I am on my way home after spending ten days aboard the Nautilus Belle Amie on a diving trip to the Socorro Islands in Mexico. I signed up for this trip with the expectations of seeing large fish up-close and hopefully coming home with some good photographs to show for it, but did not expect to fall in love with an animal I previously knew very little about.

On the first day of diving I saw my first giant manta. We were at a site called “The Boiler”, a place where the top part of the pinnacle sits about ten feet from the surface, and if the seas are really rocking it looks like the sea water is boiling. The manta came out of the blue, and gracefully flew right past me within inches of my camera. I followed it as it got closer and closer, and fired off a few photos. And then I stopped, frozen, watching it continue its glide past me and towards the other divers. The manta went back and forth, passing by us several times, letting the bubbles from our regulators tickle its tummy. Right there, at about 40 feet underwater, I couldn’t hold back my tears as I watched this graceful, intelligent, and playful creature interact with us like no other wild animal would.

Words and photographs can portray only a glimpse of the experience. This was only one of half a dozen manta encounters on this trip, each one more amazing than the last. And I’m certain that this is the first of many trips to these waters, to say hello once again to these magnificent creatures.