Articles, Blog


Coming up next on Jonathan Bird’s Blue World, Jonathan investigates the world’s largest rays! I’ve come to Yap, Micronesia,
famous for its huge stone
money… and its giant manta rays. Hi, I’m Jonathan Bird and
welcome to my world! ( ♪ music ) Yap is a remote island in the
Pacific—about halfway between
Japan and Australia. Divers travel here from all
over the world to see an
amazing and huge animal. I’m talking about manta rays,
the largest rays in the world,
and they should be right under the boat! Let’s go take a
look! As I drop into the water, I
notice that it’s pretty murky. I’m diving in a channel through
the fringing reef, between the
open ocean and the land. As the tide changes, water
flows in and out of this
channel. When it flows out, it takes
nutrients from the mangroves
with it, and the water becomes murky. The current is moving me along
rapidly, and I ride it like a
river, following my guide John to a section of reef where
we hope to find mantas. I tuck into a position at the
base of a coral head, out of
the current, and wait. The swift current blows the coral polyps
like wind, and sweeps along
pieces of eelgrass and mangrove leaves from the lagoon. I wait a long time. It takes
nearly an hour, but finally a
shape emerges from the murky distance. I would recognize that shape
anywhere—the beautiful and
graceful motion of a manta ray, soaring like a huge bird
through the water. It stops
over the coral. A dozen or so tiny fish
converge on the ray while it
hovers, just over their home.
The fish are cleaner wrasses. They
pluck parasites from the rays,
and this coral head is known as a cleaning station. It’s a great symbiotic
relationship because both the
fish and the rays benefit from
it. The fish get a meal of tasty
parasites likes copepods and
scraps of dead skin, while the manta gets rid of parasitic
annoyances that can cause
infection. Cleaning is not always a
pleasant experience though.
Sometimes one of the cleaner
fish nibbles a little too hard and
the manta jumps away. At the end of my dive, I do a
short decompression stop for
safety, then head up. That was incredible! The
current was really strong and
it was blowing me back and I
could barely hold on, but the manta
ray was just flying gently into
the current, holding its position over the cleaning
station. It’s really incredible
to see. It’s no coincidence that the
mantas like a little bit of
current while they are being cleaned. Mantas, like all rays and
sharks, have no swim bladder. A
bony fish can hover in
mid-water, perfectly still, because it has
a swim bladder to control its
buoyancy. Sharks and rays sink if they stop swimming. The enormous wings of the
manta, reaching 25 feet across,
allow them to fly though the water like a bird. And like a
bird, if they stop flapping,
they will begin to glide towards the bottom. The mantas come to the cleaning
station at a particular time,
but it has nothing to do with the time of day. Like a
runner on a treadmill, the
mantas require just the right
amount of water movement so they can swim
in place to be cleaned by the
fish. They follow the timing of the tides, preferring to be
cleaned just before or after
slack tide, when the water is moving, but not too fast. This manta is holding its mouth
wide open so the cleaners can
go inside. As long as we don’t get too
close, the mantas are not
bothered by our cameras and
bubbles at all. There are only a few prime
cleaning stations, and they
have become social stops as much as hygienic visits. Often there
are a dozen or more manta rays
at the cleaning station, all taking turns being cleaned,
and interacting with each other
while waiting. Each manta ray has a unique
pattern of spots on its belly,
which can be used like a
fingerprint to identify it individual
animals Here at Yap Divers,
they have been documenting and photographing these spot
pattern for many years, and
they have identified more than 60 individual manta rays and
giving them nicknames. This
morning I got to meet Zorro. Zorro has three little spots
and a pair of stripes between
her gills. Underwater, she was easy to
identify: the three spots, and
the stripes. Being able to identify
individuals has proved that the
mantas around Yap stay here for
long periods of time. They’re not
just passing through—they live
here, and the divers see the same ones over and over and
over. Yap has more to see than just
mantas though. I cruise over to
the other side of the island to explore the outer reefs. There I see magnificent coral
and crystal clear water, far
away from the murky water in the channel. I swim with a big school of
barracudas. When I get too
close, I spook them. I watch a sea turtle munching
on a sponge. And I swim in magnificent coral
caverns—tunnels that snake
between the coral heads and make me feel like I’m exploring
another planet. Yet, at the end of my dive, as
I emerge from the cavern, I see
another manta ray flying over, far from the cleaning
station. It’s almost as if this
single manta has come to bid me farewell. It’s a magical
and fitting end to an
astonishing journey. ( ♪ music ) ( ♪ music )


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *