A MANTA ENCOUNTER
On a beautiful warm tropical sunny day in December my friend Karen talked me in to going with her and a couple of other friends on a boat dive. At first I did not want to go, but the thought of being in the water won out.
Our first dive was to Guam's famous Blue Hole. As usual, the site was spectacular and the water sparkling as we started our dive. After a leisurely drop through the Blue Hole and taking our time to explore the reef we returned to the boat. Oli, our boat skipper from Micronesia Divers Association, asked the divers where they wanted to go for the second dive. I yelled out, "Val Bomber and drift to American Tanker."
"The bomber is too deep for the divers we have on board today, but we'll go to the Tanker," was the reply. We returned to the harbor and took a mooring near the ship. About 45 minutes into our surface interval one of our friends jumped in the water to do some snorkeling. He immediately turned toward the boat and yelled that there was a Manta swimming around just in front of the ship. We all looked at our computers and scrambled to don our gear with hopes of getting an opportunity to see the Manta too. Little could I realize, as I got into the water, that I not only would get to see the Manta, but also have an unforgettable experience.
As I descended to the bow of the American Tanker I could see my friends hovering around in front of the ship. Then, out of the gloom, I saw the white face of a small Manta coming toward us. The Manta was approximately five to six feet wing tip to wing tip; it was a female. As she passed us we could see that she had, hanging from her right cephalic fin, a heavy lead-sinker weight and several feet of wadded-up monofilament line dangling from a large hook embedded in her fin. One diver immediately approached the Manta and was able to clip off the line and weight.
Then he tried to get to the hook; she would not let him get close. Every time he approached, she would roll upwards to deny him access to the hook. It was apparent the hook was deeply embedded and from the depth of the cut on her fin it had been there for a while. The curve of the hook was on top of the fin with the barbed end buried inside near her mouth.
We were all fascinated and awed with her behavior as she circled us. Strangely, she kept getting closer and closer to me on each pass. As good divers we all knew we should not touch her, no matter how much we wanted to. So, we all continued to watch.
After a bit, we all got the understanding that she wanted us to help her as she came very close; close enough that it would be easy to reach out and run your hand along her wing. One of the other divers decided to touch her; she did not shy away. As she passed near me again, I too reached out to touch her wing. I was electrified at the feel of her skin.
She did not seem to mind being touched and must have wanted more as she kept coming very close as she turned gracefully through the water. I truly wanted to help her, but only if she would allow me to get close enough. She must have sensed that I was not a threat and it appeared that she had singled me out to remove the hook.
I maintained eye contact with her and opened my hands toward her. As she passed again, I thought it is now or never if I am going to get the hook off her cephalic fin. As I drew even with her, on her left side, I reached out to caress the top of her wing; she did not flinch. I slowly glided across her back maintaining contact until I was on her right side. I then brought my hand along the leading edge of her right wing and started to work forward.
Suddenly, she flinched and gently tossed me up and off. Again, we all watched and she continued to circle us. After several minutes, she came at me again as I was working myself up to a shallower depth to avoid getting into 'deco.' I decided, once again, that I had to try for the hook. I repeated my earlier action and this time drew even with her head until I was able to grasp the hook.
The hook was more deeply embedded than I thought; I only succeeded in pushing the hook up on the fin and deeper into the wound. I dropped off as I worried that I had done more harm than good. The thought that I had to get the hook out was now paramount in my mind, but I would not attempt it unless she wanted it.
Again, she came close to me. On the third try, again starting from her left I worked up along her body until I was hovering over her head and looking straight into the wound. It took several tries, but I finally worked the hook out of her fin. All the while, she never flinched nor tried to dive away.
Once I had the hook in my hand and I had time to look at it I was appalled. It was an ugly instrument of torture. The barbed end of the hook was bent inward to ensure that the animal would stay 'on the line' and not get away. Hooks of this sort are used by long-line fishing consortiums. How very cruel!
After removing the hook, while hanging there in the water I still could not believe what had just taken place. I could only stare after this beautiful animal. I was overwhelmed.she was beautiful and she was harmless. We all remained transfixed in the water as my lovely Manta, now free of the ensnaring hook and weight, circled around us.
She swam straight at me; on the last pass I could not help but put out my hand to once again communicate with her. She dipped her wing gently touching my outstretched hand, then slowly turned to look at me as she banked her wings, sank into the depths and flew away.
I have been diving in some very exotic places around the world. I can recount lots of diving stories, but I can tell you that nothing I have ever seen or done while diving compares to this event. Those who witnessed this dive can tell you; this was the dive of a lifetime; my lifetime for sure.
Written by Bonnie McKenna.