Diving With Manta Rays: “So long and thanks for all the plankton.”

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I’m 50 feet underwater with a torch shining upwards toward the pitch black Hawaiian night sky. All around me, dozens of fellow scuba divers are blowing hundreds of bubbles. Meanwhile, others are descending into the dark like paratroopers – their torches shining into the abyss as they float weightlessly down, down, down. The combination of lights and shadows and military-esque scuba gear alludes to a science fiction novel.

We wait with bated breath – or a version thereof – for the stars of this science fiction movie: the Manta Rays. After 10 minutes of anticipation, two forms emerge from the shadows like birds on the wing gliding through a watery sky. Pumping their wings with grace, they are slowly illuminated; blurry at first and then gradually coming into focus. Two babies, averaging a six or seven foot wing-span, have come to play.

Part prehistoric aquatic dinosaur; part otherworldly being, they circle the mysterious man-made spaceship of light and bubbles. They glide playfully over the scuba divers, doing somersaults and spins; revealing their soft white bellies with black polka dots. For what other reason than to have fun?

They feed on the plankton that gravitates toward the torches; their giant mouths gulping in water and filtering out the food. We can see right into their bodies: hollow, skeletal and sleek.

I spend 50 minutes at 50 feet, captivated by these creatures. They glide so close to my snorkel and mask, I’m afraid their wings will knock my equipment off my head.

I want to touch them but I know it will harm the protective mucus that covers them. I settle for making eye contact with one of our new friends. Behind the ray’s yellow eyes is primal wisdom and knowledge, with a touch of curiosity and amusement. The eye stares back at me; one organic creature to another. I wonder what he or she is thinking. Maybe something like: “So long and thanks for all the plankton.”

And just as gracefully as they glide into the light, they disappear into the shadows; their wings now a distant silhouette against our torches. It’s time for them to return to the deep, away from our bubbles and torches.

As I surface at our boat, my body is still buzzing with the experience. The creatures of the ocean are so unearthly to us. But, I can’t help thinking tonight that perhaps it is we who are the unnatural ones on this planet.

This Manta Ray dive is known as one of the Top 10 dives in the world and for good reason. The dive site, Garden Eeel Bay, is located off the West Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii (Hawai’i) in a town called Kailua-Kona.

There are a variety of dive shops in town. We went with Jack’s Diving Locker, which seems to be one of the more established in the area. Scuba divers and snorkelers are welcome. The package offers two dives at the same site; one at dusk and then one at night. This is a Bucket List experience, so be sure you take the plunge if you find yourself on the Big Island.

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