Swimming at night with manta rays is an incredible experience, and perhaps the most exciting thing that I have ever done in the ocean. With wing spans reaching over 20’ across, manta rays are one of the largest animals in the sea. The thought of jumping into pitch black waters with these giants can be terrifying. Although mantas may be frightening to look at, they are completely harmless. Mantas are related to sharks and stingrays, but they lack sharp teeth and a tail stinger. Being filter feeders, their primary source of food is plankton, and they feed by swimming with their mouth open in plankton rich waters.
During our recent trip to Kona, Hawai‘i, I learned that Kona is the only place in the world where mantas partake in night feeding while performing barrel rolls in proximity to humans. I thought I would take advantage of this unique opportunity for some father/son bonding time. So I booked a tour with a company called Eco Canoe Adventures. They took us out at night into Keauhou Bay, in front of the Sheraton Kona resort, on a double hulled Hawaiian sailing canoe.
Once we arrived at the site, we prepared our selves mentally and jumped into the dark water. A blue light attached to a surfboard was used to attract plankton, which in turn attracted many manta rays. These amiable creatures swim within inches of your body, and it is important not to touch them. Doing so would rub off a protective slimy coating on their skin. As instructed, with our face under water, and a pool noodle under our ankles, we held on to the surfboard and made sure to remain flat above the surface.
Within moments we were surrounded with beautiful giant mantas performing spectacular barrel rolls right under us. There were dozens of them, one after another swimming up gently towards us, so close as to almost touching us, then at the last moment, turning with perfect precision and swimming back down. It was scary at first. When you see a giant creature coming straight at you, with its enormous mouth wide open, your instincts tell you to swim away. They are of course only interested in the plankton around the blue light, and they need to keep moving get oxygenated water flowing into their gills.
Mantas are not the only creatures lurking in the Keauhou Bay. There were all kinds of fish swimming around us such as parrot fish and yellow tangs, but luckily no sharks! Perhaps just as exciting as mantas, we were lucky to see a pod of dolphins darting by and jump out of the water. Their behavior was in great contrast to the manner of the gentle mantas. The distinct clicking sound which they use to sense their surroundings through echolocation can be heard under water. I was surprised that it was a bit painful to the ear.
If you find your self in Kona, Hawai‘i I would highly recommend that you check out this activity. It is a truly unforgettable experience!