Diving with manta rays in Indonesia: Komodo National Park

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There are a few things that many divers seem to universally wish to dive with in their lifetime. Among the big things are mola mola, whale sharks and manta rays – just to name a few.

Manta rays are the ballerinas of the sea – they define gentle grace with the way they smoothly glide through the waters and command a presence like no other creature I have ever come across.


Mantas can range in size and boast a width of 3 meters or more, giving them an incredibly intimidating appearance when you see them for the first time.

Their bodies are really quite flat and bear a strange shape – in a way, they remind me somewhat of an oddly shaped-kite. Mantas have this long, skinny tail at the back and long, pointed fins that – if they breach the surface – can look like the tip of a shark’s fin.


They have these soft fins that curve around their face and mouth, almost like a bull if a bull had its head down and was charging at you with its horns. Their eyes are located on the sides just behind this front set of fins, and the gills are located on their snow-white bellies.


The markings and patterns on the bellies as well as on the dorsal side (or backs I guess you could say) of mantas played an important role in a recent discovery made by Dr. Andrea Marshall, the first person ever to complete a PhD on manta rays.



In 2009, Marshall discovered that there are two types of Manta Rays: the Manta birostris, or the large oceanic manta, and the manta alfredi, or the reef manta, which is the smaller of the two.

It was a massive discovery, and according to an article in National Geographic, Marshall believed she was close to identifying a third type of manta.

According to Marshall, manta rays have the largest brain of any fish, and they are an incredibly curious and smart species.

I got to witness firsthand just how curious and playful mantas can be with a dive at Mauan, a dive site in Komodo National Marine Park.

Manta Point is among the more famous sites in Komodo and is renowned for the manta spotting, but we would not be heading there until later on in the liveaboard.

Our first day saw us dive at the sites around the Northern tip of Komodo, which included a dive at Mauan among a couple of others that had already made for an epic start to the trip.

Mauan is known to be a manta cleaning station, which is where the manta rays go to get cleaned by all the cleaner fish who rid them of any external parasites and organisms.

Yet still, our guides were cautious to promise us that we would see hands down see mantas on this dive. There was a chance we would, but there was just as good a chance that we would left manta-less.

We received strict instructions during our briefing not to chase the mantas, to stay together in groups and to stay close to the bottom, so that was exactly what we did. We all pulled up a seat on the sandy ocean floor at no more than 10 meters and watched the show unfold.

From the second we dropped down into the water, we were in manta ray heaven. I could not count how many were swimming by us, and at first I was genuinely and truly feeling an explosion of emotions: fear, excitement, wonder, awe, curiosity.


I stayed close by Steve. My heart was beating like a drum. It was beating so hard that I was certain it was going to start sending out vibrations through the waters that would scare the mantas off.

Manta rays are not dangerous, but the sheer size of them is so colossal that it is hard to believe they will not attack you if you are in their way.

Their mouths open up like giant black holes in the galaxy and swallow up all the nearby plankton, which is what they feed on, in just one gulp.

The group of us- a total of 14 divers and five guides – sat on the ocean floor all together like we were watching a movie.

We saw some turtles and were surrounded by beautiful blips of coral and a determined little lion fish who wanted to get as close to me as possible. (You do not want to get stung by a lion fish.)




One of the other rules we were to follow was to keep our distance from the mantas, but the mantas sure as hell did not keep their distance from us.



At some point during that dive, I saw probably one of the most up-close, most intimate and private interactions that I have ever really seen before.

An Irish guy on my live aboard named Terry was sat off in the sand just a few metres in front of the rest of us. Swooping around to look him dead in the face was this giant manta that must have been at least 6 meters wide and was probably one of the bigger mantas we saw that dive.


It was amazing to be a bystander (or by swimmer?) in that moment, because I saw how truly curious that manta was in Terry. The manta was studying Terry, trying to make sense of him, and it circled to face him not once but twice.

All was quiet except for the controlled sound of my breathing in and out through my regulator, and it was almost like that manta was looking at Terry as if to say, “Well, I have never seen something like you before! What exactly do you do?” This was a manta that I thought would love a game of fetch. He looked like he just wanted to play a game with Terry.

When we came up from the dive I asked Terry if he was scared or why he did not pull his camera out to take a picture. He said, “I just thought to myself, I better not move. Let me just sit here and be still so I don’t scare it off.

Years from now, I think I will still be able to look back on that moment as if it was yesterday. There was just something so strong and powerful about it, a couple of moments in time, in the waters off the Northern Tip of Komodo National Park that were dominated by a silent conversation between man and wild.

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