Here is a story from Shannon from last week's best of Hawaii Trip.
So, if you are a Dive Utah fan, here is my tale: Last night on Kona, Hawaii we went out on the night dive to do this very dive. We sat down on the bottom with the lights blazing in the center of a large, flat area and waited. Five different boats were all there at the same ...time, fifty divers or so. Each diver settles down on the bottom with a light pointing skyward in about 35 feet of water.
There are about 30 snorkelers floating on the surface with their lights pointing downward. There is a vertical column of water that is lit up from above and below. The plankton are attracted to the light. Mantas use the lights to find and have a great meal! We waited and waited and waited. They never came. Ten minutes, fifteen minutes and then twenty-three minutes passed as we all swayed in the gentle surge listening to our selves inhale from the tank and exhale thousands of little tiny bubbles. It is a solitary and comforting sound actually - quite relaxing. They never came. It was a complete bust.
All the divers left the area, completed a night dive and returned to their boats. We finished the night dive as well, looking at other wonderful things that come out only at night and were not disappointed. We delighted in a reef squid that was attracted to the night light and allowed us to light up his insides as he investigated the lens. There were balls of fish moving by and funny ten inch long worms wiggling in the water heading somewhere. Night dives are quite magical.
As we approached the boat to leave the water, there was a manta right by the ladder! We had our show after all! We marveled at the ballet right in front of our eyes - our own private manta ray. Because it was a timed dive, we were required to get out of the water even though we would have rather stayed. I was one of the last to re-board the boat. The captain said I could go in again on snorkel. I took him up on that offer in a flash and went right back out, floating behind the boat.
I moved away from the ladder, a dangerous area to be in rough water. Right there on the surface I floated. By using the light beam to aim, the Manta could find a meal easily. By using the light beam to aim, I was able to have her approach me closer and closer, five foot mouth wide open, fourteen foot wingspan gracefully closing the distance between us. It was coming right at me and at the last minute she would slowly swoop past my nose, up over my head and get oriented to come around again.
The exhilaration was mind blowing. I could count each identifying spot on her belly and see her gills working five inches from my eyes! It was a B-52 flying over me each and every time. The shadow she made over me was slow and fluid and she was in no hurry to leave. I tilted my head up to watch her invert herself as she looped up, over, and down in the water to get ready to come in again on a vertical loop. Her back is black and as she loops away and deep she disappeared for only a second. Then I could see the white mandible appear as she positioned herself to ascend to me again. I experimented with the light and tested how much she would move to line up with it again. It was unfailing! No matter where I was, she was looping vertically to get the free meal!
Of course, I was bonding with my new friend and wanted badly to reach out and touch her soft underbelly. Cautions from the captain about removing the protective gel with my touch and perhaps causing a breech in the system nature uses to keep her from getting injured or infected stopped me. I touched only with my eyes. The memory will be everlasting.
Another snorkeler got in the water and we squealed with delight, laying side by side as this magnificent flyer came back again and again. The manta and I had a wonderful time. She used my light over and over and did loop after loop right on me! She went around and around, upside down, time after time, on and on for one hundred and fifty seven loops! I know because I counted!!
Thanks to Brent Jackson for the pictures.