Friday, September 3, 2010

Swimming with Manta Rays

Before we sailed to Suwarrow and before we left French Polynesia, we sailed half a day from Bora Bora to a smaller and less touristy island called Maupiti. Here, it’s possible to swim with manta rays, and there’s even a manta ray fish cleaning station, which I really wanted to see.

Fish cleaning, think going to the dentist, only it’s a pleasant experience, one that the manta rays go to almost daily. Our friends on Tyee were in Maupiti and they told us it was amazing. So I wanted to see for myself.

We jumped in the water early in the morning and I saw one huge ray swim under me. It was pretty cool to see a manta so close, and here’s how it looked.

Notice the rays huge mouth. Here's a close up.

Mantas are filter feeders, which means they sift seawater through their mouth and anything larger than the water molecule is caught. The manta ray mostly catches plankton. There are many species of mantas, and this one has well defined, white stripes going several directions. But the size of the ray itself must have been 8 to 10 feet, two meters!

The ray gradually passed under me, and disappeared.

When we talked about it with the other swimmers who were there, we heard that a few of them saw many more rays than we did. One swimmer said he saw five mantas. We only saw one. We had to have another go.

The next morning, the winds were light and we saw a ray off the bow of our boat, a good sign. We jumped in. Bendon, Mommy and I, all swam to the green buoy where the rays usually hang out. They were there for their dental work and there were lots of them.

We stopped at a coral head as we watched another ray glide in, then it stopped right above the coral and let little fish swim into it’s mouth. The fish clean the manta ray and get breakfast! I wonder how this friendship started.

Two more large rays swooped in and circled. Bendon, Steve and Ben from the catamaran Dignity were both good free divers, and can hold their breaths for a long time. I watched them sit at the bottom of the sea and look up as the rays swam over them.

What an amazing experience. I wish you were there.

The end.

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