Sharks, Sting Rays & Manta Rays

DECEMBER 2015 – UPDATE 

Some interesting reading in advance of your becoming immersed in the fascinating report that follows…….

The British organisation ‘Manta Trust’ has just spent the second half of 2015 working with local authorities in French Polynesia identifying manta rays at Maupiti with the aim of gaining information that could assist in the preservation of the rays. The ‘Manta Trust’ study has been photographing individuals to provide a system of identification for each individual.

The Manta Trust were fortunate to have access to the extensive study of Bora Bora’s ray mantas conducted between 2001 & 2007 in which 98 rays were identified. Details of this most interesting used to be on display at the Tourist Office at Vaitape wharf & it is worth asking the Tourist Bureau Office if they can provide you with access to it. The study is a rare authority on the subject, based on photographic studies (so easy to follow) with fascinating details of ‘life as a manta ray’ including spectacular mating rituals. That there has been a lack of detailed knowledge about these rays is seen in the fact that it was only in 2009 that ray mantas were categorized in 2 separate species – the giant ray manta (or birostris) reaching a width of some 7m & the smaller reef ray manta (or Alfredi) still an impressive 5m across. Bora Bora is one of the few places in the world where both species can be found.

The ray manta is today menaced as their numbers are few, their fecundity is low & their gills are much sought after in traditional Chinese medicine (there’s that same old boogey raising its ugly head again!) yet in terms of tourist dollars it has been estimated that a single ray manta could generate as much as $1million in a lifetime.

In an earlier separate study into French Polynesia’s sharks – a species so fundamental to Polynesian culture – covering the indispensable role sharks play in the ecosystem of reef environments, French Polynesian introduced ground breaking legislation in 2006 to protect all 21 species of shark in Polynesia forming a sanctuary of some 5.5million km2 for their protection.

The value of sharks to French Polynesia’s tourist industry is indesputable. Readers may not be aware that ‘shark-feeding’ is actually banned in the lagoons, the passes & within 1km of such passes.

As readers of this site know one of Bora Bora’s most popular tourist activities centres around the feeding of sting rays in Bora Bora’s lagoon. It is argued that the food being given to the rays is attracting reef sharks in ever increasing numbers thereby changing their comportment & increasing the risk of ‘accidents’. As a consequence the government of French Polynesia decided yesterday (14/12/2015) to put in place from 2016 a series of strict controls surrounding the activity so as to diminish the risk of serious accident to swimmers, to study in detail the impact of the activity on the sharks & to safeguard this important tourist activity which provides a unique link between man & animal.
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ORIGINAL REPORT

Imagine, for a moment, being surrounded by hundreds of black-tipped reef sharks whilst hand-feeding stingrays that literally swim right over you, all over you! Visualise yourself flowing underwater following the mesmorizing & graceful glide of massive manta rays. Live the dream in Bora Bora.

TRIP OVERVIEW

  • An excellent way to see the most beautiful lagoon in the world;
  • Knock-out views back into Bora Bora’s spectacular mountainside;
  • Incredible & unique experience feeding stingrays as they almost drown you in their enthusiasm;
  • A truly captivating & moving moment to find yourself unconsciously gliding off into the depths with giant manta rays.

STING RAYS

Another beautiful morning in Bora Bora dawns & we head off towards a spot not far from the sacred, the royal Motu Tapu:

motu-tapu

We have come to participate in a great spectacle; we have come to swim with the stingrays whilst hand-feeding them. We will not be alone!

reef-sharks-bora-bora

black-tip-reef-sharks-bora

bora-bora-stingrays

On this occasion, however, the reef sharks will be outnumbered by an incredible gathering of sting-rays:

sting-rays-bora-bora

bora-bora-sting-rays

sting-rays-bora-bora

The eagerness of the stingrays on seeing us is regularly apparent:

stingray-love-bora

After the death of Steve Irwin one can’t help but be cautious. Polynesians have a deep spiritual connection with nature & are very much at one with the ocean’s creatures. It would be unwise to not recognise this connection, in not recognising that Steve Irwin’s death may well have related to a situation which saw a sting-ray fearful of  a situation in which it found itself. That said adventurers will take comfort from the fact that the tour providers regularly check the rays & remove their dangerous stingers.

The thrill of the spectacle before you, however, sees you quickly into the water, sardines in hand held high above the water if you wish to keep your fingers! The sting-rays swim all over each other & ALL OVER YOU TOO just to get a bite – over your back, up your legs, stomach & chest, over your shoulders……….they are everywhere!

The assault is endless & the outcome can be more than just a tickle if you don’t co-operate. The rays can become quite pushy in search of food & for the unwary this can be the outcome – a bite from the rays (underside) mouth:

sting-ray-bite

The trick is to feed the ray through its spiracle – a hole on top of the ray leading to its respiratory system.

Swimming with the sting rays is a truly great experience, a unique experience, an unforgetable experience. Head in amongst the rays even without food for them & get the blast of your life:

riding-on-back-of ray-bora

kiss-ray-bora

 

MANTA RAYS

One more dive calling, perhaps the greatest of all, the chance to swim with the majestic manta rays.

Manta rays have long lived in the waters of Bora Bora for many years prevalent in Teavanui Pass & near where now stands the Hilton. They dislike building development, however & are now found moreso in the waters off Fitiiu Point after efforts from the commune to minimise any disruption to them occasioned by the building of the luxury hotels nearby:

bora-bora-manta-rays

manta-ray-bora

Access to the rays is controlled, but it makes for one of the best snorkeling experiences of your life.  If you are exceptionally lucky you may witness a mating dance where a female ready to mate will swim slowly through the waters with a line of males behind her. She will swim onto the back of a nearby female & the males will assemble one on top of the other on the back of the 2 females in a ‘dance’ that will only last a few seconds.

I recall vividly my first dive with the manta rays. I was snorkeling in Maupiti’s Onoiau Pass staying close to the reef as the current there is treacherous. It’s a wonderful dive as the pass is full of sharks, turtles & rays; dolphins swim just off the break that marks the entry to the pass with whales circling the island a little further out to sea. I was looking down at around 15 sharks of different size & breed when suddenly a manta ray swam up into the range of my mask seemingly almost colliding with me; it must have been almost 3m across & it scared the daylights out of me.

Bora Bora’s dive is just as memorable. Manta rays truly are the most gracious of creatures; you can swim for hours amongst them with no sense of time. Worth doing again & again & again!

There are always things to see along the way whilst diving in the world’s most beautiful lagoon:

colourful-tropical-fish-bora

Now this guy is well worth seeing!!!

huge-eel-bora

 

TIPS

  • See, time permitting, if you can engineer a visit to any other spot that may take your fancy – the coral gardens for example, a beer at a waterside restaurant along the way or whatever;
  • Take an underwater camera with you for shots you’ll never forget.
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