My most recent manta ray encounter was notable for the sheer exuberance of the ray. It swam up to my wife and me, then curved away, then came back again. At one point it moved farther off, into murkier, shallow water (which is why I didn’t get photos) and did several loop de loops for no apparent reason. It swam along with us for a while, closer to the shore, until we lost sight of it.
The top photo shows it approaching. I love it when they come straight towards me. They look so strange and yet so amazing, and there’s nothing to fear whatsoever since they’re plankton eaters and among the least dangerous creatures in the water. It wasn’t until I processed my photos that I noticed the acute halfbeaks passing between us. Ironically, this might be one of my better photos of them, captured unintentionally.
The bottom photo shows one of the ray’s curving passes with its mouth closed which, when I think about it, might be the first time I’ve seen that.
Crocodile needlefish are big enough that I sometimes mistake them for barracudas when I first see them. Like many of the different needlefish I see, they have a tendency to swim in circles around me when I encounter them.
On this day, I came on a largish shoal of crocodile needlefish milling about on the edge of a shallow area of the reef. The water was relatively clear and the sun illuminated them in such a way that their blue and silver sides shone quite beautifully.
When snorkeling, the tendency is to look down where numerous reef fish can be seen darting through rocks and coral. Needlefish, on the other hand, are surface swimmers and, as such, can be a little unnerving. Many times I’ve looked up and found myself in the midst of a shoal of needlefish, circling around me. At such times, I try not to think of Custer’s Last Stand.
In my attempts to identify what I see in the water, I use John P. Hoover’s book The Ultimate Guide to Hawaiian Reef Fishes, Sea Turtles, Dolphins, Whales, and Seals. His website is hawaiisfishes.com.