Swimming with Manta Rays at night is by far one of the most popular tours and activities in Kona, Hawaii. It is even regarded as one of the best night dives in the world! Read below to learn more about it and how you can sign up and join a manta ray night snorkel during your next Hawaii vacation.
What is a manta ray?
Manta Rays are highly intelligent, giant disc shaped creatures. Their bodies are soft and made up of mostly cartilage. In fact, “Manta“ is a Spanish word for blanket or cloak and describes their fluid body.
Their shape allows them to majestically flap their winged pectoral fins to create an appearance of flying underwater. With a wing span of 3.5m (11.5ft) wide and 5.5m (18ft) long they are some of the largest sea creatures found in Hawaii. And living up to 50 years old, they are also some of the oldest.
The dorsal (top) side of the manta ray skin is a blueish gray. The ventral (bottom) side is mostly white with black pigmentation spots. These spots are unique to each manta ray and is what allows researchers to identify each manta ray individually. They even have unique recorded names which can be found here
During the day manta rays are solitary creatures. However, during their night time feeding they can be seen coming together as they feast on their main food source, plankton.
When can I see manta rays in Kona?
Hawaiian manta ray swimming is not a seasonal activity. Our resident rays do not migrate and instead make their home just off our coast lines allowing opportunity to view them all year. However, sometimes large winter storms in December, January, and February, can occasionally (but not always) make the ocean rough. Therefore fall, spring, and summer are the optimal seasons.
As for time of day, you have to swim and view them at night.
How it works:
Every evening as the sky turns dark, the manta rays swim over their feeding stations. Feeding stations are specific areas of coral reefs off the coast of Kailua-Kona, where the manta rays gather to eat the plankton that is attracted to coastal light put off by the hotels, restaurants, and the town.
Nightly tours are offered for snorkeling and scuba divers to view this incredible wild life experience. After booking your boat tour, you will meet the captain and crew at the harbor. From there you will be motored out (about 30 minute ride) to the manta ray feeding stations where you will be given a safety and instructional briefing. From there, the crew will deploy a floating light raft, which is a buoyant foam raft equipped with underwater lights that attract plankton. You will then be given a snorkel and mask, helped into the water, and given a handle on the raft to hold onto.
Now simply just float along, holding the raft, with your mask in the water while breathing through your snorkel. You will view the giant majestic manta rays gracefully swoop past you with their large open mouths grazing on plankton as they pass by just a few feet out of reach.
Because manta rays eat approximately 12% of their body weight each week, you will be sure to see them make multiple passes through your light beams.
If you are a certified diver you can choose to scuba dive. During the night scuba dive you will be equipped with an underwater light that you can shine up towards the surface. By creating a column of light the manta rays follow your beam and get up close and personal.
Manta Night Snorkeling vs. Manta Night Scuba Diving
Snorkeling - Floating on the surface while holding on to a floating light raft. Viewing through a mask and breathing through a snorkel.
Scuba Diving - Sinking to the bottom while using a night dive light. Viewing through a mask and breathing through a regulator.
Who should swim with manta rays?
Manta ray night snorkeling in Kona is hands down one of the best activities and tours in the Hawaiian Islands. Anyone who has an interest in snorkeling, underwater ecosystems, marine life, etc should absolutely swim with manta rays in Hawaii.
Swimming with manta rays in Kona, Big Island is easy. You do not have to be an expert swimmer making it accessible to almost everyone. The main thing you will need to know how to do is STAY CALM, hold onto the light raft, float on your stomach, and gently breathe through the snorkel. Unless you have a strong phobia against deep water, you will love this activity!
Other than that, just enjoy the show. The manta rays will soar through the beams of light that is attracting plankton for them to eat.
Is it safe to swim with manta rays at night?
Anytime you enter the ocean you are always taking on some level of risk. But the short answer is yes, it is very safe.
Manta rays do not have a stinger or barb like stingrays do. And because they feed on plankton they have no interest in biting.
Where can you swim with manta rays in Hawaii?
All of the manta night snorkeling boat charters in Hawaii are located in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island.
There are two main locations just outside of Kona town that are consistent manta ray viewing reefs. These sites are called Manta Village and Manta Heaven.
Manta Village - Located just off the coast of Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort and Spa. Manta Village is the most convenient and popular spot for manta ray viewing. Annually, Manta Village has the highest manta sightings and is the standard location for night snorkeling and scuba diving tours.
Manta Heaven - Also known as Garden Eel Cove is the second popular spot. It is located north of Keahole Point, the western most point of Big Island. It is just offshore to the Kona International Airport. Because it is further from Kona town it is less crowded then Manta Village. But can also be less consistent in sightings.
In conclusion, both sights have pros and cons. When choosing a manta ray location it is best to let your trusted captain and crew be your guide as they are the experts.
Why should I do this?
Being able to swim with manta rays at night is an incredibly rare opportunity that should be taken advantage of. In fact, Kona is the only place in Hawaii and the United States you can do so.
Even more so, it is one of the only places in the world you can see manta rays feeding. Other places include, Maldives, Galapagos, and the Great Barrier Reef.
Swimming and floating alongside these gentle giants will stay with you for a lifetime. And I whole heartedly believe that after the experience you will be left with an awe of inspiration and respect for Hawaii’s underwater ecosystem and the marine life that calls it home.