Manta at Cleaning StationMantas swim at this cleaning station undisturbed by divers, even gliding right overhead to get tickled by bubbles. Dive Site: El Boiler. Nikon D300s in Ikelite housing, ISO 400, f/10, shutter 1/100, 2 Ikelite DS161 strobes at 1/2 power
Apart from an occasional over-achieving wave, the seas are calm, considering the time and place. We make the 26-hour journey across 260 miles of open ocean, heading southwest of the Baja Peninsula to the Revillagigedo Archipelago, also known as the Socorros. The boat gently rolls from side to side under the blue skies, each hour getting us closer to our destination.
Finally our first stop appears on the horizon. As we approach Isla San Benedicto we are greeted by playful dolphins, riding the bow. As one of the divers leans over the edge to take a picture, a dolphin jumps out of the water and falls back in, soaking the photographer. We make our way to the check out dive as the island towers over us, rocky slopes raked by millions of years of erosion creating a landscape straight out of a science fiction movie.
Socorro is a prime destination for pelagics, known best for its graceful giants: the Pacific mantas. Photographers from all over the world come here for some of the best manta encounters. I am not disappointed.
We are anxious to get in the water after the long boat ride. The dive site, El Boiler, is a cleaning station, where endemic Clarion Angelfish help rid mantas of parasites. I get in the water full of anticipation. We swim around the top of the rock, where the cleaning station is located and are not surprised to see one of the mantas slowly swimming overhead. These giant creatures seem to be fond of interaction with divers and will swim right above you, getting tickled by bubbles. They are known to recognize individual divers, and if they enjoy the interaction, they will come back for more. It’s a great opportunity for close-up photos (although at times you will try to get away, to fit the whole manta in the frame).
It’s not uncommon, as we learn the next day, to have more than one manta cruising around at a time. The guides know the mantas well and can tell them apart by the distinct patterns on their bellies. My favorite is the black manta--one I call the Black Devil. It seems to enjoy my bubbles and blocks me from coming up to the surface from just a couple feet of water several times, making me laugh, thus making more bubbles.
The experience of being up close and personal with mantas is surreal and exhilarating. Once you shake off the amazement though, you realize that there is so much more to dive sites around San Benedicto.
El Boiler is a great place to look for eels of all patterns and sizes, octopuses and flounders, as well as hammerheads and Galapagos sharks.
El Canon, another of San Benedicto’s dive sites, is the place for scalloped hammerhead encounters, dolphins passing by and an occasional manta ray. What you might not expect to find in this big animal hot spot is a tiny frogfish. I’m not expecting it, so I’m surprised when our dive guide, Dave, points one out. I had been trying to get a shot of an octopus that was just about to move out of its hole, and I wasn’t paying much attention to my surroundings. I was so focused I didn’t notice the critter posed right in front of my lens.
El Canon is a semi-circle with sand in the middle and a rocky edge. Off the rocks, deep down below, you can see the shapes of dozens of hammerheads swimming by in schools. Due to currents, the water at El Canon can be quite murky, which causes boosts of adrenaline when a curious lone hammerhead suddenly emerges from the gloom.