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.
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!
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’.
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.
Later that day we would do our check-in with the Navy base and then head over to Cabo Pierce. The next morning everyone was super excited to get in the water. If you have heard of Cabo Pierce before then you probably know why it’s famous. It’s here that a resident pods of dolphins seem to really enjoy playing with divers first thing in the morning. As we hit the water and swam down towards the cleaning station the current was RIPPING. We all tried to find a rock to grip on and hide behind to get out of the current. Within minutes you could hear the high-pitched dolphin chats getting closer. Before we knew it a pod of 10 curious dolphins joined our group. Our guide Edgar was holding onto a peak above the rocks and became surrounded by them. It was like they were wondering what we were looking at and decided to hang out with us and wait (not realizing they were who we were looking for). We had 2 amazing dives with the dolphins. One was extremely interested in Stefania and kept circling back around her like a dog begging to be scratched. The interactions that day were just phenomenal.
Later in the evening Bob gave a special talk on dolphin communication and echolocation followed by a presentation on the beautifully strange world of plankton. I found it remarkable how dolphin communication is considered even more advanced than us humans.
Roca Partida and the Great Tu-nahhh
The next morning, we would wake up at one of my favorite places in the world, the infamous Roca Partida. If you’re not familiar with Roca, it’s this tiny island (if you can even call it that) that is the tip of an ancient volcano. It’s sheer face walls and location in the middle of the ocean make it a hot spot for incredible animal encounters. And of course, Roca wouldn’t disappoint today. We spotted massive tuna hunting schools of jacks on the walls – and by massive, I mean the largest I have ever seen. I am talking about tuna larger than the average human who also seem to quite difficult to photograph (leading to my self proclaimed amazing joke of the week – tu-naaahh :P). It was like diving in fish soup all day. Giant schools of creole to the point that it looked like it was raining fish, huge schools of jacks, giant schools of tuna & skipjacks being followed by schools of hammerheads, as well as big wahoo, balckjacks, Galapagos, silky sharks, and amberjacks. All while solitary silver tip sharks cruised through them like airplanes circling for landing. Then all of a sudden, deep below us, we would see a giant black starship soaring in from the depths. Jet black from wing tip to wing tip and effortlessly moving through the current as if it was in slow motion. It was hands down the largest manta I have ever seen.
Later that night we took a night off from talking about mantas and Dr Bob gave an awesome presentation on ‘Super Fish’. I really enjoyed this talk as these are creatures I personally know very little about. I can talk sharks, rays, and even octopus all day – but tuna, marlin, and sailfish? It was incredible to learn how these animals have evolved into the Ferraris of the sea. They’re such astounding creatures and after this presentation I now had an even greater respect for these beautiful fish.
Diving with Mantas at El Boiler
If you’ve read any of my other trip reports, you know El Boiler is infamous. Throughout the week I was a bit worried we wouldn’t make it out there due to the high winds. But Neptune himself must have smiled down on us the last day, giving us super calm seas with almost no wind. I couldn’t have dreamt of a better way to end our manta research expedition than spending the entirety of all 3 dives at Boiler having up close interactions with lots of beautiful mantas. Dive after dive we had multiple mantas circling around us, playing in our bubbles, and even watching couples of them dance together, looping around each other. It was stunning. There were also sightings of Galapagos, silky, hammerhead, and tiger sharks around but we were all just too captivated by these beautiful & curious winged giants.
After the last dive of the day we pulled in the RIBs and voyaged off into the sunset to begin our long journey back to the mainland. The next day Dr Rubin would give his closing talk and an eye-opening presentation on marine conservation. He highlighted 3 of the big issues we are currently facing: disposable plastics, the shark finning/manta gill trades, and sportfishing. Seeing the havoc, we humans are wreaking on our oceans chokes me up every time. But, the conversations that followed his presentation really filled my heart. Hearing how everyone wanted to know how they could make a difference, and how some were already working hard to help out in their own way. Feeling their passion for wanting to protect our oceans and all the beautiful creatures in them really reminded me why it is so important that we do trips like this. Protect. Educate. Preserve. It is what inspires us, Dive Ninja Expeditions, and myself to do more. It was the perfect ending to an incredible week.
I leave you with a quote from one of Dr Rubins presentations that has stuck with me…
“The need is no longer for a larger brain but rather a gentler, a more tolerant people than those that won for us against the ice, the tiger, and the bear.”
— Loren Eiseley
As a result of this trip, we have begun working on a series of free conservation talks here in Los Cabos as well as more Citizen Science Manta & Shark Research trips for next season. So please give us a shout and jump on our mailing list or Facebook for more info!
I would like to send a massive thanks to everyone that helped make this trip possible. Dr Rubin, was amazing as always. He is an inspiration to us all. Thank you for all your hard work and taking time to chat with us. The crew of the Quino el Guardian is one of the best in the business. I could write an entire article on how amazing each and every one of them was. And I can’t forget Susan, Beverly and Dora for all the help along the way and making this trip possible. We look forward to heading back out on Quino next season! Last, but definitely no where near least, thank you to all our awesome ninja guests that made this trip so much fun. Iceberrrrrg!!!
Interested in joining us next season for a special Citizen Science Shark Research trip? Or more mantas? Send us a message now and Team Ninja will answer any questions you might have and get you booked in for the next one in January 2019!
Scroll down to see what some of our guests had to say about the trip and make sure to check out the photo gallery below too!
What our guests had to say…
“This was such an exciting chance to go to with Dive Ninja to the Socorro Islands. I can’t say I even knew where this was but the chance to learn was such a great thing. It was a long time waiting but it was so worth it. I really almost can’t believe seeing the Mantas, dolphins and all the other animals in this wonderful practically untouched place. I learned so much, things I really didn’t know Manta’s, about the sea life and learning from Bob and all the other divers. ”
“Since having learned to scuba dive one of my dreams was to see and dive with manta rays. Well, obviously my dream came true during this trip of a lifetime. However, what gave me the most joy was sharing that laughter and joy with my daughter and my friends. The love and kindness and generosity of the entire group permeated every dive, every meal and my heart will go home filled to overflowing. Words can’t do justice to the soul filling ecstasy of this trip. ”
“The Dive Ninja expedition onboard the Quino el Guardian was my first experience on a live aboard and, most importantly my first opportunity to watch these magnificent animals who live in the waters of the Archipelago Revillagigedo. It has been the most fascinating and moving experience of my life. I hope to return again and check out the area during different times of the year. Thanks Jay for your effort in bringing us together for this opportunity and congratulations for your fine work during the trip.”
“This adventure on a liveaboard was the first in my life and it has been wonderful!! I had the pleasure to see lots of mantas, different kind of sharks and I played with dolphins! I was so excited!!! Diving was beautiful and full of fun. The organization was perfect and I felt very comfortable with the crew in Quino el Guardian, they are very special. Thanks to Jay for everything I think I’ll see you soon for the next adventure!!
Go ninja! Iceberg!…. :)”
“Great trip , been excited about diving out here and not disappointed . What can you say when you spend the week seeing Mantas, Dolphin, Sharks of all kinds and the schools of Tuna and Jacks . Great crew and great food . ”