Holy Bat Phone! How to Be on Call to Swim with Manta Rays
(Photo by Niv Froman)
I was in the shower when I got the call.
I was so excited by the lyrical humming of the old school Nokia ringtone, that I nearly slipped on the polished concrete trying to answer it.
“30 mantas have been spotted. Please report to the jetty,” a softly accented Maldivian voice told me.
In 60 seconds I was in a bathing suit, wet hair dripping down my back as I sped on my beach cruiser to the jetty in the hopes of seeing some manta rays.
The islands of the Maldives, an archipelago just off the coast of Central Africa, are known for all of their marine life, but particularly for their turtles, whale sharks, and their manta rays, better known as En Madi in these parts.
“Manta on Call” is something I was trying out at the Four Seasons on Landaa Giraavaru island. While quite plentiful in the Hanifaru Bay of the Baa Atoll (a UNESCO World Heritage site), manta rays can still be elusive creatures. The resort’s new program is intended to maximize the efficiency of your holiday. Rather than spend hours fruitlessly searching the atoll for mantas on a boat, this program gives you an old school Nokia phone attached to a waterproof baggie on a string (you put it around your neck) and then pings you when the manta scientists spot the fish. Then you run, not walk, to the jetty, hop on a boat, and take a 25-minute ride out to the manta feeding ground.
I boarded a small scuba boat with Niv Froman, a marine biologist and manta researcher originally from Milan.
“They are wild creatures. They could be gone by the time we get there,” he said.
“Are you just lowering my expectations?” I asked. He nodded with a smirk.
(Photo by Niv Froman)
The Maldives are the best place in the world to see and swim with manta rays in the wild, especially during the monsoon season (which just started last week). In the Baa Atoll, more than 3,000 individual mantas have been spotted in the past three years. In 2010, manta scientists had one sighting of 251 mantas all gathered in a group.
Manta scientists identify individuals by the black spots on their otherwise white bellies. Frequently seen manta have names—Babaganoush, Squirt, Dipstick. Niv ticks his manta friends off on his fingers.
“My personal favorite is Pancake. He is extremely friendly,” Niv informed me.