Okay, so they aren’t aliens. They are actually giant fish- Manta Rays to be exact-and when people visit us in Kona one of their top priorities is to see these rays. It’s a breathtaking show of tumbling, spinning, and, well, eating really. It has been described as an underwater Vegas show which is spot on. However, in this version the showgirls are trying to put on the pounds! There are lights shining everywhere and constant action, there’s so much going on that you’re not even sure where to look.
The show is really all about the manta rays, but just like Vegas, every once in a while we get a cameo so amazing it blows even the local divers minds. No, I’m not referring to Celine Dion or Frank Sinatra, for us islanders we get giddy when a native Hawaiian Monk Seal appears on the show!
Don’t get me wrong, the manta rays are incredible, but I am more a mammal girl myself. It’s what I focused on while obtaining my marine science degree right here on island and they have been the center of my careers since then. Heck, they still occupy my life on my weekends when I volunteer. But for those of you from New England and California I’m sure you are saying “seal, What’s exciting about that?” Well, let me tell you.
Currently, there are only about 1,000 of these seals left in the world and they are only found in the Hawaiian archipelago. Of those thousand animals only about 6 of them are residents to our Big Island. And of those 6, one of them has found an affinity for our Manta Ray night dive. This individual, one of a few very highly endangered seals, is named Waimanu. Born in Waimanu valley (they got really creative with names, huh?) she is a gorgeous, chubby 8 year-old pinniped. Some may live to be between 25-30 years old, so Waimanu is a relatively young girl.
That being said, she has already been a mom twice, that we know of… Unfortunately, even with all the watchful, helpful eyes of the locals, neither pup (baby) made it. This is the reality with these animals. They are endangered by unrelenting pollution, trash, wayward and discarded fishing line, hooks, and even reduced prey source.
I am proud to say that our community is working to protect all our ocean wildlife. In the past few years we have banned plastic shopping bags completely. There is currently a bill to ban one use plastics (Styrofoam, plastic utensils, etc.) so less of it ends up in our oceans. We are also constantly participating in beach clean-ups and ocean clean-ups. We make sure the fish we chose to eat is locally and sustainably caught. There is even a hospital in Kona specifically set-up to rehabilitate Hawaiian Monk Seals (Ke Kai Ola). I’m more than proud to call this place home and even more proud to call Kona and Kona Honu Divers my community.
So why is it exciting to see Waimanu? Maybe it’s partly because she’s a highly endangered species, maybe it’s because she’s an extremely graceful, big, beautiful animal, maybe it’s because she has an extremely cute face that melts your heart. For me, it’s exciting to see her because she is a part of our community, a contributing member just like the rest of us and every time we see her it inspires us to be stewards to our ocean and share the love with our guests. Plus, let’s face it, it is just cool!