When you see manta rays from far away only the tips of their wings stick out of the water, and sometimes you can see a flash of their white bellies. Otherwise they look like dark splotches in the water. I lost track of the little guys and was scanning the horizon for their tips, when I saw a huge ray with about a six foot wingspan jump completely out of the water a few meters from my little kayak. "Holy sheeeit!" I screamed, but fortunately none of the boats nearby were paying any attention to me. As the dark shapes came closer I saw their huge mouths wide open, gliding effortlessly through the water.
After paddling over the (pod? school? family?) of rays for a while, I finally got up the courage to jump in the water and swim with them. Manta rays are vegetarian, do not sting, and are known to be friendly to humans, but they are big and a bit intimidating to swim with- especially alone. Feeling very brave I jumped in the water with my mask on and immediately saw a huge, gaping, open mouth coming straight at me, only a few feet away. With another little scream I was back in the kayak in less than half a second.
I needed a little support and encouragement, so I paddled over to the boat Merkava and asked Mark and Yuka if they wanted to go swim with the rays with me. They were stoked to join me, so they jumped in their dinghy and we paddled back over to where the rays were. But, no rays. I swear, I told them, I didn't make it up! I was JUST swimming with them. Right right, let's just go take a snorkel over by the reef, Mark said. I felt really bad about getting them up for nothing, but surprised as you might be, I do not control the marine kingdom.
We snorkeled around the reef for a while and it was cool, although nothing like yesterday when the sun was bright and the fish were plentiful and brilliant colors. After a while we started to head back to the boat when, RAYS! we saw them not too far off the stern of Rutea. We paddled over and, having a companion, I felt much braver about swimming with them.
As soon as I got in the water three rays swam right under me, paying me no attention at all. The bigger ones had a wingspan of 6+ feet and mouths probably a foot wide. Their gills go all the way down their body and it seemed like I could put my hand through one if I wanted (which I didn't). They swam so gracefully and methodically, doing the occasional slow motion cartwheel or back-flip. Although they are very gentle creatures, it was quite a rush to watch one swim right at me with that huge mouth, only to dive under me at the last second. A few times I stuck out my hand and they would just barely graze my fingertips with their wings. They were well aware of us humans, but not bothered in the least. I even made eye contact with one a few times- it was powerful.
We must have swam with the mantas for over an hour. Not only were the rays amazing, but there was a giant school of fish right below the rays that was as sensitive to my movements as the rays were calm. My every movement was reflected by the school. Cool.
Swimming with the manta rays was definitely the highlight of being in Hana Moe Noe Bay, although yesterday was pretty cool too. Yesterday a bunch of us decided to go snorkel by the rocks on the north side of the bay. We are all getting in the water off the boat when Mark, who had just jumped in the water, shoots back up and yells, SHARK! TOO COOL! He claims to have seen three Black Tip reef sharks, but I didn't see any, and I am rather disappointed about it. I have prepared myself and I am ready to see one- so long as it is not interested in me.
We did see lots of cool stuff: bright yellow and black striped butterfly fish, neon yellow tang, crazy colored parrot fish, and some psychedelic wrasse (actually called that, aptly so), and my favorite, the humuhumu nuku nuku a'pua'a. I also spotted an octopus with its creepy crawly tentacles, and when I dove down to get a closer look it instantly changed its color to camouflage with the brown coral it was hiding under.
The water is the aqua-marine, 80 degree, clear water of my dreams. The sea life is abundant. We always hear about the ocean crises: the whales near extinction, the sea turtles dying off, the de-finning and overfishing of sharks, etc., etc. All of these are very serious problems and I appreciate every effort taken to preserve our most prized natural resource. But I hope you will find it as refreshing as I do to know that not every sea turtle is choking on a plastic bag, there are many whales alive and happy, and the coral is beautiful and healthy.
At 4/23/2011 5:03 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 09°54.49'S 139°06.38'W
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