Monday, October 25, 2010

Amazing Kona Manta Ray Night Dive

I was on the Hawaii's Big Island recently for a good friend's wedding and had the good fortune doing the Kona manta ray night dive. It's a world famous dive in a shallow bay where giant manta rays have been coming for years at night to feed on the plankton. Every night, boats take divers and snorkelers out to the bay, shine powerful lights to attract plankton, and hope for mantas to come. A normal night apparently brings 2-5 mantas but there are unfortunate nights where none come out to play. The mantas range in size from 2-6m wingspan and are quite a sight to behold.

We went out with Fair Wind. We started out by meeting at 5.45pm at the dock. There were more than 20 of us (all snorkelers except 3) so it took a while to do the paperwork. Then we boarded the boat for the 10 min boat ride to the manta area. Fair Wind specializes in snorkelers, which is a good thing as there are not many divers in the water. I heard that some nights the water can be really crowded.

The snorkelers got in and hung on to a large makeshift float with bright lights on it, while the divers submerged and started looking around. At first, there was not much life except a few reef fish and a couple of hunting morays. We caught a glimpse of 2 mantas fly by but they did not hang around long enough to get a good look. After 30 min of circling the area and not seeing much, I was just about resigned to not seeing any mantas that night... then suddenly 2 large mantas swam by and started doing acrobatics right in front of us! I began snapping pictures like crazy. The video guy's lights really attracted the mantas and they began doing somersaults and fly bys right before him. At times, they came so close that it really seemed like they would crash into us, but they would always turn away at the last moment to avoid a collision. It was incredible to watch such large creatures move so quickly and with such grace.

We got to spend about 30 min with the 2 mantas before I was low on gas and had to surface. Just as I was ascending, one manta came straight at me with its mouth wide open. I managed to fire off one shot of its gaping mouth before it swooped up and over my head, bumping my camera in the process. What a rush! The dive absolutely lived up to its reputation of being "one of the top ten things to do in your lifetime" (Travel Channel)!

I got back on the boat to find most of the snorkelers seasick. Some had even left the water before the 2 mantas showed up. I know the divers had a great time but maybe half of the snorkelers did not as they had bobbed in cold, choppy seas for 30 min without seeing anything.

Unfortunately, I did not have any time to do any other dives in Hawaii. That will have to be for next time...

I'll post pictures up in a few days' time once I have had time to edit them.

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