One of the highlights of visiting the Maldives has to be the amazing sea life and two of the treasures of the archipelago include manta ray and whale shark. Watching these great creatures of the deep is a fascinating experience.
There are two kinds of manta rays. There is the reef manta and the giant manta ray. Both are found in the waters of the Maldives. Both are hard to miss. The reef manta can grow to 5m in width while the giant manta ray has a massive central disc which can grow as wide as 9 metres, although 7m seems to be more normal. Interesting facts about manta is that they have the largest brain of the fish world; sometimes they may be seen jumping out of the water and they can travel 70km in a day. They are a protected species and can live up to 30 years.
The largest fish in the world is the Whale Shark. They are fascinating in that they can grow up to 11 or 12 metres in length and amass a whopping 19000kg in adulthood. They live to about 70 years and are believed to be harmless to man. With a 1m wide mouth, whale sharks are filter feeders (mainly on plankton) and are said to be able to have more than 300 rows of teeth at one time.
It is no wonder that droves of tourists flock to the Maldives every year to watch these two fish of the deep. The Maldives has been voted by the Diviac travel magazine as one of the world’s top 10 best places to see manta rays.
The most prolific population is in the region of the Ari Atoll and the Baa Atoll.
The Sun Island reef is a good spot for whale sharks, while the reefs of Rangali provide ample sightings of both whale shark and manta ray. Ukulhas Thila and Panettone are also said to be great for manta ray viewing.
While you are able to see whale shark and manta throughout the year, experts have identified times they are most like to come out – these include the months of November, December and May. From January to April, visit the west side of the Ari Atoll for the best viewings of manta ray. The rest of the year visit the east side. The week building up to the full moon also seems to make them more active and your best opportunity of seeing them daily is about three to four hours before high tide.
This is a much smaller atoll and is located just north of Ari Atoll. Hanifaru Bay is significant to manta rays particularly, because it contains a high density of plankton. As a result many rays flock to the area for a banquet
it’s known as cyclone feeding – when more than 100 fish feast together. It’s not uncommon for whale sharks to be seen here at the same time, although the numbers are not as great.
There are some conservation rules when it comes to enjoying these special creatures. Stay more than 3 or 4 metres away from them. Never touch them. Don’t get in their way and if you are going to take an underwater photo of them, don’t use the flash. You are a visitor in their environment so be sure to respect it.
They have been described as majestic and graceful – watching them will be a memory that lasts a lifetime.