far

One Response to “Night Diving with Manta Rays”

  1. Sara says:

    Night dives are awesome (as are manta rays.) I have done the former, but not seen the latter (I have seen spotted eagle rays though.)