Hawaii Manta Ray Snorkel – At Night on the Big Island

Our Hawaii manta ray snorkel was truly a sublime experience, one of the most amazing snorkeling adventures we have ever had. Our cameras at the time did a poor job, but the results do give a feel for how surreal it felt.

Hawaii Manta Ray Snorkel

We got on the boat at dusk, and motored out to sea, arriving after dark. Our destination was just off shore from the airport north of Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii, in Makako Bay.

Our Hawaii manta ray snorkel started in a surreal fashion and just kept getting more and more otherworldly. Once we had reached our destination our guides strapped colored glow sticks to our snorkels so that we could find each other in the dark on the water. Each different boating company has their own color, so we could easily keep track of our own group. There was at least a dozen boats. Swimming in the dark, in open ocean, with a hundred people with glow sticks on their snorkels was a completely unique experience all by itself. When do you ever see that?

As a group we swam a short ways away from the boat, until we found a big ring of very bright lights on the ocean floor, shining up into our eyes. Our guides also each had powerful handheld lights. And there were also about 50 divers on the sea bottom, all with handheld waterproof lights. Already this is really starting to feel like an alien experience.

And then it happened. We saw a movement coming out of the dark. And a huge winged creature suddenly flew up out of the depths right toward us and then started to turn big circles in front of our faces, getting as close as a foot away. That got our hearts pounding. It was a little unnerving, but quickly became a moment of awe. Then several more mantas joined us. Their underbellies were bright white, reflecting the lights. We could hear loud oohs and ahhs and giddy laughter coming out of the snorkels around us.

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Manta Ray gills during Big Island Manta Ray snorkel at night.

Then as we looked down, our minds started to really lose grip on reality. Everywhere we looked, in every light, there were dozens of these huge graceful creatures turning circles. There was so much new and foreign in this entire experience that both of our minds went a bit more numb and quiet.

We were very fortunate on our Hawaii manta ray snorkel. On this particular night there were over 30 individual mantas counted, a record number. There were a number of bigger females that had wing spans about 16 feet across, several of which were pregnant. And there were many more of the smaller males that had wing spans from 8 to 10 feet. The biologists and naturalists that go out with these boats are fanatics. They appear genuinely excited for each encounter, and have names for most of the mantas. They were very excited by the presence of the pregnant females. We are told that the babies are born like burritos, with their wings wrapped around them in a cocoon.

The manta rays visit this spot to feed on plankton. And the plankton is attracted to the light.

Hawaii Manta Ray Snorkel Videos

In the Hawaii manta ray snorkel video below, you will see lots of white specks in the water. That is the plankton. When we first got in the water, it was thick with plankton. But by an hour later, there was a noticeable reduction. The manta rays were feeding heavily. You may wish to turn up your speakers.

Here is a better video of the experience by another snorkeler.

Yes, the picture we pictures we took were terrible. We may have had some incorrect settings, or those old underwater cameras just could not handle the low light. But somehow the few pictures we did get manage to convey how eerie but beautiful the experience was.

Snorkelers with Manta Rays at night on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Manta Ray filter feeding at night.
Ghost Manta Ray at night.

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Don’t miss a Hawaii manta ray snorkel if you have the chance. It was fantastic! Read the community page below for recommendations of tour companies, or check out TripAdvisor for companies and reviews.

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