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Night Diving with Manta Rays in Kona

Night Diving or Snorkeling With The Manta Rays in Kona

With almost two dozen different outfits offering night diving/snorkeling outings in Kailua-Kona, you can see just how popular this experience has become.  The Manta ray encounters along the Kona coast began back in the early 70’s; a hotel called the “Kona Surf” had bright lights that shined into the ocean and mantas were attracted almost nightly. Scuba operators taking advantage of this, began doing night dives.  While the location gave a reliable chance to see them, the spot was not as reliable because of its vulnerability to large waves and weather.

In 1999, the Kona Surf Hotel closed and the lights were turned off.  The Manta rays found a new spot to congregate in a bay near the Kona airport where plankton concentrated in the late afternoon sun.  This is the spot where most Manta rays appear to be going on a regular basis and this bay offers a much more protected location from ocean swells.

And, in a somewhat symbiotic relationship, divers and snorkelers use strong lights to attract plankton, which in turn attract the Manta rays, which feed primarily on plankton, thus providing the divers/snorkelers the show they desire.  In the video above, the water is not murky, those are millions of plankton that appear as specks in the light.  Since the Manta rays know that this occurs nightly, they tend to show up regularly with over 90% of outings successful.  It may be just a single Manta ray or it maybe a gathering of over 40.

Just about all of the operators offer a guarantee that if you do not encounter any Manta rays during your night dive, you can try again at no charge.  A point to keep in mind is that anyone who goes out on a boat, will be charged the full amount…regardless of whether or not they plan on getting in the water.  Likewise, everyone is charged, regardless of age.  While most operators do not have a minimum age, leaving it to parental discretion, a minimum age of 12 years old is suggested.

Swim With The Manta Rays, a most memorable experience!

The nightly dives with resident Manta rays in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, has been rated one of the top 10 experiences in the world!  Even the most seasoned traveler find it to be a memorable experience.   One of the great appeals is that this experience is not limited to certified scuba divers, although certification is required if you do wish to scuba dive.  Even those with minimal swimming abilities can enjoy this experience utilizing floating devices and snorkels.  Check with the individual vendors.

As a matter of fact, even those who can’t swim or simply don’t want to be in the water with these gentle giants, can still partake in this by going out on the Spirit of Kona, a glass-bottom boat that offers Manta ray cruises on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.  You can observe these graceful giants of the sea without getting wet.  You can take pictures, videos, and watch as they often approach within inches of the observation glass.  (Make your reservations online thru the link above and get a $10 discount.)

Manta Ray Facts

The word ‘Manta’ is Spanish for cloak, referring to their large, blanket-shaped bodies. In Hawaiian, they are called hāhalua.

Resident Manta rays grow up to 16′ across, wingtip to wingtip.  The Manta rays in Kona average 8-14′, with the largest recorded at 16′.

They are considered “near threatened”, which means that they are in danger of becoming an extinct species in the near future.  There are two small resident populations of Manta rays in Hawaii under observation.  One of the populations, 176 individual Manta’s have been identified, is in Kona.  The other is located near Maui and contains about 300.

Individual Manta rays can be identified by their unique marking patterns on their undersides.  Similar to fingerprints, no two Manta rays have the same markings.

Manta rays are often called “the butterflies of the sea” … they are shy, harmless, and, as the video captured, quite graceful.  They do not have any stinging spines on their tail.  They don’t bite or chew.  Their mouths are designed like a giant funnel to filter plankton; swimming with them is completely safe for both humans and for the Manta rays.  They truly are gentle giants.

For a more detailed write up on Manta rays, check out the Hawaii Association for Marine Education and Research, Inc. website.

Protecting the Manta Rays

Manta rays are particularly vulnerable to extinction as they take a long time to reach maturity and they reproduce a single offspring every two or three years.  Hawaii has taken the precaution of banning the capture and/or killing of Manta Rays within Hawaiian waters.

Although Manta rays may approach within inches of divers and snorkelers, it is best not to reach out and touch them.  It has been observed that where touched, they develop sores which take a long time to heal.  The belief is that touching them removes their mucus protective covering and allows infections to develop.  So, please keep this in mind when you make your night dive among the Manta rays in Kona.


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