Giant manta rays can seem intimidating because of their enormous size, but they are actually quite welcome by divers because of their quiet, gentle nature.
In fact, the creatures are so calm that at one time divers would hitch rides on the giant rays before the intrusive act was pushed to be stopped.
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So it’s understandable that one diver was completely caught off-guard when the placid fish took the man up into its wings and caused him to somersault mid-swim.
Josh Stewart was swimming on an expedition in a remote area of Peru when he got caught up in the 15-foot wings of the giant ray.
“I was just swimming down as I usually do to capture a manta ID shot and before I knew it, I was engulfed in the wings of this massive manta as I tumbled through the water,” Stewart explains, “I suffered no injuries but it was certainly a big surprise.”
Stewart had been trying to take a photograph of the ray’s belly to help with long-term identification, a part of the Manta Trust project which aims to learn more about the huge fish.
Shawn Heinrichs, a renowned photographer and cinematographer, theorizes that the ray may have never seen a diver before and reacted to Stewart’s unfamiliar presence.
“Perhaps out of curiosity, or possibly to send a not-so-subtle message, the manta performed its acrobatic somersault and scooped Josh’s fins between its cephalic fins, sending Josh spinning,” Heinrich writes on a blog.
The encounter is rare, if not the first of its kind, Heinrich continues, “in all my years of filming and interacting with manta rays, I have never witnessed such an extraordinary interaction between a manta ray and a swimmer.”
The two were swimming off the coast conducting research toward protection of the giant manta, in conjunction with Planeta Oceano and support from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund.