Swimming with Mantas
aerial perspective of two snorkelers swim with mantas

As snorkelers, we all want to swim with mantas. At least I assume everyone does. You should want to swim with mantas, it’s super sweet! If you don’t know why it’s super sweet, here are three reasons why it is. If you already know why swimming with mantas is super sweet, you can just skip along to the next paragraph where I explain how to best swim with mantas.

3 Reasons why Swimming with Mantas is Super Sweet

  1. Mantas are highly intelligent, they possess the largest brains and the largest brain-to-body ratio of any fish. Their brains are even bigger than whale sharks! Why is this super sweet? Well, in a roundabout way, it means that interactions with mantas are genuine interactions. When they look at you they make eye contact, you can feel them really looking at you and sussing you out. Each manta will have its own personality. If they decide they like you they will seemingly seek you out to ‘dance’ with, and at times you can even feel them trying to communicate with you by bobbing their heads or furling and unfurling their cephalic lobes (the flappy scoopy things on the front of their face).two manta rays with sun behind
  2. Mantas are really really big, and really safe. The wingspan for a big oceanic manta, the larger of the two species, can reach up to seven meters, or about twenty-two feet! Not only that, but they are essentially harmless. That big mouth they have is not for swallowing up snorkelers, it’s for hoovering up plankton, just like larger whales.  Unlike just about all of the other ray species, mantas do not have a poisonous barb on their tail, so there’s no need to fear being harpooned by these gentle giants. Little colorful reef fish are pretty, but swimming next to a gentle giant like a manta ray is a truly life-changing experience.
  3. Manta Interactions are Always Different. Mantas don’t just swim around the ocean aimlessly. They have daily routines, just like people. At certain points in the day, you might find them cleaning on a cleaning station. If they aren’t cleaning then you can most often find them feeding on the surface, which is a thrilling experience as well. If you are really lucky, you might just find anywhere from five to forty male mantas courting a single female! Throw in the fact that each manta has its own unique personality, no matter how many times you snorkel with mantas, each encounter will be unlike the past ones.

manta rays feeding on the surface

It might seem like a simple thing swimming with mantas. Find a manta and then swim with it, right? Nope. Not if you want to do it in a manner that encourages prolonged natural encounters with them, while also looking out for their well-being. Here are some pointers we should all follow as snorkelers any time we find out selves snorkeling with mantas or any sort of marine life, for that matter.

Let them Approach You

  • Take a very well-behaved and socially adapted pet dog, if you just suddenly run at it with big clunky footsteps and an outstretched hand, it’s probably going to shy away, even if it’s your own dog. If you approach it in a relaxed manner it will accept your advances and allow you to pet and play with it. No matter how relaxed and friendly mantas might seem, they are still wild animals so we need to be even more conservative with how we approach them. The best way to get close to mantas is to slowly swim to the general area where they are while keeping an approximate five-meter distance and then just wait. If the mantas want to come closer, which is most often the case, they will. If we let them control the interaction we will get longer and more frequent encounters with them.

Form a Line

  • With regards to multiple people being in the water with mantas at the same time, it’s very important that we don’t surround the mantas. The best practice is to form a sort of line so the manta or mantas have plenty of space and do not feel trapped.

Be Calm

  • Quite often mantas will appear to swim right at you as they feed on the surface. Don’t panic about getting too close and try to swim away. They know exactly what they are doing, they know exactly where you are, and are masters of gracefully dipping or banking around you at the very last moment. Just stay in the horizontal position and enjoy the close encounter. You abruptly and no doubt awkwardly trying to turn around and move out of the way will only spook the animal and ruin your manta encounter.

Do Not…

  • swim at a manta

  • chase a manta

  • dive down on one while it’s cleaning. You may dive down, but remember to be calm and follow all the rules from above, particularly the distance thing and letting them come to you.

  • touch a manta

  • surround a manta

  • use your flash or video lights

So, there you have it. Swimming with mantas is super sweet, and if we all follow a few very basic guidelines when we are in the water with them we can enjoy encounters with them that can go on for hours! To find out the best places to swim with mantas, check out this blog.

About Author

Alex Lindbloom
Alex is a Snorkel Venture and Dive Safari Asia guide as well as the video and photo pros for both companies. Alex is also a field editor for a popular underwater photography magazine. Prior to joining Snorkel Venture in 2018 Alex lived and worked all over the world working as an underwater cameraman, with five of those years living/working on a yacht in Indonesia. Alex's images and videos have garnered many international awards such as Underwater Photographer of the Year and can be seen on NatGeo, Discovery Channel, the UN Building, and various magazines.