Aloha and best wishes to all Manta Lovers and Ocean Enthusiasts for 2014.
It has been sometime since my last blog entry. 2013 was pretty crazy as it started out with my dolphin rescue video going "viral". As of today, with reloads, it has more than 6 million hits on YouTube. The BBC and National Geographic will feature the story sometime in 2014. We are so grateful and pleased that this beautiful message is continuing to spread worldwide. :)
Medical issues have held me back (a little) in 2013, so I anticipate more energy as we move into 2014.
2013 further clarified that the Manta Rays are my true love and passion, and our team is highly motivated to keep you informed about our Gentle Giants in 2014 and beyond.
The Manta Rays have certainly done their part! Numbers and sightings for 2013 were stellar and I will be reporting in much more detail (sometime later this year) by posting our Annual Statistics Report. Please keep checking back for it.
Today’s blog is mainly about the future of the Manta Ray Experience and our concerns that the two sites are over-saturated with people.
State representatives Cindy Evans and Nicole Lowen (Committee for Ocean, Marine Resources, & Hawaiian Affairs) introduced Bill 1684: (f) The department of land and natural resources shall adopt rules, pursuant to chapter 91, that establish a permit system limiting the number and capacity of boats and people present at manta ray aggregation sites."
As pioneers of this incredible ocean encounter we have seen the industry grow and grow and grow. The number of boats at the two sites and people in the water has greatly increased over the last few years. In our opinion, the sites are over-capacity almost every night and the safety of animals, environment/coral reef and humans is being adversely impacted. If the growth goes unchecked, we don't see a bright future for the activity. Thus, we support Bill 1684!!
A little more history: The Manta Ray Experience started commercially in 1991 with one boat once per week! Over the years, more and more boat operators started to “join” the Experience. About 2-3 years ago, we started to feel increasingly uneasy as to the number of people in the water. We have always marveled at the cooperation and teamwork at the dive sites, as well as how many people are guided during the activity. Every activity has a maximum capacity and only so many people can fit into a limited space. We believe that 200 people is the maximum capacity this activity (per location) can tolerate without adverse effects on the Manta Rays and the eco-system in general.
The Coast Guard and the State’s DLNR took note of the rapid growth and questionable conduct within the industry in November 2012. All boat operators were “called” to a meeting to address these issues. At their behest, operator standards were created and have been in place since April 2013. Since this is only a “gentlemen’s agreement”, without enforcement, quite a few boat owners have simply ignored these standards.
As a result, the Mantas have been injured and the activity has fragmented with some people seeing the Mantas, and some not, at the same location.
Everyone used to gather at the main viewing area we call “the campfire”, but certain operators decided to attract the Mantas to their specific boat instead, for their own reasons, and disorganization now reigns supreme.
We were involved in the creation of these standards, and during all of the meetings it was apparent that the group of boat owners could not agree on the number of participants. It was difficult enough to agree on the standards. To us, the meetings seemed to be more about personal grievances than about the safety of the activity or the well-being of the Manta Rays. So, as stated above, the standards were drafted, but the people that seemed to be causing all the problems, just ignored them. Essentially nothing changed. In fact, it is worse now.
As a result, lawmakers picked up on the turmoil within the industry. They must have also realized that the future of this Experience is at stake. So far, the proposed bill seems to have received a favorable reception. If it does pass, then the issue becomes enforcement. It remains to be seen if this will solve this disturbing, on-going, increasingly complex problem.
Today’s Manta Experience is not responsible eco-tourism, and in our opinion, NOT SAFE AND NOT SUSTAINABLE.
Without regulations, we see no future for the Manta Ray Experience. There are those that advocate self-regulation, but history has shown us this is not possible.
Do we have some ideas of how to solve this? Yes, the first step is to support Bill 1684!!
This will be a WIN for the Mantas, a WIN for the humans, a WIN for the State and a WIN for the Environment.
We will keep you updated…
We wish everyone the best for 2014, especially for the Manta Rays and all Ocean creatures.
Aloha, we have completed the Manta Ray Statistics for 2012.
Click here to open/download the accompanying 7-page pdf-file.
All statistics are based on personal observations and review of video footage of each specific night dive on a given date. We would like to thank all contributors who make these statistics as complete and accurate as possible.
A Special Mahalo to Luke, David and Katie from Kona Diving Company as well as Jonathan from Big Island Divers.
The Top 3 Manta Rays in 2012
We had two No.1 Manta Rays in 2012!
1. Place: Koie Ray and Blain Ray, came to feed245times
3. Place: Vicky Ray, she was seen 232 times
The Top 20 in 2012
The largest "Cast on Set"
• On July 4th, 2012 we saw the highest number of 42 individuals in one night, which sets a NEW record number of Rays at “Manta Heaven” (Airport location) (see page 5).
• During the month of April 2012 we saw the highest number of different individuals at 62 (see Page 7).
• In 2012 we saw 82 individual Manta Rays (an increase of 10 from 2011) during the snorkel/dive activity at “Manta Heaven” (Airport location) and “Manta Village” (Sheraton/Keauhou location) (see Page 3).
New Arrivals – Rookies of the year
3 new Manta Rays were identified during the night activity in 2012 (see Page 3 and 4):
• Amanda Ray - She was identified October 22, 2012 at Manta Village. From her identification to the end of 2012 she was seen 5 times. She was very shy and stayed close to the bottom to feed on the plankton.
• Orion Ray - Orion was first seen on September 21, 2012 at Manta Village. He was seen one more time after his identification. Both times he came to the lights, but was very shy.
• Daniel Ray - Daniel was identified April 8, 2012 at Manta Heaven. He was seen 7 times in 2012.
All 3 pups had a wingspan of 3-5 feet.
• Delaney Ray was identified in August of 2008 and was not seen again until May of 2011. In 2011 we saw her 43 times, and in 2012 she made it into the TOP 20 with 139 sightings.
• Mango jumped from No. 37 with 18 sightings in 2011 into the TOP 20 to Place No. 16 with 147 sightings.
• "Youngster” Tim Ray made it into the TOP 20, although he only started appearing in March 2012.
• “W” Ray has been known as long as “Lefty” (since 1979 – over 34 years ago!).
We saw “W” only 3 times in 2012 (04/26, 04/30 and 05/01/12), but the really exciting news is that she was pregnant at that time. Her belly was huge and males followed her very closely (check out this short video).
It is still a mystery how long Manta Rays live, but we can speculate from “Lefty” and “W”. It is even more incredible news to understand that a female can reproduce at this age!!
MIA's & Cameos
• We are sad to say that we have not seen Capt. Kirk since June 14, 2012. He had made regular appearances (73 times) at Manta Heaven until then. He is a Manta Ray without a tail and very easy to spot. We hope he is just on an “extended vacation”.
• Guillermo, Coral and Kai-Zed made one-time appearances at Manta Heaven in 2012. It is nice to know that they are still around as they have not been seen since they were identified in 2007 (Guillermo) and 2009 (Coral). It was also good to see that Kai-Zed (ID’d in 2011) “checked in” at Manta Heaven last year.
Lunar Phase: Fact or Fiction?
As in the 2011 statistics, the 2012 numbers suggest that there is no direct correlation between moon phase and manta sightings (see Page 5).
What are the odds?
• Page 6 of our pdf file will show the overview of the ratio of possible charters and successful Manta Ray Sightings for each month as well as the average number of individual Manta Rays.
"Manta Heaven” participants got skunked 15 times, “Manta Village” participants 21 times in 2012.
The probability of seeing at least one Manta Ray in 2012 was:
Manta Heaven: 95 % Manta Village: 93%
Wow, the possibility to see a Manta Ray on the Kona Coast during a night time adventure is over 90% now (up from 88% in 2011).
These are incredible numbers for creatures “in the wild”.
• The average number of individuals at “Manta Heaven” was 14 (an increase from 7 in 2011) and at “Manta Village” was 3 Manta Rays for 2012 (up from 2 in 2011).
“High mileage” mantas
Manta Rays sometimes travel the distance of approx. 14 miles between the dive sites within a time frame of 24 – 96 hours (see Page 7). We kept track of those “Travelers” and observed that 28 Manta Rays swam between Manta Village and Manta Heaven or vice versa.
Like in 2011, Melainah Ray is the “Traveler of the year 2012”. She moved up and down the coast 26 times, 10 months of the year and in July and December, 5 times.
Big Bertha, Lefty and Vallaray also did their share of traversing their home range and using the night feeding areas to their advantage.
Disturbing Trends & Injuries
We have seen an increase in the number of swimmers and kayakers coming from shore at the Sheraton Keauhou location (Manta Village). While guests of the boat operators are briefed to the existing guidelines so as to safely and responsibly interact with the wild life, this (regrettably) is not the case with participants from shore. We have witnessed them diving down and touching the mantas on a number of occasions. We are concerned that the manta rays may "learn" that the lighted, feeding areas should be avoided during certain time periods, possibly causing them to alter there "schedule" to avoid humans.
2012 also brought an increase of tour operators who began using “hull lighting” to attract the Manta Rays close to their specific boats and away from the long-established, centrally located viewing area thereby "fragmenting" the attending manta rays.
This practice has also caused the manta rays to sustain impact injuries due to the close proximity of those lights to boat hulls, propellers, rudders and ladders.
Underwater hull lighting creates an unsafe feeding environment for the mantas and has resulted in injuries to the mantas that have been witnessed and well-documented.
So, while there is statutory language in place that protects the manta rays from being captured or killed, no such language exists that offers protection from injury.
In an attempt to address this and other problems, the local manta industry (at the strong suggestion of State and Federal authorities), united to create “Tour Operator Standards” for the Manta Activity.
A "Manta Committee" was formed in late 2012, with approx. 80% representation, to establish and implement Operator Standards for ALL the commercial operators to follow for the Greater Good:
1. Increase the safety of the Manta Rays and their habitat.
2. Increase the safety of the users and participants of the manta tour experience.
3. Establish community practices and to educate those people involved.
We are working within the Manta Operator community towards complete compliance as there is a fair amount of resistance to implementation.
As stated above, our resident population of Manta Rays has had to sustain injuries due to engagement with boats. Jana Ray, in particular, has had a rough year sustaining serious injury to her right cephalic fin as well as showing evidence of various other injuries (visualized in this video).
Due to the sheer number of Manta Rays observed, especially at “Manta Heaven”, and the numbers of pups produced, we believe that, overall, the resident population is healthy and thriving.
On July 4th, 2012 we saw the highest number of individuals (42), which sets a NEW record number of Rays at “Manta Heaven".
We saw Teresa Ray bring her pregnancy to term in February/March 2012 and observed a pregnant "W" in May 2012.
With an over a 90% probability of seeing a Manta Ray in 2012, Kona, Hawaii continues to be THE destination to see these Gentle Giants in their natural habitat!
If you choose to participate in one of the excursions, we encourage you to go with a company that is mindful of and complies with Tour Operator Guidelines.
We hope you have enjoyed the presentation of this information. Once again, Mahalo to those that helped us compile this data. We are looking forward to doing this again for 2013.
Martina, Jim and Ryan
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July 4, 2012: We are reporting the next record night with 42 Manta Rays sighted at Manta Heaven !!!
Here are the Manta Rays we identified:
1. Big Bertha 2, Lefty 3. Koie Ray 4. Vicky Ray 5. Rebekah Ray 6. Maluhia 7. Andrea Ray 8. Boo Boo
9. Cara Ray 10. Mango 11. Margo Ray 12. Melainah 13. Re-Nata 14. Vallaray
15. Shirley Ray 16. Linda Ray 17. Lisa Rae 18. Delaney Ray 19. Emma Ray 20. Jihane 21. Kailey Ray (traveled 15 miles from Manta Village to join the party)
1. Curly Ray 2. Alexander Ray 3. Cousteau 4. Hook 5. Stevie Ray 6. Hans Ray 7. Bob'n'Ray 8. Timbuktu 9. Scar 10. Sugar Ray 11. Uhane Nui 12. Jay Ray 13. Capt. Mike 14. Ralph''s Ray 15. Grayer 16. Blain Ray 17. Vinny Ray 18. Tim 19. Doug Ray 20. Otis 21. Hayden
So, every girl brought a boy to the feeding frenzy!
July 3, 2012: We are reporting a record night with 41 Manta Rays sighted at Manta Heaven !!! OMG...unbelievable!!!
Here are the stars of the show:
Wingspan (13-16 feet): 1. Big Bertha 2, Lefty 3. Koie Ray 4. Vicky Ray 5. Rebekah Ray 6. Maluhia 7. Andrea Ray 8. Boo Boo Ray
Wingspan (10-12 feet): 9. Cara Ray 10. Mango 11. Margo Ray 12. Melainah (traveled 15 miles from Manta Village within 23 h), 13. Re-Nata Ray 14. Vallaray
Wingspan (6 - 9 feet): 15. Shirley Ray 16. Linda Ray 17. Lisa Rae 18. Delaney Ray 19. Emma Ray 20. small unidentified female
Wingspan (8-11 feet): 1. Curly Ray 2. Alexander Ray 3. Cousteau 4. Hook 5. Stevie Ray 6. Hans Ray 7. Bob'n'Ray 8. Timbuktu 9. Scar 10. Sugar Ray
Wingspan (5-7 feet): 11. Uhane Nui 12. Jay Ray 13. Capt. Mike 14. Ralph''s Ray 15. Grayer 16. Blain Ray 17. Vinny Ray 18. Tim 19. Doug Ray 20. Keniki 21. Ke'kai'malu
We are so blessed with these beautiful "Angels of the Sea".
Be safe out there - Happy 4th of July
Martina, Jim and Ryan
Aloha, today we are excited to share the Manta Ray Statistics for 2011 with you. Click here to open/download the accompanying 7-page pdf-file.
All statistics are based on personal observations and review of video footage of each specific night dive. We would like to thank all contributors who make these statistics as complete and accurate as possible. A Special Mahalo to Luke, David and Katie from Kona Diving Company as well as Jonathan from Big Island Divers.
• In 2011 we enjoyed 72 individual Manta Rays during the snorkel/dive activity at “Manta Heaven” and “Manta Village” (see Page 3).
In May 2011 we saw the highest number of different individuals at 51 (see Page 7).
• Shirley Ray made it into the TOP 20, although she only started appearing in May of 2011.
Check out Shirley’s video and see how beautiful it is to condition a new Manta Ray to be tolerant of the lights and bubbles. It would seem that as long as we don’t interfere with the Manta Rays feeding behavior, we will be able to condition more Mantas fairly easily.
• Jana Ray is definitely the stand-out of the afore-mentioned 8 Manta Rays. Jana Ray was identified as a pup in August of 2011 and made it to the No. 23 slot in only 3 months. We started seeing her at “Manta Village” in October and enjoyed observing her feed 36 times.
• We want to point out something about Delaney Ray, Takahashi Ray and Spatter (see Page 3 and 4):
- Delaney Ray was identified in August of 2008 and was not seen again until May of 2011. She was observed at “Manta Village” and “Manta Heaven” on a regular basis and was seen 43 times in 2011.
-Takahashi Ray is also remarkable. He was named in June of 2008. We spotted him again after 3 years in March 2011. Since then, we have not seen him often, only intermittently.
- Spatter was identified in 1992 (20 years ago!), but was not seen for many years until to our delight she re-appeared in April 2011 at Manta Village. She stayed around until July and came to feed 25 additional times.
• Our 2011 statistics do not seem to support the belief that a full moon means no Manta Sightings (see Page 5).
• Page 6 of our pdf file will show the overview of the ratio of possible charters and successful Manta Ray Sightings we had each month as well as the average number of individual Manta Rays.
- “Manta Heaven” got skunked 39 times, “Manta Village” 34 times in 2011.
- The probability of seeing at least one Manta Ray in 2011 was:
Manta Heaven: 88 %
Manta Village: 88%
Yes, this is correct – both dive sites had the same probability of an incredible 88%!
This is fantastic considering that we “work” with Marine Life and the ocean. Nowhere else in the world can you view these beautiful creatures in their natural environment on such a regular basis.
- The average number of individuals at “Manta Heaven” was 7 and at “Manta Village” was 2 Manta Rays for 2011.
• We kept track of occurrences when a Manta Ray swam the distance of approx. 14 miles between the dive site within a time frame of 24 – 96 hours (see Page 7).
16 Manta Rays went the distance and “Melainah Ray” is the “Traveler of the year 2011”. She moved up and down the coast almost every month; in January, May and August 3 times. Koie Ray , Lefty and Vallaray also did their share of traversing their home range and using the night feeding areas to their advantage.
Can we conclude anything from these statistics?
The sheer number of Manta Rays observed, especially at “Manta Heaven”, seems to indicate that our resident population of Manta Rays is robust and healthy with the highest number of 35 individuals Manta Rays seen on May 12, 2011 (see page 5).
We enjoyed Big Bertha bringing her pregnancy to term (see diary) in July 2011, and also discovered Teresa Ray's pregnancy in October 2011.
It is troubling, however, to see an increase in the number of injuries due to engagement with fishing tackle and injuries which suggest propeller strikes.
Kailey Ray in particular has had a rough year losing her cephalic fin as well as sporting various other injuries (see her before and after video here).
You can also check on injuries and fishing hook accidents that Melainah Ray, Lisa Rae and Blain Ray had to deal with.
We hope you have enjoyed the presentation of this information.
Once again, Mahalo to those that helped us compile this data. We are looking forward to doing this again for 2012.
Teresa Ray: This past month Teresa Ray joined the dinner party on several nights at Manta Village and Manta Heaven, and oh man, she is sooo big.
Thru our observations of pregnant Manta Rays esp. Big Bertha last year, we know that the female Manta Ray who is about to deliver, not only has a big belly, but their back also bulges out a lot.
We created a short movie about Teresa Ray, when we saw her this past month (February 27).
We are pretty confident when we see her the next time she will have a flat belly again and hopefully she gave birth to a healthy pup. We will keep you posted.
NEWS FLASH: March 11, 2012 (12 h after I posted this blog!): Teresa Ray is not pregnant anymore! YEAH. She came to Manta Heaven with a flat belly tonight and enjoyed a wonderful meal with 11 other ones. The pup was not seen, but this can change soon.
Jana Ray, our youngest “trained” Manta Ray at Manta Village recently came to the dive site with a deep cut in her cephalic fin. It must have happened between February 3 and 5, because she was fine on the 3rd. She is feeding okay, but it is obvious that she is in pain.
If that wasn’t enough, Jana Ray came to the site 9 days later (February 14) and she had caught more fishing line around her cephalic fin. Amanda Ault , one of our dedicated swim guides from Big Island Divers was there and here is her report:.
During the Manta Ray Dive at the Sheraton site this evening I noticed that Jana, one of our young female mantas, had some fishing line attached to her right cephalic fin. The monofilament line was hooked around the base of her fin and tangled in a small bundle along the underside of her body. It also had a small red/white fishing bobber attached to it which was trailing about a foot and a half behind her right wing.
After watching her circle under us for a while I felt compelled to try to remove at least the fishing bobber. I borrowed a dive knife from my captain and waited for a good moment to attempt the removal. Jana is a speedy little manta, so I was a bit nervous about the timing because I certainly didn't want to cause her any further harm with my efforts to help. After about 10 minutes, she settled in to a feeding circle about 3 feet under my float and it seemed like as good of a moment as ever to try for the line. I dove down, grabbing the bobber in one hand and cutting with the other. Thankfully the line cut easily and I didn't feel any tug when I pulled the bobber and some of the line away. There was still some line attached, so hopefully it will come free, or someone else will have a chance to remove it.
Cheers, Amanda (Big Island Divers snorkel guide)
We can add to Amanda’s report that Jim saw Jana Ray several times since then and she doesn’t have anymore line on her. She seems to be adjusting and getting better every day. We will keep you posted on the healing process of her cephalic fin.
Statistics for January 2012:
We had mentioned in an earlier post that January 2012 was an awesome month for Manta sightings especially considering the ocean conditions were in our favor almost every night.
Here is a quick overview of the numbers we saw in January including the “travelers” that frequented both sites and the three Manta Rays we have seen the most:
(Check here to download the complete pdf-file).
Some comments about these statistics:
- 12 (!) Manta Rays (Big Bertha, Delaney, Kapono, Koie Ray, Lefty, Lightning, Margo, Melainah, Re-Nata, Reece, Teresa and Vallaray) were seen at both locations in January 2012 and they all changed sites within 24-96 h).
That’s incredible and also shows that those Manta Rays definitely know where the dinner table is set every night and are taking advantage of it.
- The highest number of Manta Rays at Manta Heaven was 27 individual Manta Rays
The highest number of Mantas seen at Manta Village was 8, and this happened 4 times !
- Koie Ray, Lightning, Margo, Melainah and Re-Nata were at Manta Heaven on January 8. Within 48 h they all made it to Manta Village, and Koie Ray and Lightning moved back north within 24 h. Impressive !
- Lefty, Vicky Ray and Grayer are our TOP 3 for January 2012. Grayer was seen 23x Vicky Ray 24 x and Lefty scored the TOP POSITION with 25 sightings of possible 31 nights.
TOP 15 Manta Rays for 2011
Our next blog post will reveal our Top 15 Manta Rays seen in 2011.
Can you guess who is in the TOP 15 ?
Let me know which Manta Ray you think has come to the Manta Ray Ballet the most last year?
Just leave a comment in the comment section or send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Aloha, on July 18, 2011 we identified a new baby Manta Ray at Manta Village. We were sure that it is a girl and we named her "Nicole Ray" after our dear friend Nicole Schmaus from Switzerland.
Well, today we have to admit that we made a mistake LOL. On January 26 this Manta Ray was seen again at Manta Village, still very shy, but it came close enough that we could see little claspers !! So, we need to rename Nicole Ray to Nick Ray today.
Nick Ray will be named after Nick Watson, son of Capt. Jeff Watson. Nick works as a swim guide several nights a week and is getting very good at identifying our Manta Rays.
This has happened to us once before in 2008. We were sure that we identified a new female Manta Ray and we called it Lisa Rae. But just a few days later we had to rename the Manta Ray to Capt. Mike. The claspers on young males are very small.
Many guests have asked if Nick Ray (Nicole Ray) is Big Bertha's little pup. We cannot be sure about this, because several females were pregnant last spring. But we are sure about this:
- Big Bertha gave birth in a two week window between June 30 and July 15, 2011 (check out her pregnancy diary here)
- Nick Ray was identified on July 18, 2011 with a wingspan of 3-4 feet..
- Big Bertha was pregnant in 2006 as well and we identified Vinny Ray on July 31, 2006.
This is a hypothesis, but check out the following comparison between Big Bertha's markings, Nick Ray and Vinny Ray. We think there are definite similarities.
More info next week. Keep checking back for news and updates...
Aloha, this was one of the best January's we have experienced in regards to weather conditions, Manta counts and special appearances at "Manta Heaven".
We usually have to cancel charters during the winter months, but this January we were out almost every night. And the Manta Rays were doing the same. On both locations we had sightings every night - we didn't get skunked! That is awesome!
It is almost too good to be true, but we have had many nights with Bottlenose Dolphins sightings at "Manta Heaven".
Enjoy this short video of these special guest appearances we enjoyed during the activity:
OMG - it was sooo exciting!
We are working on the statistics for January. We will publish them sometime next week.
We are also analyzing the stats for 2011 in regards to which Manta Ray showed up the most etc.
Check back soon for more info....