Scuba diving in Indonesia is a dream come true for many divers. The waters here are home to beautiful and fascinating animals. Manta rays are among the most beautiful of all of them, and a highlight for the lucky few who see one up close. This thrilled diver met one face on as it drifted toward him with what appeared to be curiosity. It banked to the side and drifted away, but to his delight, the manta returned a few moments later and suddenly appeared right beneath him.
The current had carried the diver into shallower water and he swam along, looking at the coral and the ocean bottom. The giant stingray had snuck up behind him and then swam right under him, close enough to touch. It seems that curiosity had brought the manta back for another look. It drifted lazily under the diver for almost a minute, even circling and allowing the diver to keep up, as if it wanted to stay close enough to prolong the encounter.
The manta ray swam off again, leaving the diver in disbelief that he had swam in the close company of one of the ocean's most majestic creatures. As if this was not enough, the manta ray appeared one more time, passing over the diver's head. Giant mantas are capable of reaching impressive speeds with just a few flaps of their powerful wings. If the manta was at all concerned about the diver being close enough to touch it, there would be no difficulty for it to be out of sight in seconds. This manta seemed to be as fascinated with the clumsy human as he was with the ray.
Mantas are highly intelligent and very inquisitive. Although it is rare for them to repeatedly circle a diver, they do occasionally make close passes with apparent interest. Mantas have the largest brain to body mass ratio of any fish. Their brains can be up tp ten times as large as that of a whale shark. They have highly developed areas of the brain that are responsible for problem solving, adaptive learning, and communication. It is believed that they are self-aware, having the ability to recognize themselves in a reflection. In studies involving mirrors, mantas acted with extreme interest, but the behaviours were very different than those displayed when mantas encountered other individuals. The mantas even used the mirrors to examine areas of their own bodies that they could not see.
The belief that was once held that we are the only species with extreme intelligence is now being challenged as we begin to understand animals around us much better. But even still, we have more questions than we do answers. And it's clear that we underestimate the complexity of animals far too frequently.