Mountains, beaches, volcanoes . . . Hawaii really has it all. We love all the incredible scenery but we have to admit our favorite part of the island is the wildlife and specifically the underwater life. Among all the incredible marine animals, the manta ray might not be the first that comes to mind, but it is definitely a species that stands out.
Manta rays are often confused with stingrays, but there are a few major differences (most important being safety). It’s easy to see the confusion, both mantas and sting rays have flattened bodies with wide pectoral fins, however stingrays tend to stay on the ocean floor while mantas swim around the open ocean (which is why there are tours to see them). Mantas also don’t have barbs or stinging tails, like stingrays. These barbs are why stingrays are dangerous while the giant mantas are harmless and beautiful creatures (another reason why there are tours to swim with manta rays).
Manta rays can have a wingspan over 20 ft. and weigh up to 3,000 lbs. This makes them incredible to behold in their natural habitat, their size is dwarfing and the movement of their pectoral fins makes them appear as if they’re flying through the water.
The giant animals are filter-feeders. They comb the ocean for tiny food, their mouths acting like sieves. Instead of teeth, they funnel the water for tiny organisms like microscopic plankton or itty bitty crustaceans and small fish. Unfortunately for these friendly giants, they still face threats from fishing; this makes it especially important to choose ethical and sustainable options, particularly if you’re going on a manta snorkel.
Manta rays aren’t the most common creatures and can be difficult to find if you don’t know where to look. Luckily, if you find yourself on the Big Island of Hawaii there are a couple popular spots where rays are known to float about. One of the best is just off the shore from the Sheraton Kona Resort. From their restaurant, Rays on the Bay, they shine a spotlight into the ocean. The spotlight first, helps to attract the manta food source and secondly, helps to see the manta rays floating through the ocean.
If this isn’t daring enough for ya, there are tours to get you up-close and personal snorkeling with manta rays. There are both diving and snorkeling options, where you are able to fully marvel at the grandeur. The tours follow the same idea as the Sheraton, using light to attract food which then attracts the manta rays toward the water’s surface.
Hawaii has some truly incredible underwater life, it only becomes more fascinating the more you learn. Expanding your knowledge of the marine and wildlife on the islands means you’ll have more opportunity to see and appreciate all the wonders of the tropical destination.