On the Eleventh Day of Christmas I Finally Got to See

Eleven Mantas Mingling,
Ten Turtles Tapping,
Nine Whale Sharks Waiting,
Eight Dingos Digging,
Seven Cassowaries,
Six Emus Eating,
Five Great White Sharks,
Four Koalas Cuddling,
Three Snapping Crocs, 
Two Red Kangaroos,
And a Kookaburra in a Gum Tree

The Manta Rays of the Ningaloo Reef have been my favourite encounter on our lap of Australia so far. Beautiful and serene creatures, especially when you find a relaxed and slow moving one. Snorkelling on the surface looking down over a Manta on a reef cleaning station is surreal. One time we were greeted by eight mantas, we just didn’t know where to look.

In Spanish, the word Manta means blanket or cloak. I think it is the perfect word to describe their body shape, like a magical carpet gliding under the waters surface. 

A four manta mating chain on the Ningaloo reef.
A four manta mating chain

Just like the whale shark, the manta has their own unique ‘finger prints’ to help researchers identify them. On their belly they have distinct markings and this is what allows us to tell the difference between them. A lot of photographers like to get belly shots to see the unique markings for each manta.

A belly shot of a Manta ray for identification.

In order to stay alive they need to keep swimming, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This constant movement allows water to be continuously flushed over their gills, this water movement allows the transfer of gases to occur and help them to breathe! If a Manta ever wants to have a little break from swimming, they won’t be able to breathe!

They do enjoy a good spa day and make sure they visit the local reef cleaning station regularly. At these areas of reef small fish will clean dead skin and parasites off their bodies. This is a perfect example of one of the many mutualistic relationships that can be found in the underwater realm. One of the reasons that cleaning stations are popular spots with local snorkellers and scuba divers. 

A manta ray swimming over a coral cleaning station.
Gorgeous manta at a coral cleaning station

They are one of the smartest fish in the ocean, with the largest brain of any fish! Would you believe it they are especially developed for communicating, learning and even problem solving. It has been known that they can even recognise themselves in a mirror, so if you snorkel a lot with a manta ray they may even come to recognise you too!

Where can you see a Manta Ray?

Coral Bay is ‘the’ place in Australia to encounter the magnificent Mantas as they can be seen all year round! I have always been a little bit scared of the water, a land baby really, but the day I snorkelled with a Manta Ray was incredible. It was an out of body experience, I forgot where I was and it was just me and the lady of the bay ‘Freckles’. No matter when you plan your trip, the mantas will be ready and waiting for you to snorkel with them on one of the many manta tour companies in the bay. It will be an experience you will be talking about for YEARS I promise you.

Sarah swimming alongside one of Coral Bays resident Manta rays.
Freckles the manta and I

Lady Elliot is known as the ‘The Home of the Manta Ray’, however the best time to see them is during the winter months. On our trip to the island we spotted a big Manta at a cleaning station getting a spa treatment over the sand flats. Looking out the window of the plane on our flight home there was over 30 mantas gliding through the sea, INSANE. My only regret from our time at Lady Elliot, is that we weren’t certified divers at the time! 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s