Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Manta Rave!

My ear was a little wonky this morning so I sat out the first dive. I wanted to make sure I could make it to tonight's dive, the famous manta ray night dive. After some Advil and Sudafed I felt much better, and when I tried diving the ear seemed good. We have been making our way north along the west coast of the big island of Hawai'i, and are nearly back to our starting point in Kona. Currently we are moored in front of the Sheraton hotel, site of tonight's dive.

The hotel has a patio bar overlooking the water, and many many years ago people realized that the lights from the patio attracted creatures to the area to feed at night. The lights bring the plankton closer to the surface, and the easily caught plankton attracts manta rays. It's become quite the attraction: boats full of divers show up, and the divers sit on the sandy bottom pointing lights up toward the surface. A couple of dive boats bring bins full of lights, making a sort of campfire in the middle. Snorkelers float above, holding on to rafts with more lights pointing down. The mantas come and feed off the plankton that gathers between all these lights. The mantas can start gathering in the late afternoon, and although sometimes they don't show up, sometimes there can be several dozen feeding in the lights.

Our afternoon dive was where the lights would be later, and sure enough we saw three mantas. They were just cruising around, and we were able to follow them from a distance. On my safety stop, one manta slowly swam back and forth at the same depth as me. I watched him while he watched me. These rays are so beautiful, graceful, and peaceful. They have huge mouths, but they only eat plankton which they catch by filtering. The weird fins on their head help to channel the plankton toward their mouth.

Finally it was time for the highlight of the day! I was a bit nervous because I didn't know what to expect. We jumped in and started swimming toward the light campfire, and when we arrived there were already rays turning loop-the-loops to feed. It was visually fantastic, like a rave! A manta rave! Really, there were glowsticks, a light show, and breathing of compressed gasses. A half-dozen feeding manta rays, swooped about overhead. One swam continuous loop-de-loops for a few minutes. Several passed by inches from my head.

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