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April 2011: Pair of manta rays near Komodo Island, Indonesia

From the Photographer...

Ethan Daniels

Sometimes the experience—actually being underwater, heart thumping in a driving current—is worth much more than any image can convey.

As a photographer, biologist and guide, I put in hundreds of hours under the waters of the Coral Triangle each year, so at times there is the tendency to be complacent about the amazing animals and phenomena that I regularly come across.

But some wildlife could never be considered lackluster. One species that has always induced a charge of adrenalin, no matter how often I see it, is the manta ray (Manta birostris).

I followed these two rays through a narrow channel south of Komodo Island where the current was raging. The mantas, perfectly adapted to gliding through several knots of oncoming current, were part of a much larger group that seasonally feed on zooplankton in this area. Though quite shallow, I ate up quite a bit of air trying to keep pace with the hydrodynamic mantas and, sadly, had to end the dive far too soon.

Over the last few years there has been renewed debate as to whether there are multiple species of mantas, some which are resident to particular areas and others that are transient.

Whatever the case, one species or multiple, mantas are special creatures that deserve as much protection as any other. With ever-growing human populations in most areas where mantas live part of their life histories, it will be difficult to keep them from becoming a commercial fishery resource versus an oceanic treasure.

Due to the unique mix of wild currents, habitats and species, the islands and reefs surrounding Komodo will always remain one of my favorite places to explore.

This capture was made with a Canon 5D, a Sigma 15mm fisheye lens, and an Aquatica housing. 1/80th at f/11, 200 ISO. Strobes were turned off.

Ethan Daniels is a biologist, photojournalist and guide. See more images from the places he often works at

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