Giant oceanic mantas (Manta birostris) have arrived in the bay! Since May, we have seen an impressive amount of mantas near the coast during our monitoring activities, providing the perfect opportunity to start taking families from the coastal town of Yelapa, in Jalisco, Mexico, to have their first underwater encounter with this magnificent species. Convincing an entire family to go on an outing is more difficult than we expected, and the younger family members were a huge help in convincing the older ones; the interest and excitement already surrounding these giant, underwater neighbors were the drivers in getting families to participate. Some locals were well accustomed to seeing the twin tips of the manta’s fins protruding from the water, but they never imagined what awaited them by simply dipping their heads under the water’s surface.
The large amounts of zooplankton accumulated on the surface generated an impressive display of fin tips protruding on the surface. Lots of mantas swam about lazily, allowing us to get a great view.
Those participants who were a bit nervous were calmed by watching the peaceful creatures and absorbing the positive emotions being displayed by their younger family members. The turbidity and coldness of the water were hardly a deterrent for the little ones, who with their snorkeling equipment already on, waited anxiously to jump in. Once in the water they were immediately greeted by a big black manta about 4 meters (12 ft) in length, which circled around us with the same curiosity with which we observed her. Hearing the kids cry out with excitement was motivation enough for the adults who soon wanted to share in the experience.
Back in the boat, we exchanged our individual impressions and emotions. Many of the participants confessed that they had been nervous at first, but the presence of the gentle mantas nearby dispelled any irrational fears. Others shared tall tales they had been told about mantas when they were younger, and explained how this experience helped to alter these misrepresentations they had grown up with. Surely, none of the participants, least of all us, will soon forget this sunny afternoon spent under the sea with the tranquil denizens of Bahia de Banderas.
We would like to thank the Disney Foundation, David Connell & Associates, and everyone who helped support the Manta Project’s family snorkeling program.
By Iliana Fonseca
Iliana, along with Aldo Jiménez, has been an on-site coordinator at the Mexican Pacific Manta Project, in Bahia de Banderas, Nayarit, Mexico since 2013. Iliana is conducting research to reveal spatial and temporal relationships between Manta’s and zooplankton, their main diet, while facilitating education and awareness activities that promote manta conservation within the local community.