As the Photo Pro on the Kona Aggressor, I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to dive Kona’s world famous Manta Night Dive more often than most, so I am fully aware of the photographic challenges, but also the unique opportunities, of this dive site.
Mantas come to the dive site each night to feed on plankton, which congregates around lights brought by divers. The dive is full of underwater photography challenges – lots of divers, plenty of plankton that can cause backscatter, stray light from flashlights, and often a nice Hawaiian-style swell stirring up the black sand bottom and moving you back and forth in 35ft of water…and then mantas have to show up. However, when it all works out, the photographic possibilities are limitless.
While feeding, mantas seem to do a ballet by swimming in circles up and over the divers and come close enough to make a diver duck for cover. Capturing this moment when the mantas are doing a back flip in the water column was my goal.
The perfect opportunity for this photo presented itself while diving off the Kona Aggressor. Often ten or more boats show up for the Manta Night Dive with 100+ divers and snorkelers each night. As a liveaboard, we have the luxury of being able to wait to start our dive until the other boats were about half way through. So during our dive, most of the crowds were leaving and we had some privacy.
In the end it was just ten of us and the plankton had dispersed a bit (less lights = less plankton). This, combined with having my strobes as far away from the camera as possible, helped with backscatter issues. The lack of people and plankton meant it was good dive for photography.
While observing the mantas behavior and how they were moving through the water, I saw two male mantas that would brush over a diver’s heads from behind them and then come together, belly to belly, in the middle of the circle. They would continue their circle, bellies upward, back away from each other, only to complete the loop behind the same two divers. I took a lot of shots as they moved through the water and managed to catch one where they were in the mid dance, right before they circled away from each other.
Back on the Aggressor, the two male manta rays were identified by the markings on their underside as Blain and Grayer, both common visitors to the Manta Night Dive.
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