7 most heart-warming manta ray stories of 2021

by | Dec 27, 2021 | Marine Life Rescue Stories, Swimming with Manta Rays

2021 was a year of ups and downs – but for the manta rays, not much changed.


Here are the 7 stories that made an impression on us over the course of 2021.

1. LouLou Ray proved that reef mantas swim further than we thought they did

Each manta ray is an individual with its own unique markings, its own habits, its own personality. We list them all in our manta ray library – so if you’ve gone swimming with manta rays along the Kona Coast and would like to read more about the manta rays you encountered, go and have a look there!

One of our favorite mantas is LouLou Ray. She was identified back in 2016 by local divemaster David Marchand.

Since then she has made regular appearances at Manta Point in Kauna’oa Bay, which is one of the three viewing sites along the Kona Coast. In January, we learned that she swam 55 miles!

That was surprising as we always assumed a home range for reef mantas is about 30 miles up and down the coast… However, during a night dive my friend (and member of our Facebook group) Darlene spotted her in Honaunau (on November 2nd) 55 miles from Kauna’oa Bay.

Read more about the adventures of LouLou Ray on this page!​


2. Jolene Ray got injured by a fishing hook

When we go for a manta ray swim in Kauna’oa Bay, one of the mantas we encounter most often is Jolene Ray. She comes in to feed on most nights.

Back in October, she missed a couple of night feedings… and when she returned, we realized she had a very large fish hook embedded into her body, just to the right of her pelvic fin. A fishing line was attached to it and trailed behind her. Watch the video below to see what we saw…

Thankfully, a fellow manta ray advocate was able to free her from the hook and line shortly afterward.

Her wound healed astonishingly well, just like last time…

In 2020, Jolene already survived a tiger shark attack. The shark literally took a chunk out of her lower right side. It took her 6 months to fully heal, and she actually regenerated the flesh and skin that the shark had removed. It was amazing to watch both recoveries!

Jolene is a very special ray to us and we hope to bump into her for many years to come!

3. We had an 83-year-old join us to snorkel with manta rays

I was incredibly proud when my mom Gita joined us on a moonlight swim with the mantas a couple of years ago. She was one of the oldest participants we’d taken snorkeling so far…

Since this year in October, 83-year-old Victoria shares this record. There really is no upper age limit on swimming with mantas…

Fun Times with Manta Rays in Kona
Fun times we had with 83-year-old Victoria

4. Playing with the mantas’ food (plankton)

Mantas eat a mind-boggling amount of plankton every single day.

  • One manta eats about 12% of its body weight in plankton each week
  • Which means on average one 10-foot manta weighing 1,000lbs, would eat about 120 lbs (50 kg) of plankton per week
  • 10,000 pieces of plankton weigh 1 dry ounce…
  • Which means an adult manta ray eats over 19 million pieces of plankton every week

More fun facts about mantas and their favorite food in this article.

While plankton is tiny, you can also see the bigger pieces reflected in the lights – the video below was taken on one of our nighttime manta swims.

5. Reef shark, mantas, and humans all getting along…

Sharks may have a bad name, and while in Hawaiian waters tiger sharks are the main predator of our beloved manta rays – other types of sharks are mostly benign and coexist peacefully with the mantas.

The proof is this video that we took on one of our nighttime snorkeling expeditions showing humans, mantas, and a reef shark all getting along perfectly fine!

6. Taking 3 generations on a moonlight manta swim

After 20+ years of educating folks from around the globe about manta rays, we still do our very best every day to make a difference for the ocean – and for the animals that we love so dearly.

Although I know it’s possible to change someone’s perspective, I sometimes wonder if we’re really creating a “lasting effect to act better because we know better”. Then sometimes, we get a sign that what we’re doing is worthwhile… and this story is a great example.

Meet Kristi and Tom who first joined us on a manta swim in 2017. After their first encounter, they were so taken by the effect the manta rays had on them, that they immediately started planning a family trip with a whole bunch of children and grandchildren. They wanted all of them to experience the gentle giants and to step into their world – one filled with peace, wonder & awe at what lies beneath.

COVID-19 delayed their plans in 2020, but in April 2021 everyone got to experience the magic of manta rays. We had perfect conditions with a flat ocean and crystal clear visibility. It was EPIC 🙌 🥳 🎉 ❤️🏖

Three generations of passionate (and at times crazy) Manta Ray Advocates
Three generations of passionate (and at times crazy) Manta Ray Advocates

Three generations were introduced to the manta rays and it made me realize our work does make a difference. Not only did the family join us and create lasting memories, they were also perfectly prepared by Papa & Nana with cool manta ray t-shirts and cloth masks featuring manta rays!

7. Marine debris cleanup in Kuaihelani

If you’ve read our recent article on how ocean plastic pollution affects manta rays in multiple ways, you know that we’re passionate about getting the ocean cleaned up. We are fervent supporters of initiatives like The Ocean Cleanup and #TeamSeas.

The Papahānaumokuākea Marine Debris Project (PMDP) is a non-profit organization created to protect the sensitive wildlife and critical habitats of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (Northwestern Hawaiian Islands).

Back in April, they managed to make a huge dent in the ocean debris amassing around Hawaii… they removed over 24,000 lbs (almost 10,900 kilos) of debris from the northwestern shore of Eastern Island, spanning a measly 1.32 kilometers and packed full of Hawaiian Monk Seal mothers and pups. All in one days’ work lugging boatloads of debris.

They reported most of that debris was actually old fishing nets – they even got to set free an ‘Iwa bird entangled in a net.

If you’re like us and would like to take action, here are 7 charities we love and support – and you can help them make a difference as well.


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