Last year, BARE celebrated its 40th anniversary by taking divers on three of the world's most amazing dives with its BARE The Adventure video series. Adventure team divers explored the breathtaking beauty of Rangiroa, Tahiti, the epic diversity of the Great Barrier Reef, and the frigid unknown off the coast of British Columbia. In addition, BARE asked Sport Diver and Scuba Diving readers to share their ultimate dive adventure story for a chance to win one of these once-in-a-lifetime dives.
On a beautiful, warm, tropical sunny day when I was living on Guam, my friend Karen talked me into going with her and a couple of friends on a boat dive. Our first dive was to Guam’s famous Blue Hole. As usual, the site was spectacular and the water was sparkling as we started our dive. After a leisurely drop through the Blue Hole and taking our time to explore the reef, we returned to the boat.
Oli, our boat skipper from Micronesian Divers Association, asked the divers where we wanted to go for the second dive and I yelled out, “Val Bomber and drift to American Tanker!”
“Too deep for the divers we have on board today, but we’ll go to the Tanker,” was his reply.
We returned to the harbor and took the mooring at American Tanker. About 45 minutes into our surface interval, one of our friends jumped into the water to do some snorkeling. He immediately called out that there was a manta swimming around just in front of the Tanker. We all looked at our computers and then scrambled to don our gear with hopes of getting an opportunity to see the manta too. Little could I realize, as I got into the water, that I not only would get to see the manta, but I would also get an unforgettable experience at the same time.
As I descended to the bow of American Tanker, I could see my friends hovering around in front of the ship. Then, out of the gloom, I saw the white face of a manta coming toward us. It was approximately 5 to 6 feet from wingtip to wingtip, and it was a female. As she passed us, we could see that she had a heavy lead-sinker weight hanging from her right cephalic fin and several feet of wadded-up monofilament line dangling from a large hook embedded in her fin. One diver immediately approached the manta and was able to clip off the line and weight with a pair of scissors. Then he tried to get to the hook, but she would not let him get close. It was apparent that the hook was deeply embedded in her fin, and from the depth of the cut on her fin it had been there for a while. The curve of the hook was on top of the fin, with the barbed end buried inside near her mouth.
We were all fascinated and awed with her behavior. She circled us and circled us. Strangely, she kept getting closer and closer to me on each pass. As good divers, we all know and respect the fact that you do not touch anything, no matter how much you want to. So we all continued to watch.
After a bit, we all got the understanding that she wanted us to help her. One of the divers reached out to touch her and she did not shy away. As she passed near me, I too reached out to touch her. I was electrified at the feel of her skin. She did not seem to mind being touched and must have wanted more as she kept coming very close to me as she turned gracefully through the water. She must have sensed that I was not a threat, and it appeared that she had singled me out to help her. As she passed me again I thought, “It is now or never if I am going to attempt to get the hook off her cephalic fin.” As I drew even with her on her left side, I reached out to caress the top of her wing. She did not flinch, so I slowly glided across her back maintaining contact until I was on her right side. Suddenly she flinched and gently tossed me up and off. After several minutes, she came at me again as I was working myself up to a shallower depth to avoid getting into “deco.” I decided, once again, that I had to try for the hook. I repeated my earlier action and this time drew even with her head and was able to grasp the hook. The hook was more deeply embedded than I thought and I only succeeded in pushing the hook up on the fin and probably deeper into the wound. I worried that I had done more harm than good. The thought that I had to get the hook out was now paramount in my mind, but I would not attempt it unless she wanted it. On my third try, I worked up along her body until I was hovering over her head and looking straight into the wound. She continued to allow me to keep pace with her. It took several tries, but I finally worked the hook out of her fin. All the while, she never flinched nor tried to dive away. Once I had the hook in my hand, I had time to look at it. It was an ugly instrument of torture. The barbed end of the hook was bent inward to ensure that the animal would stay on the line and not get away.
After removing the hook, floating there in the water, I could not believe what had just taken place. I could only stare after this beautiful animal. I was overwhelmed. We all remained transfixed in the water as my lovely manta, now free of the ensnaring hook and weight, circled around us. Twice she swam straight at me and on the last pass I put out my hand to once again communicate with her. She dipped her wing gently touching my outstretched hand, then slowly turned to look at me, banked her wings, sank into the depths and flew away.
I have been diving in some very exotic places around the world and I can recount lots of diving stories of what I have seen, but I can tell you that nothing I have ever seen or done while diving compares to this event. Those who were witness to this dive can tell you this was the dive of a lifetime. My lifetime, for sure.