Giant Mantas of San Benedicto Island

The focus of our trip was to photograph the giant mantas (Manta birostris) at San Benedicto Island in the Revillagigedo Archipelago. These are the largest mantas in the world and can be more than 20 feet (6 meters) across and weigh up to 3,500 pounds (1600 kilograms). The dive site called “the Boiler” is a cleaning station for these mantas where fish remove parasites from their bodies. Consequently, this site provides the best opportunities to see and photograph these gentle giants.

Giant manta with two remoras attached. San Benedicto Island, Mexico.

The Revillagigedo Archipelago lies approximately 390 kilometers (240 miles) off the coast of Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. These Pacific islands are more commonly referred to as the Socorro Islands. Aboard the Southern Sport, we dove 3 of the 4 islands (Roca Partida, San Benedicto, and Socorro).

“The Boiler” has the best encounters in the Revillagigedo Archipelago, Mexico.

A color variant from the more common black and white manta is an all black or nearly all black manta. It is not a different species of Manta birostris. However, it is exciting when one showed up as it looks so different.

The “black manta” is a color variant of the Manta birostris. Pacific ocean, Mexico.
Both color variants are shown here. San Benedicto Island, Mexico.

San Benedicto is the island for the giant mantas. They are used to divers and show no fear of people. They swim It seems a bit surreal, even a few weeks after our encounter with them, to have had huge mantas swim within a few meters of us. 

What do they think of us when we look into each other’s eyes? “The Boiler”, Mexico.
Pair of mantas (Manta birostris) at San Benedicto island, Pacific ocean, Mexico.
“The Boiler” at San Benedicto Island, in the Revillagigedo Archipelago, Mexico.



Whitetip Reef Sharks: Socorro Islands

The Revillagigedo Archipelago lies approximately 390 kilometers (240 miles) off the coast of Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. These Pacific islands are more commonly referred to as the Socorro islands. Aboard the Southern Sport, we dove 3 of the 4 islands (Roca Partida, San Benedicto, and Socorro). The whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus) is common here.

Whitetip Reef Shark Swimming At El Canyon Dive Site At San Benedicto Island
Male Whitetip Reef Shark. The Reproductive Claspers Are On The Bottom

The whitetip reef shark rarely exceeds 1.6 meters (5 feet). It is nocturnal and rests during the day under ledges and caves.  At Roca Partida, we observed many groups of whitetip reef sharks congregating in groups of 3 to 15 on the ledges. By approaching them slowly we were able to capture this behavior.

Group Of Five Whitetip Reef Sharks On Ledge At Roca Partida


Group Photos Are Possible By Approaching These Sharks Slowly


These sharks hunt at night and eat mainly crustaceans like crabs, lobsters, and shrimp as well as bony fishes. They tend to hunt in groups. During the day, it was interesting to observe many large lobsters out in the open just a few feet away from the whitetip reef sharks. Apparently, the lobsters know that they are safe from these sharks during the day.

If Disturbed Whitetip Reef Sharks Swim A Short Distance And Return To Their Ledge.
Pregnant Female Cruising Over The Volcanic Island Known As Roca Partida.


From Safari To Sharks

Strange to be photographing lions and leopards in the Serengeti National Park in Africa one week and then photographing sharks in the Bahamas about a week later! We departed from West Palm Beach, Florida and headed to the famous “Tiger Beach” off of Grand Bahamas Island in hopes of finding tiger sharks. The Dolphin Dream, a 83 foot ocean expedition liveaboard, was our home for a week and we were well looked after by Captain Scott, Gerard, Shane & Heidi. We sailed through the night, cleared customs in the Bahamas in the morning and headed to a spot to do a few checkout dives in the afternoon to make sure our gear was working fine.  It wasn’t long before we were taking photos of lemon sharks which commonly inhabit this area. Day 1 was all about lemon sharks.

Lemon Shark, Bahamas
Lemon shark with remoras attached getting a free ride in the Bahamas
Lemon Shark in clear blue water near Grand Bahama Island

Sharks are opportunistic feeders and lemon sharks are no exception. They are slowly swimming about searching for food but once it appears they quickly shift gears and the action can get lively. These sharks discovered food in the sand and the competition to get there first is fierce. Notice a second shark below the first one in the second photograph.

Lemon Sharks Looking for food in the sand, Bahamas
Lemon sharks competing for food at the Anchor Chain dive site, Bahamas

Lemon sharks are easy to identify as the first and second dorsal fin (the fins on top of their backs) are almost the same size whereas most other sharks the back dorsal fin is much smaller. These sharks can reach 11 feet in length but are commonly found in the 7 to 10 foot range which are the size that we photographed. Their eyes are a bit smaller than other sharks and they often swim with their mouths partially open.

Lemon Shark Cruising Through the Bahamas
Pair of Lemon sharks north of Grand Bahama Island
Lemon Shark at Anchor Chain Dive site, Bahamas

One of the new photographic techniques we are trying to master is what is called an over-under where you place your camera 1/2 in the water and 1/2 out. This captures the shark in the water and at the same time shows the sky. We tried these as the sun was going down at the end of the day. It gives a very unique and different perspective of these lemon sharks. Not bad photos for our first attempt at “lemon-snaps”! Thanks to Terry Steeley of In The Blue Photography for all his advice about this technique.

Over Under Lemon (1)-
Pair of Lemon sharks, Bahamas photographed at sunset
Over Under Lemon (2)-1506
Lemon shark, Bahamas using over-under technique at sunset