All over the world there's wildlife just waiting to be
Broad-backed forms rise from the dark water, flowing past the stern of the rocking boat like great sheets wafting in a saline breeze.
Keller Laros peers into the night waters of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. The lights onboard the dive boat illuminate his face. It is not the face of a divemaster and responsible adult. It is the face of an eager 10-year-old.
"Might be 10 mantas!" he says, squirming into his dive gear. "Might be even more!"
Keller isn't the only one who is 10 years old again. A current passes through the rest of us - a mix of thrill, anticipation, and anxiety. One by one, taking care not to leap on top of the mantas, we jump off the stern and descend into their world.
The manta night dives off Kailua-Kona are justifiably famous. The mantas - some with wingspans of 16 feet, weighing upwards of 2,000 pounds - come in to the shallows at night to feed on plankton. Divers aid that process by kneeling on the ocean floor and shining powerful lights up toward the surface. The plankton are drawn to the lights. The mantas are drawn to the plankton.
We drop through the dark water and take our place on the bottom. Forming a rough circle, we point our dive lights to the surface. And the mantas come.
They wing in from the outlying darkness. They are a creature from some other place, a phantasmagoric morph of fish and bird, as if a sorcerer's wand has been applied to a child's dream. They are neither hesitant nor shy about feeding. A manta swoops toward me, in no particular hurry, its gaping mouth an oval nearly three feet wide. Making a fine adjustment, it avoids collision, inhaling the sparks of plankton in my light beam even as its mushroom-white underside fills my faceplate and then brushes my head.