The story of Bill Acker and the mantas is a genuine diving legend. In 1976, after graduating from the University of Texas with a degree in marketing, Acker found a great job selling men's suits. One hot Texas day, during a lunch break, he was walking around downtown Austin. The Peace Corp office was the only place that had air-conditioning - so Acker went in. As the recruiter made his pitch, Acker asked, Got anything in the South Pacific? The answer was, Almost, how about Yap, in the Federated States of Micronesia?
Acker has now lived in Yap for nearly 30 years. He has made more than 4,000 dives with Yap's manta rays and can identify more than 100 unique individuals. How is this possible? Says Acker, Well, each of the rays has a unique pattern of markings on their bellies, not to mention many of them having a unique personality, which helps us identify them. At Yap Divers, we began this identification process in the late 80s and now have a huge board out by the dive dock with their images and names. Most of the earlier discoveries were named by myself but in more recent years our dive guides got into the act and now we allow our guests to name any new ones identified. All you need to do is give us a photo showing the markings and if we can't identify the manta ray, you get to name it.Not only do Acker, the staff and guests at Manta Ray Bay identify individual mantas but they now have time lines on the animals providing a basis to begin to understand their life expectancy. Some of the first mantas identified are Valerina, Gabe, Patrik, Uranus and Tareb. These are the patriarchs of Yap's mantas and each has a unique personality.
Getting to Yap is easier than you think. Continental flies in six times a week. Depart from Los Angeles or Houston in the morning and you can dine that night on the deck of Manta Ray Bays 100-year-old South Seas sailing schooner the S/V Mnuw. Acker has also developed a PADI Distinctive Specialty course called Manta Ray Awareness and is offering PADI Diving Society members an irresistible deal: Now through March 31, buy one PADI Manta Ray Awareness Course and the second is free. This course explains Ackers history with the mantas, the best way to dive and interact with the mantas, their lifestyle, their breeding habits, their eating habits, and then the best part -you get to dive with them.