Guidelines for Interacting with Manta Rays

Sep 7, 2020 | Hawaii Travel, Snorkeling & Diving, Swimming with Manta Rays, Underwater Photography & Filmography

Thousands of tourists travel to Kona yearly to experience the manta rays in their natural habitat around the Big Island of Hawaii.

Companies have offered nighttime swimming and diving tours with mantas since 1991, when one single boat went out once a week. Today, over 50 activity providers offer manta ray tours year-round. 

Learn more about the best times to see the Kona mantas here.

We mostly swim with manta rays at night because underwater lights in the dark ocean attract plankton. A manta’s natural diet is plankton, so over time, the manta rays around Kona have been classically conditioned to anticipate an abundance of food close to lights.

Here at Manta Ray Advocates, we’re trying to educate visitors about sustainable ways to interact with marine life. Manta-human interaction must be beneficial for all involved. That’s why participants’ standards were first established in 1993.

Let’s dive in and take a closer look at what (not) to do when you go swimming with manta rays.

5 Basic Rules for Swimming with Manta Rays at Night

Rule #1: Observe Only, Do Not Touch

Do not touch the mantas – resist the urge to “pet” them. Touching a manta ray would rub off their protective mucus coating.

Do not chase, grab, or try to ride the mantas. This does not benefit the animal in any way.

Rule #2: Stay on the Bottom – or on the Surface

Scuba divers must stay on or near the sand, rubble, or boulder bottom. An open water column is necessary for the mantas to maneuver.

Avoid contact with the coral, sea urchins, or other marine life.

Form a semicircle with your group.

Snorkelers must stay on the surface and keep their legs horizontal. Do not dive down into the water column.

Rule #3: Turn Your Lights in the Correct Position

Divers shine lights up into the water column to attract plankton.

Snorkelers shine lights down.

Rule #4: Don’t Blow Bubbles Up to the Manta Rays

Divers: try to time your breathing so that you do not blow bubbles up into the manta if it passes over your head.

Rule #5: Taking Underwater Photos or Video Safely

When taking underwater photos or shooting videos while on a swim, be considerate of people and mantas. Minimize your equipment in the water column and let the mantas come to you. 

For more practical tips to film or take pictures underwater safely and responsibly, check out our Underwater Photography Guide.

Detailed underwater photograph of the manta ray swimming experience

Ideal Scenario and Timing for Swimming with Manta Rays

6 Guidelines to Interact with Manta Rays During the Daytime

The Chances of encountering manta rays at night in Kona are over 70%, but there is always the possibility of seeing a manta during the daytime as well.

Swimming with manta rays during the daytime is fundamentally different, as there won’t be any lights gathering plankton and attracting the manta rays. 

However, a daytime manta ray dive can be just as fun and life-changing as long as you follow these six steps to keep interactions safe and sustainable: 

  1. When beginning your dive, make sure that you slip into the water calmly and quietly and keep a moderate distance of 33 feet/10 meters apart from nearby manta rays.
  2. Ensure your fins stay below the waterline, as you don’t want to scare away manta rays with unnecessary noise.
  3. Remain still and allow the mantas to come to you. Passive interaction is always best advised to keep everyone – including the marine animals- safe.
  4. Keep the natural water columns open so the manta rays can swim around you without any interference. To do this as a diver, always keep low to the sea bed. Snorkelers stay on the surface.
  5. Approach manta rays side on, as this gives them a chance to see you and a clear path in the ocean.
  6. Never reach out and touch a manta ray; this will remove their protective slime coating and cause harm. 

More information

Find more information about swimming with manta rays during the daytime (accompanied by beautiful illustrations) at swimwithmantas.org.

Hawaii Ocean Watch hosts the standards for manta ray tour operators around Kona for activity providers aiming for a more sustainable manta-human interaction. As Manta Ray Advocates, we want to teach the best way to interact with those gentle giants of the sea during daytime encounters and at night.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: keep interactions with manta rays passive (you’re the observer) and let the mantas come to you. It’s so worth it!

Feel like packing your gear to come and swim with mantas?

If you’re thinking about booking a manta ray activity, don’t miss our guide for swimming with manta rays in Hawaii. It’ll answer all your questions about equipment, prerequisites, safety, sustainability, and much more.

It’s a great FREE resource for anyone who’s getting ready to experience the manta rays firsthand.

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