The manta descended down on top of me until I was lying in the sand motionless – Feb. 10, 2010

Location: The Canyon dive site, San Benedicto, Socorro Islands, Mexico
As Captain onboard the Nautilus Explorer, I often get caught up in the “daily grind” of the day to day operations, sometimes forgetting why I chose this as a career in the first place, which of course is the scuba diving. It’s too easy to find something that needs doing, or too easy to stay topside to fret about the weather forecast or other operational concerns. Of course those things are a requirement of the job, too, but once in awhile I need to clear my mind and remind myself why I am here. Today we are anchored at the Canyon, at San Benedicto. As with all our divesites here at the Socorro Islands, and anywhere else that is all about big animal diving, The Canyon can be super hot one day, and quiet the next. Or we can see no Mantas there two trips running then have it be Manta Ray heaven for 3 trips in a row. But when it’s hot, it is hot! Right now, and for the past couple of weeks, it has been on fire. So today when one of our guests, Anne from Paris, asked me to go for a dive with her it was the perfect excuse for me to indulge myself in some world class big animal diving. After lunch and a little digestion time, we suited up and jumped in with hammerheads and manta rays on our mind. As we made our way down the drop line towards the anchor I felt myself relaxing immediately, and knew this was just what the doctor ordered no matter what we encountered. We hadn’t reached the anchor line yet when our first Manta appeared mid-water, cruising by around 30 feet away as if to acknowledge our presence and dip his wings at us in greeting. The current was running at a moderate pace, enough that we followed the anchor line to the bottom and used the bottom topography to pull ourselves towards the ridge where the hammerheads can usually be seen. As we were pulling ourselves along the bottom I surveyed the immediate vicinity to check out conditions. At 80 ft the surface could be seen clearly, and the water was a rich, deep blue, the perfect backdrop for the photographers in the crowd. As we approached the ridge we looked up to see another Giant Pacific Manta, hovering around 10 ft above the ridge and several divers who were clinging to the rock. The Manta was using the current to remain stationary directly above the divers, taking full advantage of the opportunity for a Scuba bubble belly tickle (say that 10 times fast). Me and my buddy stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the Manta, then continued on through a cut in the ridge and down to the edge of the drop, using the big rocks as cover so as not to scare any hammerheads that might be patrolling the wall. Several other divers could be seen lined up similarly along the ridge, everyone staying low and trying to blend in as much as possible. We didn’t wait long before the sleek body and distinctive head of several hammerhead sharks appeared, cruising along the ridge and giving all the divers lined up along it a great view. We stayed for around 10 minutes at our perch, enjoying a slow but steady parade of the beautiful sharks passing by around 30 feet away, including one of the largest hammerheads I have ever seen. After we had our fill of hammerheads, we made our way along the ridge at a shallower depth, enjoying big green morays, curious mexican hogfish, schooling big-eyed jacks, a couple white-tipped reef sharks, plus countless other small fish. Shortly after turning around to head back towards the anchor line, skirting the sandy area on the edge of the rocky ridge, two Giant Pacific Mantas materialized out of the blue, and these two wanted some attention. For the next 15 minutes (but what felt like hours), the two mantas took turns circling in towards us, hovering an arms length above us, before slowly veering off to let the other Manta come in for it’s turn at some human interaction. Near the end of this interaction, as one of the mantas hovered above me, I used my octopus to increase the bubble stream flowing along it’s belly. Apparently she enjoyed this, because instead of slowly moving away from me as before, she began descending ever so slowly, forcing me down until I was literally laying in the sand, and she was hovering in the current 2 feet above me, basically pinning me down on the bottom. It’s a really incredible experience to interact with a totally wild animal this intimately, without doing anything to entice it to come so close. After 45 minutes of amazing big animal diving we made our way back to the drop line hanging from the stern, only to turn around and see one of the Manta Rays hovering near the surface around 40 feet behind us, facing us as if wondering where we were going. This was one of those dives where time seems to stand still. It felt like it lasted for hours, and the therapeutic effect of the dive was so complete that I totally forgot that I was actually still at work. The high is only now starting to wear off, after over an hour of off-gassing, and I think I’m just about ready to get back to my duties. Well, maybe I’ll take a few more minutes.
Hope to dive with you soon!
Captain Gordon Kipp

By Nautilus Staff

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