Ningaloo Reef, off the coast of Western Australia, has deservedly become famous in recent years for the opportunity to swim with whale sharks, the biggest fish of the ocean. However, these aren’t the only giants of the sea you can interact with: you can also swim with manta rays, which unlike the whale sharks can be seen year round in the region.
What are Manta Rays?
Although related to stingrays and sharks, manta rays do not have a sharp barb or teeth, instead being harmless filter feeders. They have a large toothless mouth, which they use like a sieve to scoop up plankton and fish larvae, often whilst swimming in loops or “barrelling” through the water. The wingspan of mantas has been measured at over 7.6m, but those frequently Ningaloo Reef are generally about 2-3m across.
Manta Ray Tours at Ningaloo Reef
Trips to both snorkel, and also dive, with manta rays are available from both Exmouth and Coral Bay. Due to a resident population near Coral Bay, its trips are available year round, whilst the trips from Exmouth (where the manta rays are just visitors) are generally only offered from May to November, with variations in their availability between the different tour operators.
Manta Ray Snorkelling Tour at Coral Bay
My first experience with these magnificent creatures was on a diving plus manta ray snorkelling trip with Ningaloo Reef Dive in Coral Bay. After our first dive of the day, our boat motored further along the shoreline. Up above in the skies was a spotter plane, letting our skipper know where they can see manta rays near the surface of the water (just like with the whale sharks). On the way, we were informed about the rules for snorkelling with manta rays (we need to keep a certain distance away and not go in front of the creatures) and then we geared up in our wetsuits, fins, masks and snorkels.
On the command of one of the boat’s crew, we entered the water and swam over to another crew member who is in the water locating the manta ray. And there it was, just below us. It was “barrelling”, feeding in a spiral motion, coming up towards the surface and exposing its white underside (most commonly they are black on top and white underneath), before heading back down. It was a spectacular sight to see, especially when a few more manta rays also joined in.
Manta Ray Dive Trip at Exmouth
A few days later I had my second encounter with the manta rays, on a trip from Exmouth with the Exmouth Diving Centre. It was mainly a whale sharking trip, but first up before heading after the whale sharks we had an initial snorkel or dive. One of the most popular dive sites in Exmouth is known as Central Station, and is a manta ray “cleaning station”, a large “bommie” where the giants can go to get a clean from other small fish. This is where we went on our dive.
Heading down into the deep, firstly we just saw the wall of coral and small fish. We started to head along the bottom and there in front of us was the “cleaning station”, with a manta ray swimming towards us. We crouched down on the sandy bottom and just gazed as this huge creature, only metres away from us. For about 10 minutes we just watched it, after which it glided away. We swam over to check out the fish around the bommie and then were heading back along the floor, when another manta comes over for a clean.
It’s magnificent watching the huge manta rays gliding right past you, whether underneath or beside you in the water, and something that I highly recommend you do, whether at Ningaloo Reef or elsewhere around the world when you get the opportunity.
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