A Maldivian Manta
One year ago today, I was a guest at the most fantastic gathering of unique and unusual individuals I have ever seen. Thankfully, I captured the experience and I thought it would be a perfect tale to share this Halloween.
I must say this year has been the most exciting and eventful Halloween, although it has been anything but traditional. It was the first year I hung up my high heels, opted to forgo the French maid uniform, and the menu was not the usual sugary sweets and cocktails but something apparently much more appetizing. Only I was not the one scarfing down the special of the day but I was more than feasting on the excitement and adrenaline spurred by the sight before me when we arrived at our destination.
The party was populated by creatures cloaked in black and white, with giant eyes and strange looking protrusions on their faces. They were anything but scary looking, in fact quite the opposite. They looked joyful as they flew by us with movements of blissful content at the treats they had discovered. We had found a group of twenty five manta rays barrel rolling through the plankton rich waters and the party had only just begun.
At any given moment I was surrounded. The mantas were flying in formation, mouths wide open, using each other and us as tools to corral the plankton. Then one would peel away from the group and begin to barrel roll, swimming straight up as if to breach the surface and suddenly bending back into
the shape of a C and circling around to continue feeding. They looked like angels with wings spread wide and their outstretched cephalic fins halos above their heads. The waters were cloudy with plankton and the sun reflecting off it and the white undersides of the mantas created an eerie glow that reminded me of
misty fog rising off the water on an overcast morning. Even though we were in the middle of the warm equatorial waters of the Indian Ocean, it had the feel of Halloween.
Then more and more mantas started to barrel roll and the energy escalated as we all free dived down to get a closer look at this amazing activity. There were so many everywhere and we all split off from each other with multiple mantas to admire. They were mostly mature females and they spanned between two and three metres from tip to tip. Each one was unique, most having battle scars and wounds from their long lives and I couldn’t help but feel so connected to them having so many of my own. One had a huge chunk missing from the bottom of her left wing which looked like either a bite from the largest shark in the ocean or a run in with a boat propeller. Another had a broken cephalic fin in the front which set her apart from the group. Others had huge slashes on their backs, some had tails that were bent in half. It is
amazing to think of what they have been through, what they have seen, where they have been, predators they have avoided and brushes with death they have overcome. Every time one swooped past me and I caught a look into its eyes I found them smiling back at me as if they had something to communicate. I would give anything for a glimpse into their thoughts.
It must be a tough life despite their peaceful nature seeing as though they have two of the top predators on the planet hunting them. Sharks and us. And we are the most lethal by far. Eastern medicine claims that the gills of mantas have healing powers to cleanse the blood and their value is growing higher even than the price of shark fins. And there are no scientific studies to support any of these medicinal claims. That is scary news for mantas especially since we know the devastation of the shark population from the demand for their fins. Over 100 million sharks are killed a year, many thrown back into the water after their fins are hacked off to drown and suffer a slow death void of dignity. And the manta population in the ocean is significantly smaller than sharks to begin with.
And then as suddenly as it began, it was over. The plankton was gone, the guests were satisfied, and another successful Halloween had passed. On the ride home we marveled at our luck, we had crashed the best party in the Maldives. To top it off, I got to try the manta tow which is a sort of underwater wakeboarding that simulates a manta in flight. On the end of a long rope attached to the back of the boat is a triangular board made of plastic with holes as handles. Sporting a mask, snorkel, and fins, I flew through the water, maneuvering myself down through schools of fish and then back up to the surface
again to swallow just enough air to go back down. This wins over wakeboarding hands down, no contest.
Back in my bunk at Landaa, I was so high from the days events that I wasn’t crushed by the trick I was dealt. Reviewing the over 300 pictures and video I had taken with multiple mantas barrel rolling in unison and my friends just feet away from them, I realized that my underwater camera housing had been completely fogged the entire day. That is one nasty joke. And yet I couldn’t get too upset as I had witnessed the barrel rolling feeding frenzy unique to of one of natures most glorious creatures. Just
thankful. And I smiled and thought to myself, Happy Halloween.
Learn more about manta rays and their conservation at Manta Trust
Manta and me!