Specialty Training With a Difference
TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY AL HORNSBY
Weve come into Mil Channel just as the mornings incoming tide begins its flow, bringing in clear ocean water from outside the reef. We move down the channel edge until we come to the coral mound that marks the Manta cleaning station. I recognize the brown soft corals that are usually found at active cleaning stations and the usual group of Manta cleaners such as Bi-color Cleaner Wrasse, Micronesian Wrasse and Three-spot Dascyllus.
We settle quietly around the coral prominence and wait. I recall that this time of year, December, and on until March, we are likely to witness mating behavior. Its an exciting prospect, as several males follow a usually larger female and attempt to mount her from behind, creating a sinuous ballet as their huge, graceful bodies twist and soar. Two months later, other divers may be lucky enough to see the result—young Mantas; two foot long miniatures that are born alive, rolled up like a tube, quickly becoming active and swimming free of their mothers.
In a few moments, large shapes move toward us from up the channel—Mantas, some of them as much as 13 feet across at the wings. Looking at my I.D. Slate, I recognize Stubby, who is missing her tail, most likely to a shark bite; Pacman, pure white on her belly; and Nate, with three distinctive black markings on his underside.
One by one, the Mantas approach the station and hover quietly. Cleaner fish move up from the coral and begin to roam across the huge animals bodies, picking off small isopods and other parasites. The Mantas hold position for a few moments, then wheel off, pausing as they pass closely overhead, regarding us with serene brown eyes.
As much as Id like to pretend to be an expert on the ways of Yaps Mantas, I have to confess my knowledge came from the course I took at Yap Divers—the Manta Awareness course, a PADI specialty. Through a brief classroom session, watching a very interesting video and two dives with the Mantas, I learned how to recognize individuals, about their secretive lifestyles and how their relationship with the small cleaner fish community has created one of the underwater worlds most exciting opportunities Manta diving.
As a result of the course, Ive come to understand the behavioral pattern of the Mantas as they come in from the open ocean each morning for their daily cleaning ritual. Ive also had the chance to watch these massive, gentle animals upclose, as learning has allowed me to get near but not disturb.
I also carry a distinctive souvenir of my experience, a Manta Awareness Certification Card, in my pocket. Just a glance at it once in a while brings a smile to my face and a lot of good memories to my mind—memories of diving with the beautiful Mantas of Yap.
Manta Awareness Specialty
†††††Guam and Yap; flights from Guam to Yap are every Sunday and Wednesday.
†††††Yap Divers at Manta Ray Bay Hotel
†††††P.O. Box MR, Yap, FSM 96943
†††††(691) 350-4587 or 3841 (fax)
†††††Web site: www.mantaray.com