Sunday, June 05, 2011

Manta Ray Dive

The night was clear as the boats shined their lights into the waters off Kona. Standing in fins at our boat's dive platform, I placed one hand over mask and regulator, then took a Giant Step into the black water. Equalizing pressure on descent was difficult this night; our dive leader had to turn back when he could not equalize. Finally we settled on the bottom, in a rough circle like a campfire. We shined our dive lights above us to attract plankton and waited. We were hoping to meet with creatures who were as adept in this underwater world as we were clumsy.

Courtesy of Big Island Divers, this is what we saw the night of May 25. First one Manta appeared, then another, eventually a dozen surrounded our group. The Manta Ray is a gentle filter-feeder, living off plankton and small shrimp. Our dive lights attracted the plankton into glowing clouds above each diver. Nearly every night in this place Manta and human meet in a regular ritual. Attracting Mantas to this spot took years of patient work.

These big creatures, with wingspans up to 4 meters, effortlessly turned and dove among us. Many times a Manta would head straight for a diver so that the human cold see straight into its mouth, then deftly steer away at the last moment to miss the diver by inches. their huge wings swept breezy an inch from our bodies without touching. Sometimes two Mantas would head for each other, then turn in unison to face each other belly to belly. They are the masters of this environment.

When humans encounter alien creatures on some distant world, their meetings could be much like this. Since water has been found so abundant in the Universe, extraterrestrials could live like the Manta in a faraway ocean. Their domain may also be one of darkness, in the interior of a world like Europa or possibly Ceres. Once they are found. developing the rituals of communication may take years of work. The weightless underwater world has many similarities to outer Space.

That night we retired to the Sheraton Keahou Bay, in an oceanfront room with Mantas swimming outside the Lanai. The hotel's lights have attracted plankton and Mantas for years, making the bay into another Manta site. These gentle creatures have developed a ritual for encountering humans. We slept and dreamed about someday meeting extraterrestrials across a great and dark ocean.



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