|Whoa! Here comes the manta! This big 5-foot fella’s eating|
plankton, same as the school of fish he’s swimming amidst.
Did you know manta rays have the biggest brain among all fish, and is believed the most intelligent (according to MantaTrust)? These gentle giants are plankton eaters, their name a translation from the Spanish word for “cloak” and Maldivan ‘small fish eating ray.’
The Marquesas Islands, while rich in marine life, are not known for good snorkeling. Like Galapagos, plankton provides a solid foundation for the bottom end of the food chain. It makes for happy sea life, but murky water, generally. As well, majestic Marquesas mountains funnel much silt down into anchorages.
|Striking side view of the manta. Note the contrast of its|
dark topside and white, lightly speckled underside.
Among Marquesas cruisers, Hanamaenoa is well known for its popularity with people-friendly manta rays. We’d heard the same was true at Fatu Hiva, but while I saw an eagle ray there, the mantas didn’t approach our boat, or any others when I cruised the anchorage via kayak and snorkel.
|Eye-level, manta, wings a flappin’ and coming my way!|
I remind myself, they’re said to be friendly! No reports of attacks.
My last really good snorkeling goes back over a year, to Conception, Bahamas, in April 2014. There we darted in 20-30 feet deep sculpted reefs with nurse sharks, large Nassau grouper and a wide array of colorful Caribbean fish. We also peered at all sorts of fish tucked into the mysterious mangrove-filtered clear waters.
|Great view of the manta’s gills on its underside|
and its reflection from the water’s surface.
This cruising season, I’ve barely even tried getting in the water, except to shampoo my hair in saltwater-friendly biodegradable shampoo. In Galapagos, we did swim with some turtles and eyeball a cave full of blacktip sharks, (note: watch for that in a future catch-up Galapagos blog post) but the plankton heavily marred the visibility. Worse, I kept getting bumped and kicked by other snorkelers, due to the strong currents and many rocky protuberances. I value my space, and deliberately swam away from some sharks and turtles to enjoy some no-contact snorkeling….
Shortly after dropping anchor in Hanamaenoa we saw a large manta ray – 5+ feet, wingtip to wingtip — circling our boat and practically brushing against the snorkeler from the boat anchored just fore of us.
|More manta wing action. Note the snorkeler at the water’s surface,|
above the manta’s reflection?
Indeed, pirouettes best describe the motion the mantas made in their fabulous water ballet.
|Guidelines for swimming and snorkeling from Manta Trust. Instinctively, I did what they suggested;).|
Later, I heard third-hand, that a former Cousteau employee (who also swam with the mantas when I did) said the mantas we like attention seeking kids – they wanted to be the one noticed in the pack of mantas. At one point, I saw at least nine mantas swimming around us! Two local Marquesas men who currently live on Hanamoenoa beach (watch for more on a post about them) told us that it’s okay to touch the mantas; they like it – just stay away from their tail! Still, despite the temptation, I’m glad I didn’t given the Manta Trust Guidelines.
|The most unusual jellyfish I’ve seen – yet. I saw two of these|
the second time I swam with the mantas in Hanamoenoa.
“Thank you for making this happen!” I thanked my husband, Captain Wayne. “This is what cruising is all about. Anything after this is gravy.”
|A golden pre-sunset glow graces Hanamoenoa Bay anchorage,|
Tuahata, Marquesas, French Polynesia. Hanamoenoa is the place
to come to swim with manta rays!
Check back periodically for an update with video shot of swimming with Hanamoenoa manta rays. Given limited internet and power – it may be a while.