On my recent trip to Bali, I got the incredible opportunity to dive with Manta Rays. It was my first time seeing these gentle giants gliding through the water. The dive site that my fellow instructor and I went to was called Manta Bay, very shallow with a lot of surge. We had already spotted the rays from the boat and my heart was pounding almost immediately. As we entered the water and descended, after about 5 minutes our dive guide pointed out somewhere into the blue. I had stopped breathing at that point and just waited. I didn’t know exactly what to expect but I remember the feeling. Silent and so peacefully the Manta Ray came soaring towards us. I had never seen something so foreign that made me yet again so appreciative towards my job and what it allows me to witness.
Manta rays are filter feeders that feed on zooplankton and are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN. Like with a lot of marine species, manta rays are overfished. They are mainly caught for their edible meat consumed by many countries around the world. And of course, Chinese medicine demands for the cartilaginous gills. Mantas, like sharks, cannot swim backwards, and so they are prone to entanglement in fishing lines and nets.
Being in the water and getting the opportunity to see them for the first time was something I will always cherish, like with many of my encounters with strange and gorgeous marine creatures, Mantas did not disappoint. How could it? It’s agility through the water and angel like wings felt to me like an underwater orchestra. The six or seven Mantas that performed for us will forever be seared into my memories as my first encounter with the gentle giants of the world’s oceans.