Jun 18, 2016
Photo from National Geographic
Have you ever witnessed the graceful dance of manta rays feeding together in a large group? These plankton eaters move with choreographed twists and turns, large mouths agape to filter out their nourishment from the seawater. Their 'winged' bodies turn together in 'high fives' as they greet each other coming from opposite directions. As I watched this dance while snorkeling alone along the west shores of Hawaii, I began to imagine myself as a manta ray and quietly immersed myself into the school. I wondered if the rays would 'high five' me as I swam within their midst. Slowly swimming towards a ray that was moving towards me, I reached out my arm as I turned, thrilled to have the ray do the same with its triangular pectoral fin. Over and over, I learned the dance of the rays as the afternoon light waned. I stayed with the school until I my teeth chattered, amazed and humbled by their acceptance of my presence in their world.
Manta rays have the largest brain of all known fish species. Filter feeding on mostly zooplankton by swimming open-mouthed, small fish seem to know how to avoid becoming part of the meal while feeding on the same zooplankton. Schools of manta rays gather when the food is plentiful in tropical and subtropical waters of the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Manta rays can be as large as 23 feet across with a weight up to almost 3,000 lbs! (The rays I swam with had a wingspan of about 5-6 feet.) Their tails do not have a stinger on them like their cousins the stingray. Manta Rays will migrate for food and toward warmer waters. With a white belly and gray-black back, they are difficult to see from above or below, where predators might be roaming. Though said to feed mostly at night, they will feed when the opportunity presents itself, day or night.
I searched for a video that showed manta rays feeding, hoping to find them performing the dance I described earlier. Though I found many videos, most of them showed the rays 'barrel rolling' in deeper water than when I swam with them. Perhaps the shallower water brought on the 'high five' ballet that I experienced. All I know is that it was a magical experience that I cherish and for which I am grateful.
Here are some facts about Manta Rays and videos of large Mantas feeding in shallow and deep waters.
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Photos from Manta Ray World