The Manta Bellies of Fakarava

The mantas of Fakarava have lily white bellies…

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… that remind us of our own cold-climate mayonnaise coloration.

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The whiteness of these manta bellies is so striking that a waterman racing his dinghy across the blue atoll might see one from a considerable distance and stop to have a look.

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This pair was feeding on a massive bloom of embryonic sealife.

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The crystal clear pelagic water of the flood tide a few hundred feet away was murky with microscopic life just behind a reef on the edge of the pass. The mantas were here every day, never moving from this spot, leading us to suspect that something was hatching in great numbers on the upstream reef.

They spent the entire 6 hours of the incoming tide swimming inverted loops from the bottom to the surface, straining minute tasty wigglers from the water.

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They were curious about K and would speed up from the bottom with pie-holes agape, aiming straight between K’s fins as he was looking down.

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At the last second they would invert and roll…

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and dive back down to the bottom, feathering their 8 ft wings with incredible agility.

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It’s hard to believe the grace of these huge flying filter-feeders and we are humbled that this common beauty has been hidden in the deep, unknown to our self-absorbed species for almost all of history.

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To get the pics: This series of pics actually took about 3 days to set up. On the first day K jumped in and then vaulted straight back into the dinghy when four big, very excited blacktip sharks came zipping though the area. There was a second day with no camera and several lurking grey reef sharks. Finally everything aligned and both mantas were still in place.

The on-rushing 1-ton mantas made it hard to focus on focusing…

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and the murky water required even more frequent shark checks than usual. Happily there was only a single grey reef shark patrolling at depth.

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This sort of thing only works in an environment where there is unlimited material and opportunity. Fakarava is the rare place where the solo amateur can freedive, tethered to a dinghy in current, watch for sharks in 3 dimensions, track two looping manta subjects, hang on to a shark stick, take pics one handed… and still get a couple of frames. If only we had a compressor!

16°30.57′S 145°28.24′W   15-Jun-10 20:12 UTC

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One Response to “The Manta Bellies of Fakarava”

  1. Tim says:

    Oh man do you need a compressor! What do we need to do to have one delivered? I can be your point man on this project. Can the BAK handle such a beast? Let’s get a small one.

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