Snorkeling with Eagle and Manta Rays
If we could wish for one singular, out-of-this-world experience for visitors to Maui, it would be the chance to snorkel alongside a Manta or Eagle Ray. Rays are a spectacular sight and having one gracefully glide by as you're snorkeling is a moment you'll never forget!
Spotted Eagle Rays and Mantas are the most likely rays you'll see while snorkeling in Maui. They're classified as fish but don't have scales and like sharks (their close cousins), rays have skeletons made entirely of cartilage. It's not an everyday occurence to see them, so if you encounter one while snorkeling it's definitely your lucky day!
Spotted Eagle Rays are easily recognized by their white polka-dotted top-sides and a broad snout resembling a duck bill. They are smaller than mantas and have a long whip-like tail with several venomous barbs near its base. Known to be shy and wary of humans, whenever we encounter them they always "fly by" in a hurry. We spotted the juvenile shown above timidly darting back and forth along the shallows of Maluaka Beach. Spotted Eagle Rays are not aggressive creatures to fear, but their barbs can inflict serious pain if touched, so like all sea creatures give them plenty of space.
Manta Rays are the largest type of ray, outsized only by sharks and whales in the ocean. With wingspans in the 8-12 feet range around Maui, the first time you see one, it's hard not to be awe-struck. Looking a bit like an enormous flying bat with a cavernous, gaping mouth, it's a sure bet you've never seen anything like it in a lifetime on land—let alone gliding next to you in the water! If you didn't know anything about mantas, their size alone can be intimidating. But unlike their cousin (the shark), mantas are extremely gentle creatures. They do not have venomous barbs and despite their large mouth, they are filter feeders who dine on zooplankton and small fish. So if you're fortunate to have a manta gracefully pass by as you're snorkeling, relax and take pleasure in the moment, it's not often you'll enjoy such a unique privilege.
On rare occasions, Mantas and Eagle Rays are known to breach the water's surface, flying completely out of the water and sometimes somersaulting or cart-wheeling through the air. It's not known why rays take these unusual acrobatic flights. Speculation runs from courtship rituals to pure entertainment. What ever the reason, it's a spectacle to behold! Check out this amazing BBC video of the phenomena, "flights" begin at 50 seconds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oz6zOyZpYTY
To learn more about Maui's sea creatures and snorkeling tips for Maui, be sure to bookmark our blog and pick up a copy of Mask, Fins & Snorkel: The Adventure Guide to Maui's Best Snorkeling!