Archives for posts with tag: Manta Ray

This week’s travel theme from Ailsa’s blog ‘Where’s my backpack?’ is Close-Up. I love photographing big landscapes and big buildings, but the thing I get very close up on quite often are animals. After all living in an dense urban environment doesn’t offer too many wild critters to photograph other than birds. What I realised about this collection of photos from my travels is that all the photos are from or near seaside locations.

First photo is from our night dive with manta rays off the Big Island of Hawai’i. The rays were huge, and they got so close to us. Those patterns that you can see underneath the ray on its “belly” are unique for each ray and are used to identify the different fish. I posted a video of our dive a few months back, you can find it here.

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Across the Pacific Ocean, and all the way to Thailand. We went on a cruise run by locals in the Andaman Sea among the small islands. I was surprised to see these monkeys on outcrops of rock. Apparently these guys eat sea crabs. They were so close that I could have reached out and patted him (but I didn’t after having visions of ebola being transferred via the bite of a monkey).

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Back at home in Australia, one of the most amazing places that we have ever visited is the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsunday Islands in Queensland. We stayed on Hamilton Island when we went there and it is a good base to travel to the other islands in the Whitsunday chain or the outer reef. Hamilton Island itself is amazing and it is very easy to get away from the accommodation zone into wild bushland. Here are a couple of possums up to no good when we went on a trek at night in the wooded area on the Southern side of the island.

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Out on the reef itself, it was surreal swimming among the fishes in what was an amazing wonderland of colour and shapes. I struggle with snorkeling and scuba diving (it’s the breathing) even though I enjoy them both immensely. But I absolutely cr@pped myself when my wife pulled my fin and pointed to barracudas. As I turned back around, these fish were directly in my face. Surreal.

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Closer to home, we used to go down to Jervis Bay in NSW quite often. Fishing down there is amazing, but one particular trip to Currarong the best thing that I caught was a photo of this little critter – an echidna 🙂

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Finally in Calalla Bay in Jervis Bay, this little crab outstretched was not even close to being bigger than my hand. He was straining with all his might to resist the water with every tidal lunge.

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Love the theme this week.

The best thing that we did on our recent visit to the Big Island of Hawai’i would have to be the dive that my brother organised with Manta Rays. He had chartered a boat for our group specifically which consisted of two of my three brothers, my wife, my brother’s future wife, and a host of their friends. We had got in a bout of sightseeing earlier in the morning and my brother who is based in Melbourne had only flown in the day before and was shattered through minimal sleep on the flight over. But we were all keen, especially my wife who loves getting in the water. We came equipped too, having brought over with us our own snorkels and masks. Furthermore, I had picked up an underwater case for my Canon Powershot G15. I had owned one of these before for a previous model Canon Ixus 430, which was a good little camera that I still have up my sleeve. It will probably end up being one of the Pok’s first cameras to play around with. Off we trekked in the Chevy Suburban hire car to the dive shop.

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The guys and girls from Big Island Divers were very professional from the start and this reassured us that we were going to be in good hands for the boat ride and subsequent dive. The plan was to go to a spot where they knew the Manta Rays were regular visitors, then we were to embark on two dives – one in the afternoon and then one at night. This was going to be cool! We got fitted with wetsuits and flippers in addition to our own kit. My brother and his future wife were going to do a full SCUBA dive, so they got kitted up for that too. After the mandatory waivers (i.e. you are about to do something that is potentially threatening to your health – got it!) we headed off to the marina to meet up with our boat and her crew. Quite a few of us were starving, so I picked up a snack – this would later prove to be an error of judgement on my part. Unfortunately for me I get sea-sick easily, and I had forgotten to take motion sickness tablets early enough for them to kick in. I don’t get motion sickness when I am at the helm of whatever vehicle, but a bobbing boat definitely throws me. I also challenge one of my comfort zones when I go diving, because I do get anxious every time when I go underwater and especially in the open ocean. But all of that was not going to stop us.

To the Ocean

The dive site was not too far away from the Marina, at about 5 nautical miles distance. Where we were stopping was pretty much just off the coast of the Kona Airport runway – the Southern end. It was strange seeing the solidified lava field flows where they met the ocean, and the resulting sharp coastal rock formations. Our boat trip out to the dive spot was escorted by several pods of dolphins which came quite close to the sides of your boat, and no doubt underneath our boat. The only shot I managed to get of them was when we pulled up to the dive spot.

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These dolphins would later on end up jolting a manta ray out of the ocean, with the ray shooting up a couple of feet above the sea like a flying bat out of hell.

Our boat crew proceeded to tell us about what we would experience as we suited up. This was where my dive experience would start to take a turn for the worse. As I zipped up my wetsuit my body temperature soared. I was starting to get hot before I had even jumped into the water. In hindsight, I should have just dived into the water in my board shorts. It took a while to see any fish, and the ocean bed was about 5-6m below the water surface. When they finally did come out and play from their coral hideaways they certainly put on quite a show. It was difficult with the underwater camera bobbing up and down on the surface get them in focus. The afternoon was overcast, so even though the visibility was good, the light could have been brighter. My favourite fishes were the ones that I captured in the photos below. The black one was cool, because what doesn’t come out in the photo is that he swims flat with the fins on either side of the silver lines flapping like wings.

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After about 15 minutes in the water, somebody spotted our first ray and off we all went to hover above them. This was an awesome experience, a combination of excitement and a little bit of fear. Even though the guys from Big Island Divers told us that they weren’t dangerous, seeing a ray for the first time in the water is pretty awe inspiring. The first one we saw was huge, at least 4 metres in diameter with its wings graciously moving through the ocean. I had given the camera to my wife to get some shots and missed what was the highlight of my outing when the ray turned up and headed directly for me with its mouth gaping open widely. It was feeding on the plankton between me on the surface and it on the ocean floor. The colours of its skin were beautifully shaded in dark hues of deep blue and grey.

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My wife was giddy as a school kid in the water, which is how she is whenever we go snorkeling or diving. She would swim up behind me a pull on my flipper to excitedly point out another fish as if she was the only one in the water and I couldn’t see. I managed to get a good shot of her in the water reveling in the bubbles from my brother who was SCUBA diving below.

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By this stage, I was going down for the count. I had unzipped the back of my wetsuit just so I could get cool water flowing through to my body. I pulled the pin and headed back to the boat, having succumbed to sea-sickness from all the bobbing on the surface. Unfortunately I would not get back in the water again, spending the rest of the night trying not to worship the porcelain god.

The Night Dive

This is where the rest of the night would be the experience of my wife and brother Marc. There were six of us struggling with sea sickness, including the soon to be married couple. In fact, my brother Daniel threw up in his SCUBA mouth breathing apparatus – poor bugger. The guys on the boat proceed to explain to us a bit about the manta ray and what we as humans knew about them. They told us how for the night dive they would be shining torches down into the water from the surface. This was to attract the plankton which in turn would attract the rays to feed. They would also come very close to the people in the water, but largely ignore them. So with camera in hand, my wife returned for the second leg, and managed to get some amazing photos. Both my wife and the rest of our crew all came out of the water with grins from ear-to-ear. My wife proceeded to explain to me who close they had come to her, sometimes within a foot and then turning away. They would perform loop after loop through the water constantly scooping in plankton. Here was the best shot, though in the dark light the camera was really struggling for focus.

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The unique markings of manta rays are denoted by not only their skin colouration but also their birth marks on the underside of their torsos. This is how the marine biologists keep track of the populations.

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The best part about the dive was the video my wife took. Here is her attempt at a bit of movie production. Not bad for a first go, and I wish I had the stomach to get back in the water.

This had to be one of the highlights of all of my travels – it was an awesome dive. Thank to the guys at Big Island Divers, who really took care of us throughout the whole night and made the experience even better dealing with a professional and knowledgeable crew. If you ever get the change to go diving with manta rays in Hawai’i, I definitely recommend going with these guys.

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