Trip Report: 2018 Citizen Science Manta Research Expedition to the Revillagigedo Archipelago

On April 15th, 2018 Dive Ninjas teamed up with the Pacific Manta Research Group & Quino El Guardian to run a special Citizen Science manta research dive trip to Socorro, Isla San Benedicto, and Roca Partida.  

We’re back from those jaw dropping, tiny Mexican islands known as the Revillagigedo Archipelago – and boy did they not disappoint! Ten days at sea visiting Isla Socorro, Isla San Benedicto, and Roca Partida for our special Citizen Science Manta Research expedition with the remarkable Dr. Robert Rubin, director of the Pacific Manta Research Group.

What is a Citizen Science expedition?

Citizen Science trips are a bit different than your normal dive trip. For starters, we have an esteemed biologist or naturalist onboard for the length of the expedition. The scientist gives presentations throughout the week teaching us about the animals, local ecosystem, conservation, and many other great subjects. But on top of that, the guests get to participate in actual marine research. We did plankton drags and looked at the insane amount of microscopic life floating around in the sea, we tagged mantas for tracking, and worked on photoidentification. It’s like getting to be a marine biologist for a week. In my opinion, they are the best type of dive trip out there. I’ve logged over 5000 dives in my career and I still feel like I always walk away from these trips having experienced & learned so much more.

Scuba diving with giant mantas in Socorro
dive briefing aboard the Quino el Guardian

Let’s Jump Right In…

For this expedition we had 18 ninjas in town from all over the world. The majority of the group came in a few days early to sneak in some local diving in Cabo San Lucas, blue water shark snorkeling in Los Cabos, nitrox courses, and a special end of season whale watching trip in Cabo San Lucas.

We boarded the Quino el Guardian in the evening of April 15th and kicked it off with introduction drinks & chats followed by a delicious sunset dinner before starting our crossing. The next day would spent continuing the 240 mile crossing to San Benedicto.  The sea was ridiculously calm – like glass. I’ve never seen the Pacific that flat before. We spent the day getting to know everyone, setting up our gear and being introduced to the chickens of Quino (aka listening to fun briefings from the crew) as well as a great introduction presentation on mantas and the research activities we would be working on that week from Dr Rubin.

Diving Isla San Benedicto

The next morning we would wake up at El Cañon on the south side of Isla San Benedicto and be in the water just after sunrise. The first day would set the stage for the week had in store for them. Both black and chevron mantas, massive schools of hammerheads, Galapagos, and silky sharks. Plus a huge tiger shark cruising around checking us out. After lunch we spotted the dorsal fin of a juvenile whale shark cruising around just off the stern of the ship. As we all grabbed our snorkeling gear to jump in, what do we see a bit further out? A pod of false killer whales! Now here is one of the reasons I love the crew on Quino… Before I could even suggest we should jump in the RIBs to go see them, the Divemasters were already pulling the RIBs in and getting everyone onboard. We pushed off and raced out to catch up with the pod. Parente got us just ahead of them so we could jump in and watch as they swam around us, playing underwater and checking us out. You could hear them chatting away as they cruised by.   We got back on the panga and shot off to catch up with them and jump in again. The sounds of us splashing around on the surface called out to a more familiar inhabitant of these islands.. and within minutes we had 5 silky sharks circling around us curious to see what all the fuss was about.  This was the first time I had ever seen false killer whales in the water, and I was in heaven. My week was complete! So, I’ll just end this trip report right here… Thanks for reading and have a great… ok ok.. I’ll tell you the rest!

Diving with False Killer Whales in Revillagigedo Mexico
Citizen Science manta research with Dr Robert Rubin

The next day would be spent exploring the other dive sites around the Canyon. Dr Rubin took us out to show us how they tag mantas for tracking. The first manta we came upon had a satellite tag already but the next one we’d see would be a very pregnant female that he was able to tag. Now for those that don’t know, pregnant females are a rarity in these islands. We’re not quite sure why we don’t see them so often in this area, but we also do not understand a lot about manta birth to begin with. It’s only ever been seen once in the world.  The rest of the dives would be spent having up close encounters with 4 giant mantas, schools of juvenile hammerheads as well as a huge solitary hammerhead and all the other great creatures. But for me one of the most amazing moments of the day was seeing how when the manta was tagged another manta came flying in super-fast and went right behind her. It was if she had in some way communicated to him and he rushed in to make sure she was ok and to see what this new bit of jewelry was on her. On top of it, she didn’t run away as you would expect a wild animal to do, but instead did the complete opposite. After wiggling her fin a little to try figure out what was on her she came right back to us. Circling around and playing in our bubbles for the next 40 minutes. It was beautiful.

That night Dr Rubin set up a plankton net and after dragging it on the surface for a while we put a few drops of water under the microscope. WOW. The amount of microscopic life floating in the ocean here is unreal. Now we could see with our own eyes why the mantas love these islands so much. The water is so rich with life. We seen tiny worms that would grow up to be the beautiful Christmas tree fans you find living on rocks, little isopods, fish eggs, and even a baby crab that was only a couple weeks old. I think Bob said it best when he said it is ‘such a kaleidoscope of life’.

Diving Socorro

Late in the evening we would pull up the anchor and head off to Isla Socorro to dive Punta Tosca the following morning. Our first dive we decided to go for something you normally don’t think to look for when diving out here – nudibranchs. We explored one of the lava finger walls and found tons and tons of tiny little red tipped sea goddesses. Plus, white tip reef sharks just about everywhere you looked and some hammerheads exploring the blue. But the next dive would win the dive of the day award for me. While cruising down one of the ridges out of the corner I see something moving in from the blue – and moving fast!  Before my brain could even process what I was seeing – BOOM! A black tip shark had shot in and ripped a big jack right in half. I was in awe. Every fish on the reef shot to the area to try to grab scraps but the black tip started to swim off without his lunch. At this point I was pulling my jaw off the floor and my brain was like, “Hit record on the camera you idiot!” Haha Just as the camera started to record, the black tip circled back in knocking all the other fish out of the way and grabbed his lunch and began to shred it. As he swam away eating his catch a school of white tips and other fish were following behind looking for scraps. I’ve been diving with sharks more times than I can count and have never seen one attack and kill its prey before. It was like watching NatGeo live. Then later in the dive our group picked up a hitchhiker… A curious silky shark decided to spend the last 10 minutes of the dive swimming with our group like we were his new school.

Scuba girls silky shark diving in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico