These photos were taken while diving aboard the Solmar V in November of 2010.
The 4 Revillagigedo Islands - Socorro, San Benedicto, Roca Partida and Clarion - lie roughly 250 miles SW of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Getting there requires a 24-hour (each way) boat ride from Cabo, and visitors cannot go ashore, as the only "residents" are soldiers at a Mexican naval base on Socorro. We dove on all but Clarion, which is too far West to visit.
This is a manta ray video (witth music) that contains many still shots from this gallery, together with a little video I shot as well. When the window opens, click "Mid-Def" at the top.
The main attraction: Giant Pacific Manta Rays. With wingspreads of 15 feet or more, these gentle giants are the picture of gracefulness. They have no "weapons" (teeth, stingers, etc.), and simply cruise the oceans filtering plankton - like whales. Spending hours watching them swoop and sail overhead is an awe-inspiring experience for divers fortunate enough to do so...like us.
Short video clip of a manta feeding on plankton. Click on "Mid Def" at the top. Notice that, as the manta dives, it opens its gills and mouth wide to take in the most plankton possible.
In addition to mantas, the Revillagigedos have other life. We saw numerous species of sharks, including silkies, Galapagos, silvertip, and scalloped hammerhead sharks (like this one). This species of hammerhead is schooling, and the presence of a few suggests schools of hundreds or thousands beyond view. Unfortunately, these and other species of sharks are being slaughtered by the the millions each year worldwide to satisfy the demand for shark-fin soup in Asia.
The colorful Long-fin Hogfish is eye-catching, but the real subject of this photo is the octopus below at left. Octopuses are masters of camouflage, changing their color and texture to mimic their surroundings.
Clarion angelfishes in a rare instance of schooling. These colorful fish are usually found by themselves, often cleaning parasites off of passing mantas. I've never seen a school like this swarming so close together, and we speculated that perhaps it was some sort of mating behavior.
Singing a duet of "That's Amore"? These two moray eels share a crevice on Roca Partida. I've never seen so many moray eels - hundreds of them, sometimes four or five together in one crack in the rocks.
Spiny lobsters were also plentiful, and seemed unafraid of divers, often strolling around the rocks in the open.
Now...click Next (below) to see more photos of the Giant Mantas!
But by far the main attraction is manta rays, and we spent most dives hanging - or in this case sitting - watching them circle above us, sometimes only a few feet away.
We had as many as five mantas at once cruising through our group. Oddly, mantas are actually attracted by diver's bubbles, and seem to enjoy the feeling of bubbles on their undersides.
The mantas often actually "aimed" at divers' bubble streams, swimming directly over and through them.
Here a diver gives a manta some extra bubbles by free-flowing his spare regulator as it passes. The speculation is that mantas like bubbles because they feel like cleaner-fishes picking parasites off them, but no one knows for sure.
Mantas were known by ancient sailors as "devilfish" because they appeared (from above) to have horns on the front of their heads. In actuality, the "horns" are cephalic fins, which are sometimes furled into "horns" like this...
...and other times unfurled like this. They appear to unfurl the cephalic fins when they are either relaxed or feeding, possibly to help funnel plankton into their mouths. Here the mouth is closed, and is a barely visible slit across the front of its head.
Feeding. This manta's mouth is wide open to take in as much plankton as possible.
A rare pure black manta. Most mantas have unique black and white markings, but occasionally one is pure black.
Hey, is there something on my forehead? A large (approx. 3 ft. long) remora atop a manta. The remora has a suction cup on top of its head, so when it rides on top of its host, it actually has to ride upside down (like this!). It is unclear whether remoras attach to large pelagics like mantas for protection from predators or in hopes of scavenging food...or both. This remora has some passengers of its own; the silver "spots" are actually some type of sea-lice-like parasite that could be seen scurrying around his body as he passed by!
Remoras seem just as comfortable riding either atop mantas' heads (one on each side), or underneath.
Here both remoras are underneath, and one of the remoras has moved back near the tail, perhaps in an attempt to avoid the big human (me!) nearby.
Two jacks, one visible here, took a liking to Cathy on a dive at Roca Partida, and shadowed her for much of the dive.
Trumpetfishes, usually solitary, gathered togethered in dozens at Roca Partida.
Whitetip sharks lounge on ledges at Roca Partida.
Giant hawkfish (1 ft. long). Most hawkfishes are only an inch or two long.
This photo highlights the unusual rocky topography underwater in the Revillagigedos. In the foreground, several redtailed triggerfish hover at a "cleaning station," where small cleaner wrasses pick parasites off of them.
Two redtailed triggerfish hover at a cleaning station, where dozens of cleaner wrasses pick parasites off their bodies.
The redtailed triggerfish can display an astounding range of gorgeous colors, some seeming almost luminescent.
A pair of leather bass (2 ft. long) are joined by jacks (10-12 inches long) atop a coral peak.
A two-foot leather bass, with a jack above.
Unintentional self-portrait. While hanging on the anchor rope at the end of one dive, I inadvertently triggered my camera's shutter.