Friday, February 18, 2011

Swimming with Manta Rays in Hawaii

I was lucky enough to get the chance to go to the Big Island of Hawaii recently, and snorkel at night with giant manta rays. We went with a company called Sunlight on Water. Off the coast on the Kona side of the island there are two locations where you can snorkel with mantas - one by the Four Seasons and one by the airport. Dive boats take scuba divers out to the sites while other boats take snorkelers. The divers get on the bottom of the ocean floor, about 30' down, and shine lights up towards the surface while snorkelers shine lights down and float on the surface holding onto a big floating ring. The goal is to make a column of light in the water, which attracts plankton. The manta rays come and eat the plankton, more or less ignoring the divers and the snorkelers alike.

The experience was really excellent. We saw seven manta rays. Everyone in our group, of varying ages and snorkeling experience, was able to participate and loved it. The manta rays themselves are mighty impressive, with a wingspan of over 10 feet by the larger females, with the males being smaller. We had an excellent orientation and educational presentation by a woman who then videoed the experience underwater, and got incredible shots.

The manta rays swim beneath you, and do rolls so you can see both the top and bottom of the rays. There are also silver fish circling around pursuing the plankton. When the bubbles from the divers rise up, it is like a gorgeous underwater chandelier with bubble crystals and silver fish intertwined. So, even when a manta is not in view, it is something to behold.

I've never snorkeled at night, and never with manta rays. It was the highlight of the trip. If you get to the big island, give it a try! It was so worth it. The video below from the company we went with gives you an idea, but it's better in person! (I got no photos since I do not have a water camera).

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Swimming With Spinner Dolphins

Off the Kona side of the big island of Hawaii, you can swim with wild dolphins.  It's pretty amazing!  A large pod of dolphins lives there and you can go with several different companies out to swim with them.  Essentially they position the boat in front of the pod, you get in the water, they swim under and around you, and you get back on the boat and repeat until time's up.  Typically you can also see manta rays and often whales as well, but the day I went, there were no whale sightings.  It was a stormy sea and I got a bit seasick - fortunately someone had an extra Dramamine!  (Bonine is even better, but I forgot to take it!)

I went out on the Sea Wolf, and the experience was a good one.  The captain and crew were great, and the dolphins were just gorgeous.  A very large pod of dolphins, I would estimate at least 100.

When I got in the water and they swam under me, I was impressed with the moms and babies, the small groups of friends, and the playfulness of the dolphins as they swam.  They jumped out of the water, twirled and flipped, swam within 2 feet of the boat, jumping out of the water.  Of course, it was a moving boat, the swells were high, and I was feeling very nauseous, so I basically pointed the camera and hoped for the best for a few minutes between snorkel stops.  I happened to get one good jump photo - not centered, but hey, you take what you can get! 

I would never swim with captive dolphins, after watching The Cove, who could?!  But it's great that you can swim with dolphins in the wild, who really do not seem to mind a bit, and not interfere with them.