Dance With the Devilfish

manta rays
manta rays Wikimedia Commons

Baja California, close encounters of the graceful kind are the norm between divers and manta rays. It is these great fish - they can grow to 21 feet across and weigh a ton - that approach the divers, rather than the other way around. They eat only plankton and very small fish and are anything but the devilfish of fiction. They have realized the divers pose no threat. The mantas will spend an entire day "flying" up to divers, as though they enjoy the "visitors" dropping in.

The divers are part of an informal network of men and women - oral surgeons, abalone fishermen, real estate agents and construction workers - who meet several times a year in different parts of the world to dive. Members of this extraordinary group are free divers: no air tanks, no air hoses. Many can go down 100 feet or, on a dive of less exertion, stay under three minutes. They come to these Mexican islands to catch 100- to 200-pound yellowfin tuna, but they always take a day or two to commune with as many as five mantas at once. The result is a ballet like none other.

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