We had been spoiled on our dive day so far — a whale, two manta rays, a honu, schools of fish, and the good fortune of diving with an endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal — and as the sun set over the horizon I had a feeling that our Night Dive with the Manta Rays would be even more exciting.
Our dive site for the evening, Manta Ray Heaven, is known throughout the world as one of the most reliable sites to see a manta ray. Timmy Ray the Manta Ray graced us with his presence when I dove at this location back in 2014, and now, three years later, we were back for Round 2. This time with my loving husband as my dive buddy.
The night was calm and the moon was full, and as we geared up for our second dive of the night excited squeals and murmurs could be heard among the many snorkelers at the surface. Our dive master quickly went over the facts during our dive briefing: manta rays eat plankton, and plankton are attracted to light. So our goal was to flood the area with light in order to draw in the plankton, thus providing a delicious buffet for our Manta friends. He added that unlike sting rays and eagle rays, manta rays do not have stingers on their tails, and he continued to put the divers’ minds to ease by stating that manta rays can’t actually “eat” humans. 🙂 While the mouth of the manta ray is gigantic, the esophagus is not, so if one tried to swallow us, the manta would just choke and spit us out. 🙂
As we prepped for our dive, I spotted a few manta rays glide by just beneath the surface and I couldn’t wait to get in the water to see what all of the commotion was about.
And as I began my descent, I could not believe my eyes.
Manta Rays were EVERYWHERE!
I kneeled on the ocean floor with a flashlight in one hand and my underwater camera in the other, and for a moment I just sat there in awe.
These majestic creatures looked alien-like and other-worldly, yet their movements were soft, delicate, and graceful. They swam within inches of the divers at the ocean floor, and then circled up to the snorkelers at the surface. With so many manta rays gliding by it looked as though they were all part of an intricate ballet. A couple of times I thought a collision between two mantas rays was inevitable, and then the very next moment they were doing simultaneous back-flips and swimming off in opposite directions.
These buggas were fast and they were EVERYWHERE. The mantas must have shown up to the party on empty stomachs because they hovered around the dive lights like moths to a flame. They circled, dove, flipped, swam, and floated by always staying near the large pillars of light so they could feast on the plankton. There we were, at 40-feet below the surface, surrounded by manta rays in the middle of a feeding frenzy. 🙂 It. Was. Awesome!!
You guys… by the end of our dive, SEVENTEEN manta rays had shown up to the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet. SEVENTEEN!
The area’s resident Moray Eel, Crazy Frank, even made a guest appearance. You see, Frank is special. He doesn’t realize he’s actually an eel (according to our dive master). He clearly has no personal boundaries, as he’s been spotted hanging out on diver’s shoulders, backs, and right above their heads. There’s nothing that gets your adrenaline going faster than having a Crazy eel in the area and only a small flashlight to spot his current whereabouts. 🙂 Thankfully Crazy Frank had more interesting activities on his agenda that evening because he disappeared just as quickly as he appeared. Much to my relief.
When you plan a trip around an encounter with a wild animal you never know what to expect. Sometimes dozens of mantas show up, other times only a few, and some nights sadly there are none. These creatures
march swim to their own drum, and they didn’t care that we had traveled all the way from the mainland just to dive with them. Leading up to the trip we crossed our fingers that at least one manta would show up during our dive, and luckily for us, not only did that one manta show up but he brought a bus-load of his best friends with him. And they put on one hell of a show.
When people think of the Big Island, most think of Madame Pele and her famous bubbling volcano, however, a Night Dive with the Manta Rays is another highlight that is not to be missed. If you aren’t interested in scuba diving, or haven’t received your certification yet, you can reserve the Manta snorkel and enjoy this experience from the surface. No matter your preference — either at the surface or on the sand down below — don’t miss an opportunity to see this incredible underwater ballet on your next visit.