Luck at Manta Sandy

For the last three days we have been diving two manta ray sites in the Dampier Strait.  One site is called Manta Sandy and the other is Manta Ridge.  Both are cleaning stations for manta rays where reef fish predictably clean parasites from mantas that hover over specific places on the reef.  But in order to hold still, the mantas like to have a relatively strong current.  This lets them move slowly while staying right over the cleaning station.  It also means doing camerawork with a large IMAX® camera system is difficult.
During most of the dives we have made so far, either the current was too strong to maneuver, or the manta rays didn’t come, or the sun was absent due to a rainstorm, or visibility was bad, or something.  But yesterday it all came together for us.  In the morning, the sun came out and the water seemed to clear up at the same time.  I had half a roll of film in the camera when a manta flew into the cleaning station and hovered beautifully in front of the camera as green cleaner wrasses swam into and around the manta’s mouth picking off parasites.  It was wonderful.  Of course, a half roll of film is only 90 seconds for the IMAX camera, but I hope it is enough.  Fortunately, our good luck was not used up for the day. 

© 2013 IMAX Corporation and MacGillivray Freeman Films. Photographer: Michele Hall

In the late afternoon we headed out to Manta Sandy to look for turtles.  We had dived there several times and visibility was poor and the mantas were staying away.  It is a good site for hawksbill turtles, though, so we thought to look for them and try Manta Ridge again in the morning to finish up our manta sequence.
As we dropped down into Manta Sandy, we saw three mantas in the cleaning station.  The animals allowed us to approach within touching distance and so hawksbill turtles were quickly forgotten.  We shot two entire rolls on the mantas as they gracefully glided over the coral and dozens of wrasse and butterflyfish left the reef and swam up to the rays.  It was magical.  Even with our super-wide IMAX camera lens, the mantas often came too close. 

© 2013 IMAX Corporation and MacGillivray Freeman Films. Photographer: Michele Hall

Each time I am presented with an opportunity like this, I begin thinking of all the ways I might have screwed up.  I kept checking and re-checking my camera settings and everything looked perfect.  But it will be many months before I sit in a screening room with Greg and Shaun MacGillivray and know for sure.  Until then I will keep my fingers crossed.

© 2013 IMAX Corporation and MacGillivray Freeman Films
IMAX® is a registered trademark of IMAX Corporation

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