WHALE SHARK and MANTA RAYS
The manta rays of San Benedicto love freedivers. Wild and magnificent, they become tame once you touch them. One lucky day, when the tuna were scarce, these giants came to play. Temporarily dropping my buoyed gun to the bottom, I yell to my friend and fellow bluewater hunter Bob Caruso to get his camera.
A manta ray rises under me, its jet-black body and white wingtips contrasting sharply with the brilliant blue water below. Taking a deep breath, I swim toward it. Two large remora fish, their ugly heads firmly suctioned to the ray's back on either side of its flat mouth, make perfect reins. Sensing the increased drag as I grasp the remoras' tails, this winged stallion of the seas surges forward and down, starting a giant outside loop. We're flying! Now upside down, 40 feet under, its massive body shields me from the sun. Water rushes by my ears as its great beating wings return me to the surface, where I dismount for air.
Suddenly a shark-like form appears in the indigo distance, light rays playing off its speckled back. Recognizing it as a whale shark, I wonder, 'They don't bite, or do they?' As it turns toward me, I'm relieved to see that its bearded mouth has no teeth. The 'beard' is really dozens of foot-long hitchhiking remora fish lined up under its jaw. It passes close enough for me to gently grasp its dorsal fin. Expecting either an acceleration in speed or a quick slap from its tail, I'm surprised to find that it just accepts my weight_and off we go. I hold on as long as my breath lasts. Soon it returns me to the pinnacle, where my fellow divers join the fun. Entranced, we ride these wonderful animals for hours, accumulating stories for a lifetime.
In the evening, exhausted and out of film, we move our boat the Ambar III to shelter, miles away from this magical spot. Returning the next day, we are astonished to find the whale shark and manta rays still circling the same pinnacle, welcoming us back for another day of wild rides.
Keen observers, bluewater hunters witness an amazing range of sights, from the beauty of our ocean environment to complex fish behavior, including feeding, aggression and courtship. Using either a still camera or a video recorder, we can document these scenes and our catches. The resulting images effectively bridge the comprehension gap between us and our landlubber friends, and lend credibility to the story of the "one that got away."
This chapter starts with advice from some of the best bluewater image hunters; the balance covers a simplified approach to creating top-quality still and video images.
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Copyright © 1997 Terry Maas, BlueWater Freedivers