Snorkeling with Mantas and Whale Sharks
What is Hanifaru Bay?Hanifaru Bay is a UNESCO biosphere reserve in Baa Atoll in the Maldives, which is legally designated as a Marine Protected Area. There are strict regulations in place to protect and preserve this amazing wonder. Hanifaru Bay is shaped like a funnel that is about 1300 metres long. Within this there is a narrower inner funnel that is about 600 metres long and about 300 metres wide at its widest point, and this is where whale sharks and manta rays are most commonly seen. The season for manta rays is from May to November. During this time, wind, currents and tides push plankton into the funnel-shaped bay and concentrate it. This “plankton soup” attracts mantas and also whale sharks. More than a hundred manta rays and several whale sharks can gather to feed at the same time. This is the largest known manta feeding station in the world.
Hanifaru Bay as shown on Google Eearth. The island on the left is Dhonfanu, where our dive center and our guesthouse are located.
Can you snorkel with manta rays?
You can experience the thrill of snorkeling with manta rays at Hanifaru Bay. To ensure the safety and preservation of the area, all visitors must be accompanied by a guide, specially qualified by the Bioreserphe, who will also provide information on the rules to be followed while snorkeling. The maximum time allowed for snorkeling with mantas is 45 minutes, and there are always rangers on site to ensure that these rules are followed.
To support the protection of Hanifaru Bay, all visitors are required to purchase a ticket for $20, which will always be purchased through the guide.
What can you expect to see?
The opportunity to watch manta rays feed at Hanifaru Bay is a truly unique and memorable experience. As described by Guy Stevens, a marine biologist and director of the Manta Trust, you may see a few manta rays arrive at the bay just after high tide, and then suddenly a whole group will appear, with as many as 200 feeding for several hours in a bay that is not much larger than a soccer field. The tides and currents in this small area create an abundance of plankton, which the manta rays filter out through their gills as they gracefully move through the water with their impressive wingspans of up to 3.5 meters.
While watching the manta rays feed, you may feel as though you are being ignored by the mantas, as they move calmly and sedately through the water. Their cephalic lobes are rolled out and their mouths are open wide in order to take in as much plankton as possible. If there are more than 50 manta rays in the bay, you may be able to observe a phenomenon known as “cyclone feeding,” in which one manta swims slightly offset behind the other, forming a long line that eventually closes in on itself to form a vortex-like motion. It is a truly awe-inspiring sight to behold.
If the number of manta rays in the bay increases to over 100, you may witness a spectacular and chaotic feeding frenzy as the mantas spiral outward and the chain breaks. It is a truly unforgettable sight to see these majestic creatures bumping into each other in their eagerness to feed on the abundant plankton.
During manta season at Hanifaru Bay, it is common to see 5 to 10 manta rays on most days. On good days, it is possible to see up to 50 or 70 manta rays, and on particularly good days, you may be lucky enough to see up to 200 manta rays or even more. While it is not possible to snorkel alone with the manta rays, the presence of other visitors does not diminish the experience of watching such a grandiose natural spectacle.
When is the best time to come?
Manta season at Hanifaru Bay runs from May to November. During this time, the best days are typically around full moon, but it is also usually good around new moon. It is worth considering these dates when planning your trip.
Full Moon: 05.05.2023, 04.06.2023, 03.07.2023, 01.08.2023, 31.08.2023, 29.09.2023, 29.10.2023, 27.11.2023
New Moon: 19.05.2023, 18.06.2023, 17.07.2023, 16.08.2023, 15.09.2023, 14.10.2023, 13.11.2023
Number of mantas in Hanifaru Bay:
05.05.2023 no mantas
19.05.2023 50+ mantas
04.06.2023 50+ mantas
18.06.2023 70+ mantas
03.07.2023 200+ mantas
17.07.2023 100+ mantas
01.08.2023 150+ mantas
16.08.2023 70+ mantas
31.8.2023 100+ Mantas
15.9.2023 30+ Mantas
Below the data from 2022:
Full Moon: 16.05.2022, 14.06.2022, 13.07.2022, 12.08.2022, 10.09.2022, 10.10.2022, 08.11.2022, 08.12.2022
New Moon: 01.05.2022, 30.05.2022, 29.06.2022, 28.07.2022, 27.08.2022, 26.09.2022, 25.10.2022, 24.11.2022
Number of mantas in Hanifaru Bay:
01.05.2022 80+ mantas
16.05.2022 80+ mantas
30.05.2022 80+ mantas
13.06.2022 40+ mantas
29.06.2022 200+ mantas
13.07.2022 50+ mantas
28.07.2022 150+ mantas
12.08.2022 10+ mantas
27.08.2022 200+ mantas
10.09.2022 no mantas, but they returned 3 days later
26.09.2022 50+ mantas
10.10.2022 120+ mantas
25.10.2022 10 mantas
08.11.2022 60+ mantas
24.11.2022 20+ mantas
08.12.2022 20+ mantas
These figures are, of course, only a snapshot on a full or new moon. This year is a good year in any way, with lots of manta rays almost every day. The manta season in 2022 was quite long, too. As the general weather situation still hasn’t changed, Hanifaru Bay is still going strong. On 14.12.2022, for example, there were more than 100 manta rays in the bay. Shortly before Christmas, the manta season finally came to an end.
On 15.05.2022 the first whale shark of this season showed up. Mantatrust has reported that they have already sighted 17 individuals by the end of July 22, so they’re set to overtake the 2021 total very soon. At present there are up to three whale sharks in the area all the time. Often one or two join the manta rays in Hanirafu Bay. In 2022 we saw a whale shark almost every day from mid-August to the end of November, mostly in Hanifaru Bay. This is exceptional and confirms that 2022 was a particularly good year for whale shark watching.
The whale sharks seen here are only juveniles with a length of 6 – 9 metres. It is not known, why there are no adult whale sharks here.
Giant Oceanic Mantas
Hanifaru Bay is a truly special place to go snorkelling with mantas, but the chance to see giant oceanic manta rays there is a rare and exciting experience. These magnificent creatures are the largest species of manta rays and can have wingspans of up to 7 meters, although they are typically around 4.5 meters. It is not common to see Giant Oceanic Mantas in Hanifaru Bay, but on rare occasions, individual specimens join the smaller reef mantas to feed in the bay. If you are lucky enough to see one of these giant oceanic mantas while snorkeling at Hanifaru Bay, it is sure to be a truly extraordinary experience.
Hanifaru Bay also has a resident group of spinner dolphins consisting of 14 individuals. Unfortunately, you don’t often get to see them, as they are usually away during the day.
During the manta season there is a lot of plankton in the water, no plankton – no manta rays, but visibility is still usually more than 25 m. If it is cloudy, then of course it is also darker accordingly.
In the summer months it is monsoon season. You have to expect rain from time to time. Most of the times it is not raining every day, and if then only a short rain shower. This usually does not bother people at all. However, if you are unlucky, it can rain a lot for several days in a row.
Temperature is around 30°C (86°F) during daytime and 29°C (84°F) during the night, the water temperature is 29° (84°F). The humidity is around 85 – 90%.
Information about the work of Manta Trust can be found here.