Sunday, 22 February 2009 | Article | Great Manta Encounters

Manta Ray, Scuba Diver AustralasiaStory & Pics by Michael AW

There should be ballads, poetry and overtures written for our ocean world, they are the epitome of grace. With a wingspan of up to seven metres, they soar through the liquid realm, seemingly dancing to the rhythm of a quintessential symphony. My most memorable experience was one morning two years ago at Coral Bay, Western Australia.

The water was dark green; literally a seafood soup of plankton; sperm and eggs spawned from the night before. Water visibility was an uninviting three metres but the half a dozen mantas beckoned me to jump right in. I swam to one of them as it began to rise towards the surface. We met eye-to-eye, a delicate moment that seemed to cause time to stand still. Nanoseconds before I collided into him the white-bellied giant arched away. In a quiescent world, they glide through the watery realm, the morning light flickers across their powerful muscular wings. Two others soon join the lone ray. Together they move through the water like birds of prey gliding in the wind. Their giant, wing-like fins propel them at speeds that make it difficult for me to match.

Manta Ray, Scuba Diver AustralasiaAfter several minutes of performance, one manta breaks off and dives towards the seafloor. Just before it touches the bottom, it exposes its white underside, turns and strikes up towards me. I descend to five metres and hover for a closer look. It momentarily slows its ascent as it reaches into a plankton cloud. It then begins to somersault; its cephalic fins at the side of its mouth reach out to form a funnel scooping in rich sustenance. It is only then that my body reminds me with excruciating pain, that I am not one of them. I break the surface, breathless.

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