Can you imagine how amazing it would be to be underwater and have one of those enormous giant mantas gliding just inches above your head? It’s something everyone should try at least once in their life!
To get to know them a bit more, let’s delve into the details of these incredible animals and tell you everything you need to know to dive with mantas.
What are manta rays?
Mantas or manta rays are among the most beautiful creatures you can encounter in the ocean, particularly cherished by diving enthusiasts. Their elegant movement and striking appearance are truly unparalleled.
These animals are incredibly curious, intelligent, and social. They have the largest brain relative to body size compared to any other fish species. When fortunate enough to have a close encounter with a manta, you can feel its curiosity as it approaches, encircles, and closely observes you. There have even been documented cases of mantas trapped in nets approaching divers for help.
Mantas belong to the Mobulidae family, which also includes devil rays, which have a similar appearance but are smaller. Additionally, they are closely related to sharks, as both are cartilaginous fish, meaning their skeletons are made of cartilage rather than bone. It’s essential to note that mantas are entirely harmless, lacking a stinger in their tail, unlike rays.
Mantas are distributed worldwide, inhabiting the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans, though to a lesser extent in the latter. While more common in warm tropical waters, they can also be occasionally found in colder seas, especially oceanic mantas. These animals are pelagic, meaning they live in open waters away from the coast.
Where to dive with manta rays
In Indonesia, thanks to its strategic location between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, the waters surrounding its 17,000-plus islands are abundant in nutrients, attracting large groups of mantas. There are three standout locations in Indonesia for manta diving:
Komodo: Offers year-round manta diving opportunities. Places like Manta Point, Mawan, or Manta Alley are known for the concentration of reef mantas feeding on plankton in currents and cleaning at specific stations.
Raja Ampat: Features several diving spots to observe reef mantas, such as Manta Ridge and Manta Sandy. There are also known cleaning stations like Blue Magic and Magic Mountain, where you can spot large oceanic mantas, especially between December and March.
Nusa Penida: Considered the best Bali area for reef manta diving. Manta Bay and Manta Point are standout locations where mantas can be observed year-round, with higher frequency between August and October.
To dive into these Indonesian locations, it is recommended to travel to the capital, Jakarta, or Bali, and then proceed to the final destination. These destinations are accessible both through land-based excursions and live-aboard trips.
The island of Socorro, part of the Revillagigedo Archipelago, consists of four uninhabited volcanic islands located in the Pacific Ocean, 600 km south of Baja California. From November to June, around 500 oceanic mantas usually inhabit the waters surrounding the island.
This place is considered possibly the best in the world for diving with oceanic mantas. However, due to its remote location, it is only accessible through liveaboard trips, which often come with high costs. The boat journey from Cabo San Lucas, the usual starting point, takes approximately 24 hours of navigation.
The Maldives consist of 1,192 islands scattered in the middle of the Indian Ocean, hosting numerous reefs and lagoons along 26 atoll chains. These atolls are frequently visited by reef mantas, especially in the Ari and Baa atolls, where the well-known Hanifaru Bay is located.
The opportunity to dive with mantas is available year-round, though more common between June and November. During this period, it is common to witness large aggregations of up to hundreds of mantas feeding, forming impressive “tornadoes”.
Diving in this part of the Maldives is accessible both through liveaboard boats and resorts, although the former option is generally more economical.
Code of Conduct when diving with manta rays
When diving with mantas, it is crucial to follow a code of conduct to avoid disturbing them. This not only ensures they won’t swim away at the moment but also preserves their future visits to the site. All divers have the responsibility to respect this code, and especially guides and divemasters must ensure they inform and enforce these rules.
Some key points include:
No touching: It is essential not to touch mantas, as their skin has a delicate mucous layer that protects them from infections. Contact could be harmful to them.
No chasing: Chasing a manta is not only ineffective, as they can reach speeds exceeding 30 km/h, but it can also scare and distance them.
Don’t get in their way: If a manta is swimming, do not position yourself in its path. Swim to the side to observe it as it passes, avoiding abrupt turns to prevent collisions.
Maintain distance: Keeping a distance of at least 3 meters and staying on the sides allows mantas to see you. If a manta approaches while you’re still, there’s no problem, as it controls the interaction.
Avoid cleaning stations: If a manta is at a cleaning station, stay at least 3 meters away to avoid disrupting the “washing session”.
Stay close to the bottom: To allow mantas to swim above, stay close to the bottom, avoiding touching it and the coral. If a manta passes over you, avoid exhaling many bubbles near it, as this could disturb it.
Avoid flash in photos: The use of flash in photos can disturb mantas, as they have small and sensitive eyes. The close flash can stun them, causing them to swim away abruptly.
How to identify them
Each manta has a unique “fingerprint,” consisting of spots on its belly, allowing for individual distinction. Using computer programs that analyze these patterns, it’s possible to compare a photograph and verify if the “fingerprint” matches any in the database.
Platforms like Manta Matcher maintain databases where specific manta observations are recorded. This approach contributes to documenting the places where a particular manta has been sighted. This information helps better understand manta migration patterns, identify potential threats, and improve conservation strategies for their protection.
So, are you up for it?