I’m going to just come out and say it: manta rays are pretty much the coolest underwater creatures.
They’re like majestic aliens who just do their thing while hypnotizing you with their grace.
Luckily, I got the chance to go on a night snorkel to try and meet one of these beauties IRL.
I went out with the people who helped make Nat Geo WILD special WILD Hawaii which premieres March 23 at 8 p.m. ET.
Basically, you go out at night and hold onto a foam surfboard which has lights attached to it in order to attract the plankton that manta rays eat. It’s pretty magical but very important you go with experienced guides like the one who took us, Keller Laros. He has been studying the creatures for 30+ years and knows how to keep them safe while enjoying their presence.
These are the things I learned:
1. Be patient: manta rays, like most great things in life, take some time to get to you.
2. Enjoy the things that may get in your way.
3. Don’t be scared of the unknown!
This guy swam by and his shadow seemed unreal.
5. Sometimes you just have to gaze at the beauty and be mesmerized.
6. Seeing something this ethereal just floating by is a spiritual experience that never gets old.
Even after 30 years of this, Keller says “Manta rays are just so graceful and beautiful as they peacefully swim past. It just thrills me every time I encounter one.”
7. We are just beginning research on these aliens who float among us.
It’s actually kind of unbelievable but most manta ray research has happened in the past 30 years. Keller Laros has been a key researcher in this progress, logging over 10 thousand dives with manta rays. He has known his best manta ray friend, Lefty for nearly 30 years.
8. Sometimes you’ll find what you’re looking for when you least expect it.
So, we did the night dive and saw the beauties but we were lucky enough to encounter them even more clearly the next day. No need for lights to attract them, just a manta ray doing it’s thing.
9. A cool name is very important.
The mantas are each given their own name, to help track them. Some of my favorite names were “Tanqueray” and “Who Ray”.
10. Manta Rays can be identified by the marks on their bellies.
Some are identified by unique qualities on their fins. We got to see “Lefty” that night (called this because of her turned up left wing).
11. Humans are a greater predator than sharks. That’s right: SHARKS.
Yep, a predator that actually lives among the manta ray is LESS of a threat than humans who temporarily occupy the space.
12. Some of the main threats that humans pose are:
a. Leaving unattended fishing lines which can hook, tangle, harm and even kill them.
b. Irresponsible charter operators who take people to scuba and snorkel with manta rays will bring their lit boats too close to the manta rays in order to attract the plankton. This then brings the manta rays too close to the boat’s propellers, ladders and rudders.
c. Run off into the ocean that can kill coral reefs, harming the ecosystem.
13. Here is an example of a dolphin experiencing what many underwater creatures, like the manta ray, experience when caught in fishing wire.
Thankfully, Keller was there to help the dolphin out.
14. Despite this, manta rays are fairly trusting.
On Keller’s first encounter with a manta ray he wrote, “in the shallows near the hotel patio under their light a manta ray with an 8-10 foot wing span was swimming. I kept pace with him. He was the most majestic creature I ever met, showed no fear and remained even though he could have fled. Wow!”