Manta rays are near the top of most divers’ bucket list and for very good reason: soaring through the water like birds of the sea they are a stunning sight. Manta, meaning blanket in spanish, appropriately describes the manta ray which can have a wingspan of up to 7.5m and weigh up to 2,900 lbs.
They have the largest brain-to-body ratio of all sharks and rays and recent studies have shown that they have a specialised manta brain case which is designed to keep it warm on deep cold dives of up to 500m. Animals with these brain cases are thought to be more intelligent than their colder cousins, contributing to the incredible acrobatic behaviour that is seen in mantas: leaping up to 7 feet above water and all manner of tricks underwater.
Although they are some of the larger creatures in the ocean, they filter-feed on some of the smallest: zooplankton. They glide through the water with their mouths wide open capturing the microscopic creatures and the occasional somersault enables them to concentrate large masses of food. Searching for these masses of food, also known as plankton blooms, mantas show migratory behaviour and are found circumglobally in temperate and tropical waters near islands and continents of all oceans.
Although seeing a manta is an exciting experience, most exhilarating is witnessing a manta feeding frenzy. Visibility will not be great due to the amount of plankton in the water, but the benefits far outweigh this with up to 100 mantas soaring and somersaulting all around you. So many you will not know where to point the camera!
This is all good and well but the most important thing is to know where to find them! Our top picks are as follows:
1. Hanifaru Island, Northern Maldives – no bigger than a football field, it has plankton blooms from May to November attracting hundreds of mantas.
2. Manta Point, Nusa Penida, Bali – plankton-rich waters attracts mantas as well as doubling up as cleaning station where mantas come to have parasites picked off by small reef fish.
3. Galapagos Islands – manta season from December to May sees a sharp increase in the number of mantas.
4. Yap – famous worldwide for its resident population of mantas, this is probably the best place to see them on earth. Soon to be added to our trips!
There are plenty more spots we know so get in touch if you want to find out more. Have you been diving with mantas? Tell us you story!