By Jennifer Anderson
Below is an incredibly inspiring story about a magical moment with a manta ray sent in by a great friend. It originally comes from the book Chicken Soup for the Ocean Lover's Soul. Enjoy the magical adventure between this woman and the graceful manta ray. Take care and have a wonderful day! ~Fred Burks
It was like many Maui mornings, the sun rising over Haleakala as we greeted our divers for the day's charter. As my captain and I explained the dive procedures, I noticed the wind line moving into Molokini, a small, crescent-shaped island that harbors a large reef. I slid through the briefing, then prompted my divers to gear up, careful to do everything right so the divers would feel confident with me, the dive leader.
The dive went pretty close to how I had described it: The garden eels performed their underwater ballet, the parrot fish grazed on the coral, and the ever-elusive male flame wrasse flared their colors to defend their territory. Near the last level of the dive, two couples in my group signaled they were going to ascend. As luck would have it, the remaining divers were two European brothers, who were obviously troubled by the idea of a "woman" dive master and had ignored me for the entire dive.
The three of us caught the current and drifted along the outside of the reef, slowly beginning our ascent until, far below, something caught my eye. After a few moments, I made out the white shoulder patches of a manta ray in about one hundred and twenty feet of water.
Manta rays are one of my greatest loves, but very little is known about them. They feed on plankton, which makes them more delicate than an aquarium can handle. They travel the oceans and are therefore a mystery.
Mantas can be identified by the distinctive pattern on their belly, with no two rays alike. In 1992, I had been identifying the manta rays that were seen at Molokini and found that some were known, but many more were sighted only once, and then gone.
So there I was: a beautiful, very large ray beneath me and my skeptical divers behind. I reminded myself that I was still trying to win their confidence, and a bounce to see this manta wouldn't help my case. So I started calling through my regulator, "Hey, come up and see me!" I had tried this before to attract the attention of whales and dolphins, who are very chatty underwater and will come sometimes just to see what the noise is about. My divers were just as puzzled by my actions, but continued to try to ignore me.
There was another dive group ahead of us. The leader, who was a friend of mine and knew me to be fairly sane, stopped to see what I was doing. I kept calling to the ray, and when she shifted in the water column, I took that as a sign that she was curious. So I started waving my arms, calling her up to me.
After a minute, she lifted away from where she had been riding the current and began to make a wide circular glide until she was closer to me. I kept watching as she slowly moved back and forth, rising higher, until she was directly beneath the two Europeans and me. I looked at them and was pleased to see them smiling. Now they liked me. After all, I could call up a manta ray!
Looking back to the ray, I realized she was much bigger than what we were used to around Molokini - a good fifteen feet from wing tip to wing tip, and not a familiar-looking ray. I had not seen this animal before. There was something else odd about her. I just couldn't figure out what it was.
Once my brain clicked in and I was able to concentrate, I saw deep V-shaped marks of her flesh missing from her backside. Other marks ran up and down her body. At first I thought a boat had hit her. As she came closer, now with only ten feet separating us, I realized what was wrong.
She had fishing hooks embedded in her head by her eye, with very thick fishing line running to her tail. She had rolled with the line and was wrapped head to tail about five or six times. The line had torn into her body at the back, and those were the V-shaped chunks that were missing.
I felt sick and, for a moment, paralyzed. I knew wild animals in pain would never tolerate a human to inflict more pain. But I had to do something.
Forgetting about my air, my divers and where I was, I went to the manta. I moved very slowly and talked to her the whole time, like she was one of the horses I had grown up with. When I touched her, her whole body quivered, like my horse would. I put both of my hands on her, then my entire body, talking to her the whole time. I knew that she could knock me off at any time with one flick of her great wing.
When she had steadied, I took out the knife that I carry on my inflator hose and lifted one of the lines. It was tight and difficult to get my finger under, almost like a guitar string. She shook, which told me to be gentle. It was obvious that the slightest pressure was painful.