29 June 2010

Swimming with Mantas

Holly Beck
23 June 2010 -

I like sea critters, particularly large toothy sea creatures that let you swim with them. Manta Rays don’t have teeth but still easily fall into the large sea creature category. Yesterday afternoon we loaded into boats and set off towards the reef hoping to find a few mantas to swim with. The choppy seas made us less than sure we’d get our chance, but Cheyne, Alex, and Bede back-rolled overboard armed with weight belts, spear guns, and a hunger for sashimi. Maria and I stayed dry with our eyes peeled to the water around us looking for shadows below. Surprisingly, Bede and Alex came up cheering and pointing. “There’s heaps of mantas right here!”

We motored over but by the time Maria and I jumped in with the boys, the mantas were gone. Back in the boat, shivering in the wind under a cloudy sky, I was ready to head back to the Tui Tai for a hot shower. Kristin Valette the optimist suggested one more pass along the reef and just then our dive guide spotted a manta not too far away. I jumped in eagerly with Justin our still photographer and Scott the video guy. Soon a big black shape emerged from the darkness below me and I was surprised by the size of it. I’ve seen a manta before in the Maldives, but this guy was much bigger, easily 6ft wide from wingtip to tip and our guide called it a small one. He was cruising just above the sea floor about 40 feet below me, and after all the kicking to keep up, I was winded. Justin was at my shoulder, camera ready, pointing down and motioning me to dive down alongside but I just nodded and waited. Up ahead the reef grew a little closer to the surface and as the ray swam up over it, I swam down for a quick moment of synchronized swimming. The ray looked over at me for a moment and then swam off. We found it again and I got one more chance, this time lasting a little longer. It was just enough for Justin to snap a few frames of the Manta and I side by side, swimming together. I spread my arms out to the side in my best effort to imitate its graceful wing-flapping swim. Finally I pulled myself back onto the boat incredibly grateful that we’d taken the chance on one more pass. It was definitely worthwhile.

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