Manta Ray Night Dive: An Essay in Photos

Giant Manta Ray swimming among the fish at night

Darkness beckons on all sides, but I hardly noticed as I stared into a small sea of light. I was afloat on the ocean’s surface, gently bobbing in the swell. An endless teaming column of thousands upon thousands of fish circled up from the bottom where our “campfire” of bright lights was shining up to attract the plankton. Most of this is secondary; I was entranced by the massive 9′ Manta Rays doing slow motion backflips as they grazed upon a cloud of microorganisms. I watch a manta rise, looping languidly. It nears, seeming as though it will gracefully swallow my head in its wide-open, gaping mouth, but it continues its endless loops, making me suck in my stomach; we are belly to belly. The turbulence of its passing bobs me even higher. At first there was nervousness, but slowly, it shifts to awe of this ancient gentle creature.I was in Hawaii, near Kona on the Big Island.

My camera snapped away as I watched these giant creatures continuing their lifelong dance, looping and swirling, looping and swirling.

The “campfire” was a ring of lights that several dive boats maintain. The continuous light at night attracts the plankton and other microorganisms that the mantas and other fish feed upon. You can sometimes also see the mantas swirling in the waters of hotels and bars that keep their lights on through the night, or at least enough so that they attract a steady grouping of night time microorganisms.

At times I felt I was about to be swallowed whole

Endless backflips through the night

A single fish lit, with the campfire down below


About Galen Leeds Photography

Nature and wildlife photographer, exploring the world on his feet and from his kayak. Among other genres, he is one of the leading kayak photographers in Northern California. To learn more about him, visit him on his website-
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3 Responses to Manta Ray Night Dive: An Essay in Photos

    • “Says the woman who tried eating scorpion on a stick and an assortment of animal penises”

      Bravery is a frame of mind. Much riskier by far to eat at a food stand on a street in China than to dive with these giant, gentle creatures. Some of your food adventures have me cringing, just reading about them…

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