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.