GRACEFUL GIANTS OF THE OCEAN
Swimming with Manta Rays
Swimming with manta rays is truly a magical experience, whether you are diving or snorkelling. These gentle, giant rays seem to soar through the ocean, like an eagle riding the thermal currents above. Despite their size, they gracefully manoeuvre around each other, divers and through the ocean, with apparent ease. They can barrel roll, over and over again when feeding, glide together when mating and even launch themselves out of the water, to slap back down again.
Up until fairly recently, the genus Manta was considered monotypic; however, in 2009 this was reevaluated and there are now two recognized species. Reef Manta Ray (Manta alfredi) and Giant Manta Ray (Manta birostris). What’s the difference between the two? Size, dentition and spine morphology. In regards to size, the Giant Manta Ray is the larger of the two. In fact, it’s the largest species of ray in the world and can have a disc width of up to 7m. While the Reef Manta Ray is slightly smaller, with a disc span of around 5m.
The other most notable difference between the two, is markings. The Reef Manta Ray has dark spots on its ventral surface between the gill slits, the Giant Manta Ray does not. Both species can be seen in Australian waters, although the Reef Manta is perhaps the most commonly encountered by divers.
Manta Rays are completely harmless to people. Their short tails do not have a stinging barb and they feed on microscopic plankton, which they filter through their gills in a way not too dissimilar to whales.
Swimming with manta rays can be done all year round in Australia, but best to check your location first. Whilst they can be found in reliable numbers right throughout the year at Coral Bay in Western Australia, the chance to go swimming with manta rays is more seasonal in other locations.
The Best Time to See Manta Rays in Queensland
The best time to see manta rays in Queensland varies, depending on your location. There’s two hot spots, Lady Elliot Island and North Stradbroke Island, both of which are located on the southern Great Barrier Reef.
Lady Elliott Island has been named the ‘Home of the Manta Ray’ and while manta rays can be seen here throughout the year, they are particularly prevalent in the winter months. At this time of year, they can aggregate in their hundreds, creating an amazing in-water spectacle for those lucky enough to witness it. Their numbers peak between May and August, making this the best time to see manta rays at Lady Elliott Island.
North Stradbroke Island is another manta hot spot in Queensland, but this time the summer months are the best time to catch some manta action. At North Stradbroke Island many dive operators run trips to ‘Manta Bommie’ and the best time to see them, is from October through to March. The manta numbers here are less than what you will see at Lady Elliott Island, but you certainly see a different side to the gentle giants. In summer at North Stradbroke Island, tens of mantas will congregate to mate.
So, when is the best time to see manta rays in Queensland? Pick your season. If you are a winter traveler, then visit Lady Elliott Island between May and August. If you are chasing the summer sun, then North Stradbroke Island is the destination for you, from October to March.
The Best Time to See Manta Rays in Western Australia
Western Australia is lucky to have manta rays around right throughout the year. Coral Bay provides excellent swimming with manta ray experiences, with tours departing daily. If you are at Exmouth, then the best time to see a manta ray is between June and November and if you’re really lucky, you can combine that with whale shark viewing.
The Best Places to Swim with Manta Rays
Where is the best places to swim with manta rays in Australia? It depends on what you are looking for really. We’re lucky to have manta rays living right around our coastline. The best, and most reliable places to swim with manta rays in Australia, is definitely in Queensland and Western Australia. The two states could not be more different either!
Queensland offers the Great Barrier Reef, which is undoubtedly a big attraction for divers from around the world. It’s also the only place in the world to offer dedicated Dwarf Minke Whale dive trips. Western Australia has Ningaloo Reef and a massive Whale Shark tourism operation.
Obviously, manta rays are wild creatures. We can provide the best advice and information, based on annual trends, but they may or may not turn up on the day. That being said, even if the mantas are missing in action, you will still enjoy amazing diving, no matter which state you choose to visit.
Manta Ray Facts
Manta rays are the biggest rays in the world. They also have the largest brain to body ratio of any living fish. They are filter feeders and eat plankton. They do have teeth, but they are very small and are only used as a part of their courtship and mating rituals.
Manta rays are very ‘aware’ in the water and are often curious about swimmers and divers, gliding in close for an inspection of you. The life cycle and migration patterns of manta rays is still a topic for research. They are believed to live up to 30 years of age. Female mantas only produce one pup, every two to three years, and do not reach sexual maturity until they are 8-10 years old.
Beautiful to watch, a swimming with manta rays experience is simply magical.
Booking a Swim with Manta Rays Trip
Dive in Australia is pleased to provide an easy booking service for all swim with manta ray trips. Save money with no booking or credit card fees. We have experienced these trips and offer first-hand advice. We will help you choose the best operator and destination to best suit your experience and itinerary. Contact us today or FREE CALL 1800 323 703