The manta ray is one of the most graceful and majestic creatures in the ocean. These gentle giants have been around for millions of years, and their natural habitats span oceans all around the world. If you’re looking for an epic snorkeling or scuba diving experience, there’s nothing quite like swimming with manta rays.
And if you’re here, you probably know that we take small groups of people out for manta ray moonlight swims here in Kona (on the Big Island of Hawaii) every night.
But where else do manta rays live? What are some of the best places to swim with them outside Hawaii?
Read on to find out more about the natural habitat of manta rays, as well as some of the best places to spot them in the wild.
Where Do Manta Rays Live?
Manta rays inhabit temperate, tropical, and subtropical waters around the globe, including parts of the Indian Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, and Pacific Ocean.
Reef manta rays tend to stay closer to the coast. They love the coral reefs where they can feed, and frequent the cleaning stations (the manta ray day spa). On the other hand, oceanic manta rays (also known as pelagic or giant mantas) are less easy to spot, as they stay in deeper water.
Reef mantas mostly live along the coastlines in the Indo-Pacific zone, while pelagic mantas roam all over the world’s major oceans. And while a limited number of aquariums are able to keep manta rays alive in captivity, the majority of the manta ray population can only be found in their natural habitat.
Are Manta Rays Solitary Animals? Do they Live Together?
While manta rays are solitary animals, they congregate in small or large groups to mate and to feed.
During certain times of the year, manta rays also congregate in large groups at “cleaning stations” – areas where smaller fish gather to remove parasites from their bodies. It’s at these cleaning stations that you’ll have some of the best chances for spotting manta rays in their natural environment.
Do Manta Rays Travel a Lot? Do they Migrate?
Manta rays migrate seasonally in search of warmer water temperatures and food sources, so their exact whereabouts can vary from year to year. There are indications that giant manta rays often travel over a thousand miles of open ocean during their annual migration!
Unfortunately, there is not much reliable data on migrations or swimming ranges of any type of manta ray. It’s hard to keep track of a creature that doesn’t stop swimming (ever)!
Although it is believed that oceanic manta rays swim much longer distances than reef mantas, we were delighted to learn that one of the “regulars” on our manta ray moonlight swim, LouLou Ray, swam a distance of 55 miles back in 2021. This is further than we thought reef mantas would swim.
The Best Places to Swim with Manta Rays Around the World
If you’re looking for an unforgettable experience swimming with manta rays, there are a few top spots around the world.
Swimming with Manta Rays in Hawaii
Of course, Hawaii should be at the top of that list as the best place to swim with mantas. Hawaii is not only home to some of the most abundant manta ray populations, but the experience is also unique thanks to the manta ray viewing sites along the Kona coast.
Plus, while you join us for the manta rays, the other marine animals we often encounter on our moonlight snorkeling expeditions are just as impressive!
Let’s explore some great places to see manta rays in their natural habitat around the world!
Where to swim with manta rays in Asia:
- Indonesia – specifically Bali, in Komodo National Park, Flores Island, Raja Ampat, and Derawan or Sangalaki. This area is teaming with manta rays! The aptly named Manta Point off Nusa Penida Island is popular among divers looking for an incredible close-up experience with the gentle giants.
- The Philippines, where Tubbataha is a protected UNESCO underwater site and a world-class dive location, according to Otter Aquatics.
- The Maldives; that’s where our friends at Manta Trust operate. Try the Ari Atoll or Baa Atoll.
- Thailand – for instance, around the Similan Islands or Koh Bon
- Japan: Ishigaki Island of Okinawa
Manta ray sightings around the African continent:
- Tofo in Mozambique attracts over a thousand mantas each year
- The Red Sea coast in Egypt
Swimming with mantas in Central and South America:
- Costa Rica, for instance, around the Bat Islands and the Catalina Islands
- Mexico, where Socorro Island boasts of hosting more than 500 individual giant oceanic mantas from November to June. If you want a once-in-a-lifetime experience swimming with mantas while surrounded by breathtaking scenery (and perhaps even dolphins!), consider taking a trip to Socorro Island off Mexico’s west coast – one destination you won’t soon forget!
- The Gulf of Mexico is also home to the amazing Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary – an officially recognized giant manta ray nursery.
- Ecuador, more specifically, Isla de la Plata and the Galapagos islands
Manta rays in Oceania:
- Australia – e.g. Lady Elliot Island in the Great Barrier Reef, or Coral Bay and Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia
- The “Manta Ray Passage” in Fiji
- Uepi Island (one of the Solomon Islands)
- Micronesia: for instance, in Yap, one of the Manta Trust field research sites
- Bora Bora (Tahiti), where Anau is a well-known cleaning station and manta dive spot
As you can see, manta rays are located worldwide – and every place is unique and offers a slightly different experience. And the list above is not exhaustive – it features the places around the world that are best known for manta ray spotting.
Swimming with manta rays is an unforgettable experience that everyone should try at least once in their lifetime. But manta ray tourism can also threaten the health and well-being of the manta rays, which is why we encourage you to be a voice for the voiceless!
No matter where you go snorkeling or scuba diving with manta rays, it’s important to remember that these animals are wild creatures and must be treated with respect. Check out our guidelines for safe and passive interaction with manta rays if you plan to go on a manta ray swim.
Always keep a respectful distance from them so you don’t disturb their environment or put yourself at risk. Happy swimming!