by Kevin Stewart PADI instructor #188980
One of the coolest things about diving on the Big Island in Kona Hawaii is seeing all the resident large marine animals. We have the famous Manta Ray Night Dive where on any given night you might see twenty or more manta rays swirling around you. There is plenty of opportunity to see them too even though it is a night activity.
Kona Honu Divers goes to Manta Heaven dive site every night of the week to do the Manta Ray Night Dive of Kona Hawaii. Sometimes you even see them during the day. They seem to anticipate the coming night when the crew of Kona Honu Divers will put out lights on the ocean floor to attract plankton for them to eat. It’s a manta ray smorgasbord! It is amazing too that these gentle giants eat something so small, the plankton, while they are some of the biggest animals you will encounter in the sea. Most nights Kona Honu Divers does a two tank charter to see the manta rays so you get one dive while it is still light out and then the night dive with the mantas. The real action of the Manta Night Dive is at night, of course, but sometimes during the day the manta rays began to gather and on that first dive at the Manta Heaven dive site you will see manta rays while it is still light out. Then the manta rays may start circling the sight were the crew of the Honu One of Kona Honu Divers have put lights down on the ocean floors. The crew of Kona Honu Divers will educate you about the manta rays when you go out diving on their boat. The manta rays can grow very large with a wing span of up to fourteen feet. But they are gentle giants. They are filter feeders which means they do not have any teeth. The manta rays just swim through the water and scoop the plankton into their large mouths that is why they are so attracted the the Manta Ray Night Dive because the lights are concentrating the plankton in a small area so they get a huge mouthful of food in one pass. That is also why the crew of Kona Honu Divers putting lights on the ocean floor creates the smorgasbord for the manta rays. The manta rays glide through the cloud of plankton that gathers around the collection of lights scooping mouthfuls of the tiny plankton into their huge mouths. The plankton are so small they look like a cloud of gnats gathering around a light bulb. It is a huge contrast the giant manta rays that are gliding through to eat them. The Manta Ray Night Dive has been occurring on the Big Island of Hawaii for many years now and many of the manta rays have been named. You can tell one manta ray from another manta ray by the pattern of spots they have on their bellies. Your crew at Kona Honu Divers will be able to tell you the names of all the mantas that you see. Manta rays live a very long time, some have been documented now up to eighty years but you really can’t tell the old ones from the young ones just by looking. They don’t get grey, their colors don’t fade, nothing like that. Even the size of the manta rays doesn’t help because the male manta rays are much smaller than the female manta rays so much so that you would think they were the young or baby manta rays but they are not. They are probably full grown male manta rays. Unfortunately some idea of the age can be seen from scars or injuries but manta rays do not have a lot of predators. Big Bertha is seen at the Manta Ray Night Dive quite often and has been a crowd favorite for many years. She is one of the biggest manta rays of all. If you are really interested in all the names you can ask the crew of Kona Honu Divers to show you their book of pictures of all the known mantas that has pictures of their belly spots so you can try to identify the manta rays yourself when you go in for your dive. Over the years if you were the first person to see a new manta ray you were allowed to name it. There have been lots of interesting names like Sugar Ray, Koie Ray, Vikie Ray, Tim Ray, Lightning Ray, Orion Ray and Janna Ray. Some are noticeably named after people and some are just fun like Lightning Ray. If you are not a diver you can also see the manta rays at the Manta Ray Night Dive by snorkeling. Kona Honu Divers takes snorkelers to do the manta ray experience also so non-divers can enjoy these wondrous marine animals during the Manta Ray Dive. As snorkelers you are taken, by one of the guides of Kona Honu Divers, out to see the manta rays on float boards that you just hang on to and the Kona Honu Divers guide will pull you around to the manta rays. The manta rays swoop in and out of the cloud of plankton that they are eating doing barrel rolls from the ocean surface to the ocean bottom. So even as a snorkeler you can see the spots on the belly of the manta rays and try to and identify them. The Manta Ray Dive is like a ballet with sometimes two or more manta rays swimming together and rolling together or maybe swimming toward each other and then rolling away from each other rather than colliding into each other which is what looks like will happen sometimes. They are so agile they can spin away from each other in a flash which is amazing considering how large they are. Sometimes it looks like they will run right into the divers or come right up and hit the boards of the snorkelers but they never do. Whether they are flying over the scuba divers or coming up toward the snorkelers they will gracefully turn at the last second and miss the scuba diver or the snorkeler. I can tell you it is very exciting and exhilarating. I highly recommending traveling to the Big Island of Hawaii to go with Kona Honu Divers to experience the Manta Ray Dive and have the thrill of your life.