In my first trip to Yap in 2011 I became a certified scuba diver. Honestly, I’m a very spoiled scuba diver. Most folks in the states complete their open water certification in a quarry or lake. I was lucky enough to complete my certification in the middle of the Pacific on an island well known in the dive community as a top 10 dive location.
Over the years I have logged 30+ dives in Yap and Kosrae. One of my favorite places to dive is the Mi’l Channel which is known for the large manta rays that like to swim around while smaller fish feed on little critters sticking to them. Now May is not the ideal time to see manta rays but none the less they are so common on Yap it is hard not to see one, or so I’ve been told. In my first two trips to Yap I was denied the experience of seeing a manta ray (which often span 8-12 feet in size). This year, one of my first dives was to the Mi’l Channel with students I was hopeful that my “Manta Karma” would change. Well no less than a minute into our arrival at the “feeding station” I finally saw my first manta ray up close. It was a stunning creature that looked to be about 6 feet across and came up right over where I was perched as if to say “Howdy, I hear you’ve been looking for me”. The students I was with knew I was hoping to see a manta and quickly turned to me with their GoPro’s to capture my excitement (which is tough to document when you are wearing a scuba mask and have a regulator in your mouth). We stayed crouched behind some coral for about 40-45 minutes and was fortunate to see this manta 4-5 times. Although it isn’t unusual to see 5-6 Mantas at one time I was thrilled to see just one. The markings on the underside of the manta are unique, like a finger print, to each one. Locals have documented many of them and so far we haven’t been able to identify the name of this particular manta (perhaps he is a new one!).
On our way to our second dive site we came across a group of pilot whales. Again, not something you see every day! Two of them (a mamma or papa and a baby) gave us a little “wave” with their fins as they swam away from us. Our second dive was to another familiar site, Vertigo. This site is known as a hang-out for white and black tip sharks. Upon our arrival the dive boat gave the sharks the typical “We are here!” greeting by circling the site numerous times. The sharks were quickly attracted to the sound of the motor and our boat. We all (5 students, 2 dive guides and myself) dove in at the same time and within minutes of descending were greeted by about 20-25 sharks! The closest any one of them came to us was probably 6-7 feet away and for some reason I have no fear of these sharks (they do not look at all menacing like a great white). After diving along the reef for about 45-50 minutes (with some sharks following along with us) we made our way back up to the boat to share our excitement in seeing manta rays, pilot whales and sharks!