I had just endured what could have possibly been the longest 36 hours of my life. We had left port at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, with such enthusiasm, and now that enthusiasm bordered on impatience as our live-aboard the Nautilus Explorer headed toward the Revillagigedo archipelago, to a cleaning station where we were were hoping to encounter Manta birostris, more commonly known as giant Pacific manta eays. I was like a kid at Christmas waiting for this experience and now it was so close I could almost taste the saltwater.
When the Captain yelled “Dive, dive, dive!”, I was in! I did a safe descent and must admit my heart was beating with some anticipation, my camera ready for anything. Just a few minutes into what was shaping up to be a great dive, I saw it. This is what I had been waiting for, and suddenly, the many months since I booked my trip and the more than 36 hours since boarding the Explorer melted away.
I was in a dreamlike state but at the same time wide awake as this amazing creature glided in my direction. I had heard from others that mantas are friendly, but nothing I had heard could prepare myself for this interaction (and subsequent interactions). The manta was the picture of grace as he swam closer to me, and then the sheer size of him finally sunk in. He was average size for the mantas we were hoping to see — his wingspan approximately 18 to 20 feet wide — but massive nonetheless. I could see the two remora (suckerfish) attached to him, one on top and the other on bottom, waiting for bits of food missed by the manta. My pre-trip research that the mantas in this area always have exactly two (without explanation) remora attached was confirmed. I watched the manta, and I swear he watched me. He circled and coasted, his wing-like fins carrying him gracefully through the water like a dancer, as if performing for myself and the other divers.
On later dives on this same trip, I had similar utopian-like experiences. The mantas seemed to recognize me as an old friend, looking deep into my soul with gentle eyes one moment, entertaining the next, taking time with each diver like a gracious host of the sea. We saw other truly incredible things on this trip: dolphins, humpback whales, and several species of sharks, but I’ve logged well over 1,000 dives and never felt a connection with any creature like I did with the mantas. The charm and grace they exude are equaled only by their monumental size, and I will treasure those memories forever.