Adventure, Animal Encounters, Featured Adventure

Snorkeling with the Ballerinas of the Ocean


I prepared to jump from the Hula Kai Adventures boat into the endless abyss. I had no idea what to expect below. Resting stations were set up only feet from the boat, but in the dark of night on the Pacific Ocean I could feel my pulse quicken. Before I even stepped off the boat, I could see the gigantic shadows  gliding through the water. I was about to snorkel with enormous manta rays in Hawaii. Even now as I type it, it doesn’t sound real. There are some opportunities in life that everyone should experience and snorkeling with manta rays is one of them.

Hula Kai Manta Ray Night Snorkel

Manta rays are harmless relatives of the shark, lacking the tail stinger of stingrays. Their wingspan can reach up to 25 feet and they can weigh as much as 5,000 pounds. While that all sounds overwhelming, as soon as you witness their gentle, gracefulness you’ll understand why I was so calm.

Hula Kai Manta Ray Night Snorkel

The water was illuminated by strategically placed waterproof spotlights on the seafloor. Bright light attract manta rays because they feed on plankton that drifts in the water and the light directs them to their food.

As soon as I entered the water, I looked below the surface with my mask. I could see about half a dozen massive mantas flipping and turning but it wasn’t aggressive or intimidating. The gracefulness of each movement drew me closer. I swam toward the floating station that was set up and I rested my hands on the soft, foam bars lined up for each person snorkeling. There were about 25 other snorkelers in the water, including Darren, but I felt like the mantas were performing specifically for me. I quickly forgot about my fear of other water inhabitants and completely relaxed as the black and white mantas spun beneath me and at times against me.

Hula Kai Manta Ray Night Snorkel

During the hour I spent in the water, several of the mantas swam so close to my body that I held my breath to avoid touching them. About half way through the experience, one manta was filling up on plankton as it danced below me. I sensed that it was getting closer than the others but I assumed it would turn before reaching me; then it happened. The manta brushed its body against my wetsuit. It was massive and its gigantic wings wrapped around the sides of my body before it turned away. I was in complete awe. It was more than an up-close encounter. I never imagined I would remain so calm but he was just gently saying hello before continuing on his way. A fear that once consumed me had disappeared and I gained a new respect and appreciation for these beautiful creatures.

Manta Ray Night Snorkel - Hula Kai

I watched the video and looked at the pictures when I returned to the boat. Again, I couldn’t believe that the whole experience was real. I felt like I just woke up from an elaborate dream. It was an outer body experience. Rather than just remembering it, I have a video to bring me back to Hula Kai Adventures and snorkeling with the manta rays.

Photos are courtesy of James L. Wing but the video is all Bucket List Publications

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18 thoughts on “Snorkeling with the Ballerinas of the Ocean

  1. Heather says:

    What a fantastic experience! Those manta rays don’t seem to mind at all that they’re being watched. You’re so lucky that one of them actually touched you!

    1. Lesley says:

      It was so beautiful and we didn’t touch the rays at all. I don’t think it disturbed them. It might have been my favorite adventure to date.

  2. Krystal Burke says:

    We went with Hula Kai Adventures after your suggestion and it was our favorite experience on the island. Thanks!

    1. Lesley says:

      It might have been my favorite water adventure of my life. I totally understand. I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay on the island.

  3. Suzanne says:

    We had the best time with the manta rays. I’m so glad I found your site before visiting Hawaii. You have the best suggestions.


    1. Lesley says:

      Thank you! I’ve been able to have some amazing adventures. I look forward to returning again to explore more of the state.

  4. Keryn says:

    All of my family wanted to try this on our trip but I was too nervous. Your post convinced me. I’m going to try it during our visit next month. I’m heading to the island for a wedding but staying for an extra week of fun. I’ll be making the most of the long flight from the east coast.

    1. Lesley says:

      An island wedding sounds lovely. Enjoy and I know you’ll love the manta rays. Let me know if you have any questions. I’m happy to help. 🙂

  5. Vanessa says:

    The mantas are so graceful and lovely! I’ve been able to watch them from balconies before but I’ve never been so lucky to swim with them.

    1. Lesley says:

      I never thought I’d have the courage to swim with them but I’m so grateful that I did. They are graceful and beautiful.

  6. Wow, from the title I didn’t expect a night snorkel trip. I must say I might get scared a bit. But it sounds like an extraordinary experience!

  7. I admire your adventurous spirit swimming with the mantas, I am a total wuss and find them terrifying, even looking at your picture and video make me cringe.

  8. Ever since I’ve seen manta rays up close, I have been smitten at how graceful they are! Since you’re into diving, I suggest that you come over to the Philippines if you haven’t yet! We’re a part of the Coral Triangle so you would LOVE what you’ll see here underwater. I also have a recent post about my first scuba diving experience in the Philippines and I hope it entices you!

  9. Snorkeling at night really has lots of surprises. I am really happy that you got touched by one of the Manta Rays. I would really be scared at first too, but they’re really interesting creatures. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  10. What a fun adventure. I have never even heard of Manta rays. I petted my first sting ray at an aquarium a few weeks ago in Tampa and I could not get over how strong they are! Wow, incredible creatures.

  11. Mar says:

    Oh what an incredible experience! I have seen lots of mantas in the wild in Southeast Asia but never so up and close! I love their majestic swimming and the gentleness and grace of their movements, such beautiful creatures!

  12. Rosemary says:

    What an extraordinary adventure. The mantra rays look really intimidating, but glad to hear that they actually are not. Great pics and video that bring your experience to life. Looks like loads of fun!!

  13. anto says:

    Wow, this is quite an adventure! I’d love to go on one of those, if only I weren’t so afraid of water …

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