Swimming With Mantas

We swim with Giant Mantas now...
and sharks.
Amazing what can happen in a day out here!

Day 2 in Hanoemoenea Bay started at 6:30 am...when the sun came up.
A perfect morning, the bay, calm and crystal clear, sky a gorgeous shade of blue, puffy clouds, marching far, far out on the horizon. I was up on deck, sipping coffee when Hunter climbed up beside me, her long hair, a tumble of tangles. "Oh gosh Mommy! LOOK AT THAT BEACH!"

The beach here is perfect.
A crescent of the softest white sand, occasional coal-black lava rocks sticking out here and there, littered with windfall coconuts... Ahhhhhh....

By seven thirty we were on the beach and had it all to ourselves.
Jon and I did wind sprints, trying to regain some cardio-health long lost in all our  sea-voyaging, the kids found sticks to throw like javelins and raced each other on the sand, with Hunter getting a fair head start. Kai has grown another couple of inches and amazingly has even developed muscles, which is extra- amazing, as he laid in his bunk most of our journey, reading a 4000 page book. He really should be the consistency of yogurt but shockingly, he is not. Yay, testosterone!

We did yoga and stretched and sat in the perfect sand and stared at the perfect water. I put on my mask and set out to see what lives in the tidal zone and the surf breaks here... Hunter found a hermit crab living in a tree who was as big as my hand. He's bright red and very friendly and was not allowed to come back to the boat with her.

The kids and Jon joined me in the water and pretty soon we were all calling out new species of fish.
We had anchored the dinghy off the beach to avoid having to land it in the surf and once we had satisfied ourselves that we had spotted most of what there was to be found in the shallows, we decided it was time to go back to the boat for breakfast.

The big plan of the day was to head out to the deeper water for a real look around.
As we motored back to the boat, I spotted two large dark shapes in the water.

"Mantas!" We all yelped with glee.
One was small, only about six feet across and the other was about twice that.
I was in front, closest to all the dive gear, so I pulled on my mask and fins and slipped in the water, while Jon drove the dink. Once in, I lost track of where they were but Jon and the kids were able to spot and point me in the right direction. I have never swum with Mantas before, only rays. The thing with rays is, they are not always very social and sometimes you have to really swim to keep up with them-if they even let you. I kicked as hard as I could and tried to power after the smaller Manta when suddenly, he banked around and came right back at ME!

It was really a little guy, his belly was covered in spots, so I immediately named him "Freckles".
Freckles came right up to me to have a look.
I was stunned.

I remember our friends Terry and Dawn from SV MANTA (who obviously know a thing or two about diving with Mantas) telling us to let a giant Manta get a good look at your eyes.
I did my best to show this curious little guy I was also curious and not a threat.
Freckles, gave me a big "once-over" and then swooped away.
I turned to yell to the kids, who I thought were still in the dingy and there they were-RIGHT BEHIND ME, in the water!

Now I knew why this little baby Manta was so curious...there were two new kids in the water!
We all cooed about Freckles and how cute he was as we breathed up for our next dive and then dove down about 15 feet to have a look around...and then here comes MAMA!
Mama was a little different story...

She unfolded those 12-15 foot wings and underwater she looked REALLY big and she was coming straight for me, her big plankton feeding mouth wide open, all I could think of was little Hunter right behind me...
She would fit right in that mouth!

I back-paddled a little, pushing Hunter and Kai behind me-even though I knew I probably had nothing to worry about but this was a new experience for us and MAMA was coming in fast. She swooped right up to us, about a foot away, we could have touched her but we didn't. I just looked in her huge, lovely, sweet, doe-eye, as she swept by and all my fears melted. It was clear that she had come back to see what we were and if her baby was safe to play with us...which he did!

We dove down again to where Freckles was swooping around and I turned on my back to look up at him and he swept over top of me close enough for me to scratch his belly (I didn't but I wish I had!). The Mantas stayed for about ten minutes before taking off. Hunter had been stung by a jellyfish sometime during this encounter, so I took her back to the boat to regroup.

When climbed aboard, I saw Jon, in the water, just off our bow, swimming with the big Mama. She had come back for more...and to meet our "Big Guy". I ran to get the camera, because standing on the bowsprit and looking down at Jon in the water, being dwarfed by this animal, was such a cool perspective on the size of her, I REALLY wanted that shot!
Alas, by the time I got back on deck Mama was gone again.

Hunter stopped stinging, so the kids and I climbed back in the water and waited...hoping. Five minutes later,  the Mantas came back for another pass. They came in, right next to our boat and seemed so interested in us. In the short time we spent with them, I have to say, these are really incredible, intelligent creatures. The only way I can describe it is, it feels a bit like being around a horse. Although of course, the vibe is different, they're totally different creatures, but the INTELLIGENCE they have feels familiar. You know how horses each have different personalities? It's really up to the horse to decide how its going to behave with you, until you show it you are aware that it is intelligent and then they treat you differently? It's kind of like they go "Oh, okay, you speak Horse, I guess you're cool" ...Well, I don't speak Manta at all, but I think even our confidence in the water and the kids' willingness to let them approach (all of which is only because Terry and Dawn spent so much time telling us stories about their own experience in the water with these animals)...gave the Mantas an equal interest in us.
It was AWESOME. Mind-blowing. Crazy cool.

Watching Hunter and Kai swim with these gentle giants, in this perfectly clear, beautiful water...
I so wish I had my camera fired up but I thought I was just going to the beach for an hour workout!
Later, over tiny, perfect, eggs scrambled with French cheese and herbs, and our last fresh Pamplemousse, we giggled and smiled and recounted every second of the experience and all agreed we couldn't wait to get back in the water.

It was only 10:30 and the Mantas had departed the anchorage, so we laid low for some homeschooling (reading, drawing, French, looking at fish books) and decided to have another big free-diving round out at the point at high noon.
Normally, you don't take children as fair as glow worms snorkeling at tropical noon but serious research has confirmed that it is the safest time of day to explore new waters in these areas-so sunscreen it is...and hats and shirts and all that gak.

At 1pm, we were anchored off the point and back underwater. No wetsuits, only masks and fins and weight belts. Still no camera for me. I am still acclimatizing to free diving again before I take the camera. We decided to leave off scuba until the Tuamotos. Jon had to disassemble our compressor for the crossing and since there is another five day crossing before the Tuamotos... it's free diving only here in the Marquesas.

Jon and Kai seem to have lost nothing in breath-hold, in fact, Kai is even more awesome-must have grown those lungs of his a few inches as well. I swear he was under for three minutes while following an octopus. Hunter can easily keep up with me, so it is really quite a thing to be exploring coral heads 25 feet down and hanging out there with your entire family, pointing at Lion fish and crazy-looking Unicorn fish and fifty other species new to us.

We spent about two hours out there and the surge was just beginning to build, so I thought it might be time to wrap it up for Hunter and I. Just then, Jon and Kai beckoned us out to see something new they had spotted. They were about one hundred yards further off shore. I went to ask Hunter if she was up for it, but she was already charging out there. We met up with Jon and Kai in about forty feet of water, on the outer edge of the anchorage. They were scouting a large coral head that rose up about fifteen feet from the bottom...as Hunter went to check out what they were looking at, I became distracted by an even larger coral head a little further out, so I swam out to have a look...
All of a sudden my brain went...
and my skin tingled.

I hadn't seen anything...and I wasn't the least bit scared but my brain was definitely sending me a VERY clear message.
"Beep. Beep. Beep. Attention Mommy...shark, close by."
It was like a telegram.

I swung my head around slowly and sure enough, at the edge of my peripheral vision, a sleek shape was cruising past.

This was not a scary moment at all. My brain had already altered me to be ready for it, so everything was really calm. Focused. But calm. The shark wasn't big, four maybe five feet tops and it was  heading in my direction but it saw me and veered away.

I looked up,
Jon and Kai were underwater.
Hunter was about twenty yards away from me.
'Okay". I thought, calmly. "What's the call?"

I did not feel in the least bit threatened but wanted to make sure our new visitor was not between Hunter and the dinghy. I also did not want to alarm Hunter, she was pretty far from the dinghy and a panicky kid (if she reacted that way) wasn't something I wanted at this moment.

Waiting to tell Jon and Kai, when they surfaced, seemed silly because I wasn't the least bit worried about the guys. With fins on they were way bigger than that little non-aggressive seeming shark.
My little girl-well, I felt a little differently about that, especially way out here in the deep water. I swam slowly over to Hunter looking underwater and behind me occasionally.

"Hey, boo...I'm tired," I said. All was cool. I felt cool. I did not have any bad vibes. I just wanted to play this safe, the first time around.
"Want to go chill in the dinghy, with me?"
"Sure!" said Hunter bright as the sun.
"I'll give ya a ride!" I said and hooked her under my arm and life guard towed her,side-kicking the whole way while she floated on her back, laughing.
We were back at the boat in a flash.

Now, to be totally clear, this was NOT at all freaky.
I knew my husband and my 11 year old were out there, but it was broad daylight, no one was spearfishing and this was clearly not a scary brand of shark just your average little guy, minding his own business.
In fact, looking out at Jon and Kai I could see they were really excited about something and they kept diving for like 20 minutes...

I debated telling Hunter but also did not want her yelling, "did you see the SHARK??? "and freaking out the boys if they hadn't seen it. A few minutes later Kai swam back to the boat.
"Hey, mom..." he said with a big smile.
"I saw two huge golden trumpet fish....and...
His face looked like Christmas morning. Seriously, this kid was as happy as this kid can get.

"Awwwwwww...." said Hunter with a pouty face.
"Why didn't I get to?" she said, shooting me an accusing glare.

Honestly, a mother can only handle so much excitement in one afternoon.

Hunter on swimming with Mantas:
It was so exciting, swimming up to the little guy.
When it came close, I was a little scared until I saw its eye. Then, it seemed like it was saying,
"I want to PLAY with you!".
One time, one of them actually brushed me and their skin is really rough. This is why our friend Terry says you should wear gloves if you are going to ride one.
I really hope we get to ride one someday.

My first shark swim wasn't very intimidating, actually.
When I first spotted it, I felt surprised and excited.
It would have been even better if it had stayed for longer but it just made a quick pass and then swam away into the gloom.
It was a black-tip reef shark and only 4 and a half feet long-not very big compared to some.
Swimming with the Mantas was so cool because they aren't scared of you and they stay right with you for a long time, looking at you just as much as you are looking at them.
I'm really excited to see more sharks in the future, maybe not Tiger sharks and Bull sharks but reef sharks and getting to watch them with scuba will be really cool, because staying close to the bottom is a good way to observe them...they don't  notice you so much!

Captain's Corner:
Sigh... So awesome, so beautiful, so wonderful and yet...a little bit sad. Just felt strange to be swimming with Mantas... without Manta.

1 comment:

  1. Hey great to hear about your Manta experience.........They likely DID want to play with you, at least the larger one. Next time wait till they come close and then swim up underneath one and stroke it on it´s underside. The Manta will likely bolt, but will not go far, just not used to the touch of a human. If the Manta comes back, try for touch again and again, then at some point get up above and directly behind the Manta. Swim over the Manta in it´s blind spot (directly above and behind) then go for the upper lip, and just cup your hands gently around the upper lip. If the Manta bolts again, and comes back keep trying this approach until you are on and the Manta allows this............then you might just get that magic ride that will change you in ways you cannot even imagine.

    One you have ridden that Manta, you won´t have any trouble riding that one again, you have made a Manta friend! Also remember those markings, they are unique to each one. Draw a picture of their markings and where they are located for further fun!

    Good on you guys, we´re with you on this!!!! Terry, Dawn, and Tigger