Story Behind the Shot – The Manta Train
Due to its popularity on social media the last few days, I have decided to tell the story behind the “Manta Train” photo. This photo was taken in Yap, Micronesia on a dive site called “Valley of the Rays”, in Goofnuw Channel, a passage that connects the lagoon to the open ocean on the North East side of the island group. From the months of May/June through to Oct/Nov, mantas are often found in this channel hovering above one of several cleaning stations while being swept clean of parasites by a variety of wrasse and butterfly fish. During certain times of the month, around full and new moon, there can be a lot of plankton in the water (possibly fish eggs from a mass mating event or coral spawning) and large groups of mantas congregate in the channel in order to scoop up this food source.
On this particular occasion, I had arrived on a boat with Yap Divers (Manta Ray Bay Hotel), early in the morning and the conditions were perfect; sun, flat calm sea, and the beginning of the rising tide. We jumped in the water at the edge of the pass and began to slowly drift into the channel with a mild current. Not long after, we began to encounter small groups of mantas swimming back and forth along the water column, their mouths agape, scooping up nutrients from the water. As we drifted further into the channel, the groups of mantas became ever more numerous and the encounters continued non-stop; both near the surface as well as up to 10-15 metres deep. An interesting behaviour of feeding mantas is that they often “draft” one another in long lines with the one behind slightly higher in the water column than the one in front, similar to how a cyclist stays close to the rider in front to improve aerodynamics. This behaviour allows the manta situated behind to scoop up plankton that has been pushed over the top of the manta in front, allowing for a more efficient feeding action. For this photo, I was hovering not too far from the surface when a large group of mantas in feeding formation turned and came racing toward me with mouths wide open. As I saw them turn I immediately swam downward and was able to situate myself just above the “Manta Train” and fire off a series of shots. This shot is my favourite and I believe it’s the one that captures the mantas behaviour best; a close inspection reveals 8 mantas in this photo.
Nikon D70, Aquatica Housing, Nikkor 12-24mm lens at 12mm, f8, 1/100, ISO 200, no strobes