A Feeding Frenzy off the Kona Coast

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.

Kona Diving Company

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.

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Manta Rays were EVERYWHERE!

Manta Ray night dive

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!!

Manta Ray night dive

Manta Ray night dive

Plankton! Get in mah belly!!!

Manta Ray night dive

While it looks like I’m about to be swallowed, this graceful giant swam within centimeters just above my head.

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. 

Manta Ray night dive

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.

20 Comments

  1. gmroeder
    March 1, 2017 / 4:28 PM

    It was on Heron Island / Australia. I stood in the very clear water, it was just covering my ankles. As I lifted a foot to step forward another tourist grabbed me and yelled “STOP”. I was startled, stood still, looked at him, and asked “Why?” He pointed down and said “you’d have stepped on that spike and you’d be dead within a short time.” A ray was there under the sand and, as a newcomer, I had no idea what to look for or what danger I’d be in. – But I loved it when these gorgious creratures were coming out of the water and looked like flyers before diving back in.

    • March 5, 2017 / 12:11 PM

      The sting rays are so beautiful! We saw a lot of sting rays in Mo’orea last summer. Our guide told us that they typically sting because they feel attacked, so if you shuffle your feet in the sand when you’re walking in the water you will scare them off before ever stepping on them. 🙂
      Australia… Cody and I realllllly want to go there someday soon.

      • gmroeder
        March 27, 2017 / 1:56 PM

        If you do – don’t miss Heron Island. it’s an insider’s tip.

    • March 5, 2017 / 12:12 PM

      They were so incredible!

  2. March 1, 2017 / 4:40 PM

    MAIKAI Krystle! Do let everyone know what a HONU is, yeah? XD HA!!! Have you seen the Mantas at the Mauna Kea Hotel? That’s pretty impressive just from the surface (I snorkel, not cert driver like you and Cody 😉 ) … “buggas” 😛 … you crack me up! A hui hou!

    • March 5, 2017 / 12:15 PM

      I didn’t see the mantas at the Mauna Kea Hotel. We even went to that beach to hang out. Bummer! Maybe next time I’ll get to see them. They are such incredible creatures… so graceful!
      A Hui hou, auntie!!

  3. March 2, 2017 / 5:46 AM

    Wow, that looks like such an amazing experience. I will have to add this to my bucket list although some of those sea creatures look a bit intimidating lol
    http://www.lacasabloga.com

    • March 5, 2017 / 12:17 PM

      Their size is definitely intimidating. Some are as wide as a school bus is long! But they are gentle giants. 🙂 This activity was on my bucket list too. Good luck with your list!

  4. March 2, 2017 / 7:42 AM

    WOW!!! I’m just in awe, and a little scared bc there are so many!! But what an awesome experience. Thank you for your comment on my post, by thw way. It meant a lot.

    • March 5, 2017 / 12:21 PM

      Elle! Hey lady!
      It was such a cool experience, but it did feel a little overwhelming at first because of their size and how many there were. The last time we dove at that site only one manta showed up, which was neat too. But this time it was really interesting to see how they interacted with each other. 🙂
      Keep up the good work. You are doing so great!! 🙂

  5. March 14, 2017 / 7:22 PM

    Fantastic photos (and that first one of the monk seal really shows how easy it would be for a shark to mistake a surfer for one of those things!)

    • March 14, 2017 / 10:30 PM

      Thank you! 🙂 You know, I didn’t even notice it at first, but you are TOTALLY right. That silhouette could easily be a surfer. The similarities are uncanny.

  6. March 19, 2017 / 5:07 AM

    Wow that must have been an amazing experience! I would love to see Mantas! Not sure I’d like diving at night though.

    • March 19, 2017 / 10:58 AM

      My first time diving with the mantas I was worried about diving at night as well, but because they flood the area with light (to attract the plankton) it doesn’t feel like a normal night dive. 🙂

  7. March 24, 2017 / 1:08 AM

    Beautiful shots…My wife & I are both divers and lived in Hawaii for a couple years but never ot to see what you did. I did shoot some lion fish hanging out in a lava tube which was pretty cool…

    • March 24, 2017 / 2:42 PM

      Thank you Rich! I feel like my underwater photography has a long way to go, but you have to start somewhere. Right? I would love to see a Lion fish one day. I bet that was such a cool experience.
      Have a great weekend.

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