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Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Night Diving Kailua-Kona, HI, Thursday, 17 August 2006 5:00am

The manta ray night dive was incredible. After a briefing on night diving and the mantas, we were issued dive lights and had color-coded glow sticks attached to our SCUBA gear. We proceeded to the dive site, which had powerful lights set up and groups of divers clustered around the lights, sitting on the bottom.

The lights were there not only for visibility, but also to draw plankton. The mantas are filter feeders, and after years of night dives in this area they've learned to swim towards the lights for a good meal.

Nothing much happened for a few minutes. There were a few small red fish that swam right up to my dive light and an eel that passed right by me on the floor.

Then the mantas came: huge things swooping through the water, flapping their giant wings. We saw ones that were up to 16ft across. They kept passing through the lit area, sometimes cruising through, sometimes doing somersaults near a particularly choice patch of plankton. Occasionally, two or more (there were six there that night, though I think I only ever saw four at once) would pass by each other. Usually they'd gracefully glide by, but sometimes it was like a game of chicken, with one changing course at the last minute. Sometimes neither would flinch and they'd bounce off each other.

They came very close to the divers, opening their mouths as they swam past the dive lights and giving great views into their gaping maws (Not my picture.). I was tapped by a wing and another glided right over my head (we divers were forbidden to touch them, but the mantas weren't given the converse briefing). Maybe my hair was sticking up funny and the manta decided to smooth down the cowlick. It felt slightly sandpapery and the pressure of the touch was strong (not surprising, since the manta probably weighed more than 500lbs).

On the way back from the manta dive, we stopped to see some harlequin shrimp and a small octopus. One of the great things about night diving is that the dive light makes it really easy to point to things and to focus your attention on something.

A great night.

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