Blown away by the Manta Ray

June 8, 2016

Off the coast of the big island of Hawaii, we don wet suits, snorkels and masks and splash into the salty Pacific. As dusk approaches we make our way the short distance from the chartered boat to the raft, grabbing the red handles that ring the structure in order to float with legs stretched out.

Within minutes a twelve foot Manta Ray swims into view not four feet away, its wings flapping fluidly as it banks left and swims off. “Argglg!” I exclaim through my snorkel. Even though we are expecting them, the appearance out of the depths is still startling, as is their size of up to sixteen feet from wing tip to wing tip. Within several minutes there is one after another looping up in front of us, gigantic mouths wide open and gills spread to filter and catch as many plankton as possible. We see their gray and sometimes spotted top and white belly as they make several circuits in a row and I am in awe of the acrobatic and graceful arc that they carve as they repeat this choreography. My eyes grow wide and I am wonderstruck at their size, elegance and utter grace. They come within inches of our outstretched bodies, and several times I’m certain that one of their wings will brush against me.

Suddenly a shout pierces the air. “SH*T! OH SH*T!” It is the teenager from the family of five. “MOM, IT’S SO HUGE!” he bellows at the top of his lungs. At first I am annoyed, worried that his screaming will scare the Mantas. It quickly becomes evident that this is not the case as more of these enormous creatures make their way to the lights from the raft, which attracted the plankton. The boy cannot contain himself. Any veneer of teenage cool has vanished as he continues at volume ten: “MOM, IT’S SO CLOSE. THEY’RE AMAZING. IT’S LIKE A BALLERINA DANCE. SH*T!” Now it is pee-your-pants funny. And the joy that is unselfconsciously bubbling up from him is contagious.

His voice booms utter astonishment mixed with a touch of fear, as he is completely overcome with these toothless and stinger-free giants. I cannot even fathom how he can keep his mask underwater while his mouth is above water to narrate his flabbergasted observations. Anything I try to say comes out in a garbled mush. My husband, who is immediately to my right does not even hear him at all, we find out later. My 26 year old daughter is in between the kid and me and is as tickled as I am.

Even as we are reverent, and silently witnessing the majesty of the moment, there is a part of all of us that feels exactly like this fifteen year old. We all want to scream and shout and wiggle all around and it is just our desire to interfere as little as possible (and our snorkels) that help us to remain silent. For every moment that I am speechless, he is broadcasting the magic with his natural megaphone.” SH*T! OH MY GOD! IT’S A LITTLE SCARY BUT THEY’RE SO COOOOOOL!” Honest and pure, life giving and hilarious, unadulterated WONDER.

I am IMMENSELY GRATEFUL that the unbridled enthusiasm of this awestruck teenager was PRESENT to enhance our reverence of these magnificent animals of the sea. They will remain forever favorites, coupled with the neon lit expletives provided by our young friend.

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