I have been very lucky during my diving career to have always worked in areas with a large Manta Ray population. From my start in the diving industry in Palau, to Fiji, French Polynesia, Yap, and now Indonesia; I have always had manta rays on my doorstep. I have been lucky enough to encounter some incredible experiences underwater throughout my career and many of those experiences involved manta rays. Although not represented here, my first memorable encounters with mantas were in Palau where we would often swim with them at night off the back deck of the liveaboard I worked on.
However, it was in Yap where I became infatuated with these graceful animals as I would dive with them on a near daily basis. Encountering 30+ mantas chasing each other around in Miil Channel during a mating frenzy was truly a mind bending experience. Over a 3-year period in Yap I was able to capture hundreds of photographs of manta ray behaviour as well as many hours of video.
Since I have been based in Indonesia, I have been lucky enough to encounter manta rays all across the country in areas such as Bali, Komodo, Raja Ampat, and Halmahera. Although the majority of my manta encounters have been with reef manta rays (Manta alfredi), I often encounter their larger ocean cousins (Manta birostris) in Raja Ampat. I have included two photos in the essay which show the back of both a reef and oceanic manta to show the difference in the markings between the two species. One of the easiest ways (other than size) to differentiate between the two is the large “T” shaped marking on the oceanic ray.
Although diving with manta rays is always enjoyable, some of my most memorable experiences with them have been while snorkeling. Mantas often congregate together while feeding and form staggered lines in the water to optimize their feeding. When they are doing this, they pretty much ignore the presence of swimmers and it’s easy to get up close and personal with them in these circumstances. The photos in this essay showing this behaviour at the surface are from Raja Ampat, Indonesia.
Find more of Mike’s photos and videos here.