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Moonlight Manta Madness | Snorkeling with Manta Rays in Kona, Hawaii

snorkeling manta ray swim

As a guide for Kona Snorkel Trips, nightly trips sharing the manta ray snorkeling experience with first-timers never gets old. The guests arriving are usually nervous, they aren’t sure what to expect. Some have been snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay or other sites, but night snorkeling is usually a new experience for them. After getting everyone well-fitting masks and suited up with wetsuits and floaty belts, the briefing begins. I talk about the size of mantas, what interactions we may have, how to have the best experience, and share some fun facts about these gentle giants. The briefing is meant to help the guests understand the experience and calm their nerves. After all, there’s no reason to be nervous, trying something new is always exciting, but there’s nothing to fear!

Although most guests are apprehensive, there are some who show up ready for the manta madness. Last night was one of those nights.

We motor into the harbor after an encounter with eight majestic mantas at our north site, appropriately named Manta Heaven. You can feel the buzz on the boat, everyone is jazzed about the number of mantas we saw and how close they got. I explain that this was an exceptionally good night out – sometimes we see a couple of mantas, other times we have many fly by and don’t come up close to us. Tonight was different – we had so many mantas swooping below our board, dancing as though they were in a manta ballet.

We get our guests back to dock and send them home smiling with the recent memories of mantas dancing in their heads, put this one down in the books as a success and get ready for the moonlight trip.

 

The next guests are eager to go. I observe them as we go through the check-in process getting to know each other by talking story. They aren’t apprehensive at all, in fact, they’re eager to jump in. Delivering a great experience is top of mind, as I wonder if the next trip will be as great as the first. I’m careful to mention we had a great first trip, but not to promise too much. Mantas are wild animals, we never know.

 

Fast forward to the moment we launch our bouncy blue inflatable boat from the floating dock. I ask the guests if they’re excited and they respond with an emphatic “YES!” I realize that they’re ready for anything and decide to take a risk. Captain Charlie is driving the boat, I ask him to go back to the north site. Typically, we go south for our moonlight manta trip and going north is a risk – we’ll probably be the only boat out there, and there’s no guarantee the mantas stuck around. Once the lights are out of the water, they can disappear just as quickly as they appeared. Charlie agrees to go with it, it’s a shorter trip and looking to the south you see a large dark grey wall of rain. It would be a very wet ride if we went that way. North it is.

 We pull into the dark bay just in time to see another boat pull it’s blue lighted snorkel board from the water and leave. It’s just us here, and the dark water is eerie. I remind myself that these guests are up for anything was we arrive at the site. The rigid hull of the boat is immediately swarmed by mantas, it’s impossible to tell how many there are, they’re everywhere. Sliding gently down the pontoon, I’m careful not to land on a manta rushing by. As my head sinks below the surface I’m greeted by at least 11 mantas swooping, gliding, backrolling and colliding, it’s a manta frenzy!

 

Getting the guests into the water is a challenge with the mantas surrounding the boat. These gentle giants won’t hurt us, and we take great care not to harm them as one guest at a time plops into the dark ocean. As we make our way away from the boat, the mantas rush in from every direction. The quick white flash of the underside of a manta wing catches my eye, as the masked face of another appears in it’s place, then a tail of another manta, and a fourth diving down in a twirl all in a matter of seconds. The experience takes my breath away.

 

My guests are silent and not moving. I ask how everyone is doing and I get a thumbs up from everyone, not a single masked face lifts from the water, they’re entranced with the manta dance. In less than a minute a 10 foot manta ray is belly up under our board, just barely missing rubbing against our guests. In a second swoop, she gets even closer and brushes up against a surprised snorkeler.  The immediate surprise on the snorkelers face quickly melts into a soft smile, how lucky she is to be brushed by a manta! I’m so stoked for her close encounter, and admittedly a tad envious, I always hope a manta will bump into me.

manta ray swimming through dark water

A moment later, while our snorkeler is distracted by 12 other mantas below, a female manta quickly twirls behind and taps her with a fin, catching her attention.  This continues for more than 30 minutes when the captain gives us the flashing light to let us know time is up. 

We spent an amazing 40 minutes surrounded by swirling mantas, doing ballet in a sort of organized chaos. Our minds were blown, every single one of us in a state of awe at what we had just experienced. There were no words to describe the feeling in all of our hearts, but we all felt it. As the guests thanked me for the experience, I thanked them for the opportunity to share in this with them. We all had the manta encounter of a lifetime, there’s nothing in the world like the Kona manta ray snorkel.           

-Jillian Davis