13 October, 2021

Snorkeling with Mantas, they are deeper and more complex than you think!

Setting the Mood:

One of my top tips for snorkeling is having a song in your head before you slide into the water. In the case of snorkeling with Mantas what could be better than the legendary Steve Miller Band’s “Fly like an eagle” You know! Fly like and eagle to the Sea. Fly like an eagle let my spirit carry me!  I want to fly, fly fly.

Fly like a Manta:

Ok, so call me delusional or a dreamer or (other D words😊), but I challenge you to be drifting weightlessly in a gentle current with these amazing animals right beside you and not feel like you have realized that childhood dream of flying.

Admittedly I am anything but a graceful flyer, sporting a glass bowl over my face with a piece of plumbing sticking out for breathing and a couple of plastic flaps strapped on my feet. But hey, we all have to start our dreams somewhere!

I often think sometimes the Manta’s must come close just because they feel sorry for us humans flopping around. Plus, we are probably a pretty good entertainment value for them.

Mantas are self-aware:

“Now come on” you say, let’s get real.  But really, Mantas are thought to be self-aware, they recognize themselves in reflections! They check themselves out even in places where they normally could not see without a reflection and pucker their mouth like they are checking their lipstick. They exhibit awareness more often associated with a Dolphins.  No wonder they always look so sleek and well kept!

Mantas kind of have that understanding “oh you poor thing” look when you gaze into their eye. Yes, only one eye at a time since the other eye is on the other side of their head for a very good reason. It must be hilarious to the Mantas to see us snorkelers bumping into each other because we can only see a very limited width in front of us because our eyes are close together on one side of our head.  Just think how much you could see if your eyes were by your ears!

Just in case you are wondering how they might process that poor you empathetic feeling; did you know Manta’s have the largest brain of any fish!

But then just as you are getting in touch with them and your inner, manta you have to pull away and head for the surface to breath. That is unless you have one of those fire extinguisher looking tank things on your back with bubbles coming out everywhere. Not that that would help a lot as most of the time Mantas don’t like all those bubbles anyway and just leave.   

Are Mantas Safe?

Don’t worry humans are so slow you are not going to hurt them.  Plus, they are tough, they have teeth on their skin like amour (dermal denticles (skin teeth)).

No, I mean Don’t Mantas have a stinger?  Are they Safe to Swim With?

Oh! You thought I meant can they hurt you. Well, they might make you feel inferior about your grace in the water, but physically they can’t hurt you.  They are not aggressive. Heck they don’t even mind if you swim in their food (tiny plankton), they don’t have teeth and, unlike their very much smaller cousins, they do not have a barb-like stinger spine weapon wrapped in a venom sack on their tail. Not only that, but Mantas are also surprisingly agile for their size. They can do these amazing back loops. First picture what happens when a group of snorkelers, head down looking for Mantas. When I can get the first person’s attention and point out that the Mantas are just behind them what follows is like a 3 stooges train wreck with arms flailing, fins splashing above the water and a cloud of snorkel spouts. The whole calamity is usually enough to attract the concern of our always present safety boats to check to make sure everyone is ok!

In comparison, when have you ever seen a manta run into another manta? I never have! When they want to spin a 180 to get back to where their food is, they just do this back roll:

Now that is soaring! Mantas are exceptionally graceful swimmers; Indonesia has two species that you can see while sailing here. There are the smaller “reef manta” Mobula alfredi, which with a 3+ M (11’) wingspan and body weight of 700kg (1,500lbs) they are far from small. The truly “Giant Manta” Mobula birostris with a wingspan of up to 8.8m (29’) and body weight of 2,000kg (4,400lbs) are just awe inspiring!

 Going Deeper: The secret life of Mantas

Just in case you thought there was not much more to know about mantas, how about this:  They can dive to 1,000m (+3,200’ or 2/3 of a mile) deep!  So don’t worry about spoiling their privacy while snorkeling! 

Mantas make the cut for being classified as large marine predators (LMP’s); a society that is little known but of high interest to marine science because of their unique abilities not just within themselves but to cycle nutrients between depth to drive ocean productivity called tropic cascades! It is also thought that they may use their ability to dive deep to navigate more precisely on their long-distance ocean ventures by getting closer to the earth’s magnetic field. What??? Not only that, who knows how they are born? No one has seen this yet. The list goes on and on for these amazing ocean citizens.

So to answer the question of do mantas have stinger envy of their much smaller cousins? I don’t think so. They are awesome animals in their own right with many more amazing abilities than I have been able to talk about here.

To learn about the mantas and the manta named after our boat the Ombak Putih go to https://www.seatrekbali.com/a-manta-named-ombak-putih-2/ .

To read more, subscribe to our future articles about mantas HERE

[i] https://oceana.org/blog/manta-ray-brainpower-blows-other-fish-out-water-10