Mola Mola and Manta Madness! - Diving Nusa Penida, Bali

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September 29th 2008
Published: September 30th 2008
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I don't often get time to update my blog now - but sometimes, I'm lucky enough to see something or do something so amazing that I just want to write it up straight away. Yesterday was one of those days.

Nusa Penida is a rocky, rugged island off the south-east of Bali, virtually uninhabited, undeveloped, a sanctuary of wilderness on land and a deep water wonder under the sea. I thank the Blue Planet for this experience - I'd seen the Mola Mola or Sunfish on episode - oh I forget - watch them all - it's one for sure. The episode is full of interesting deep water fish, rising up out of the blue to visit reef cleaning stations, attracting hordes of long-fin bannerfish, butterflyfish, angelfish - the reef fish tuck in to delightful parasites that just itch those big bodies so. The Mola-Mola or Oceanic Sunfish is one of the wierdest, it's the heaviest known bony fish (sharks have cartilage rather than bones) - it weights 1 tonne and is about 3 meters in diameter, but really narrow - imagine a rounded, fined, fishy king-size mattress.

Staying in Padang Bai - I'd found a friendly little dive shop Water Worx - a couple of local sites the previous day, and then the highlight a trip to Nusa Penida - where Mantas are almost but not quite guaranteed - this is diving and wildlife sometimes makes a no-show - the Mola-Mola hadn't been sighted for a week or so though - due to the warming water caused by rain.

A hours choppy ride out to the island, and most of the boat was queasy (cue smug diver Ali - took a sea-sickness tablet on the way out) - we hit the first possible site - Crystal Cove.

Crystal Cove has a reputation for being the best place in this region to see Mola-Mola - unfortunately this reputation has lead to many peoples Mola-Mola sightings being a disappointment - one giant fish seen between fins and bubbles making a bee line back to the deep blue... and away from those pesky monkey fish.

When Water-worx talked about checking the conditions - they meant as much the number of dive boats as the water clarity - luckily for me - it was a good day for both. Suited, booted, finned and masked, I rolled back in to the water with a small group of 5 divers. Descended into the freezing water - thermoclines of 19c - an average of 21c - I was cold - and couldn't see any giant fish mattresses. We kicked out towards the drop off - floating at 20m - waiting - watching.

Then - I spotted a grey shape down below - Mola-Mola!! - ting-ting! - that's the sound of a metal rod hitting my tank (my tank bangy - technical diving term!) - I pointed down and descended down to 40m... I get there first - and for a few brief minutes - it's me a couple of angelfish and a 3m fishhead. This is the weirdest big thing I've ever seen in the water. My buddy group catch up - I take photos - staying close to the reef and desperately working to control my breathing - the bubbles scare some fish - we are the weirdest big thing they ever see in the water.

The timidness of the Mola-Mola is demonstrated a few moments later - one of our divers had kicked out into the blue to get a closer look - I saw a visible shiver - and it turned out to the blue and started to retreat. Fortunately our diver realised this and backed up to the reef - the Mola-Mola swept out and curved back around to continue being cleaned. I pinched myself - is this creature for real?

After a few minutes more divers arrived and true to form the Mola-Mola made a break for the blue. Wow - my heart rate was a mile a minute and I was 5 mins from deco. The encounter lasted just 5 mins - but - I was so luck to have had it.

Then I couldn't believe my luck - there was another grey shape further along the reef - I kicked out and made my way towards it... another Sunfish surrounded by long fin baner fish out there on it's own. I made the most of my few minutes before deco - (something I try to avoid when recreationally diving - as it's a pain) - would kick in. I'll put a brief explanation for decompression below... on zero - I made my way back to the shallows - reluctantly. It was one of the most amazing diving experiences I've had.

Another 30mins of choppy and heavy seas a we make it to dive site 2 - Manta Point - a Manta Point that truly deserves it's name.

For the next 49mins I was rolled around and tumbled in a giant freezing cold washing machine of a surging salt-water, narrowly avoiding being buffeted against rocks while twelve beautiful flying carpet fish or Manta Rays twirled and danced and swept above and below and beside me.

Another fantastic dive!

The photos are edited in Picasa - I took them using a Canon G9 in WP-DC9 underwater housing (I'll double check that later) - the white spots are from the masses of particles that were in the water - particularly on the Manta-Point dive.

Thanks to Niko and Newman of Water Worx - divemasters on these dives.

More on the Mola-Mola...

The ocean sunfish, Mola mola, or common mola, is the heaviest known bony fish in the world. It has an average adult weight of 1 tonne (2,200 lbs). The species is native to tropical and temperate waters around the globe. It resembles a fish head with a tail, and its main body is flattened laterally. Sunfish can be as tall as they are long when their dorsal and ventral fins are extended.

Sunfish live on a diet that consists mainly of jellyfish. Because this diet is nutritionally poor, they consume large amounts in order to develop and maintain their great bulk. Females of the species can produce more eggs than any other known vertebrate.

Wikipedia - Ocean Sunfish

Additional photos below
Photos: 21, Displayed: 21


30th September 2008

Hey awesome dude love it, sitting in rainy slovakia today it was nice to see the sea!!!!
30th September 2008

Great PIcs
As usual, great pics Ali! Did you finally upgrade to the G9? No matter what you shot with, you did a fantastic job on these!
30th September 2008

this is absolutely fantastic! I wanna go, but im stuck back home, ahhh! beautiful pictures!!!
30th September 2008

. . .not being a diver I always marvel at your underwater posts.....thanks for sharing that amazing world with us!
1st October 2008

Great pics Ali - what an amazing experience! Now I'm itching to get back in the water!
1st October 2008

Comment #6 awaiting review
Spectacular! I can't even imagine the magical scene, but your pictures help. #4 'Mola Mola - semi side shot' and the photo in the quote box should be on someones walls! What a majestic beast the Ocean Sunfish is.
1st October 2008

i loved it!! awesome pics!!
1st October 2008

Re: Canon G9
Yes - these shots are all from the Canon G9 - with Canons underwater housing. Overall - a great camera - underwater - not an SLR - with all the associated pros-and-cons of that. There is a slight problem with noise on high ISO's compared to my DSLR - but - given it's size and compact nature - and that underwater you've got so much noise with particles anyway... cost/size/results - I'm very happy with it. Thanks for all the comments!
2nd October 2008

Love these pictures!
Well done on capturing these amazing creatures. They make me want to do a PADI refresher course next week! Thanks.
2nd October 2008

Sweet!! arhhhh....dived there in July hoping to see some mola mola too...but no luck :-( Seeing your pictures now definitely make me want to go back there and give it an other try!
3rd October 2008

The Mola Mola shots with the angle fish are really exceptional - they give such great perspective... that spp of angle fish is pretty big and the mola mola really dwarfs them! Really awesome! Thanks for sharing them!
3rd October 2008

I envy you - in a good way, of course ;) x
12th October 2008

Nice photos Ali! I saw two in Nusa Penida as well, unfortunately a group of about 12 divers were below them pretty much shielding the sunfish behind a curtain of bubbles. And we didn't see any mantas either!
25th October 2008

I was in the same places you were and was able to see Mantas, Mola's, and Turtles on 1 dive. Amazing. Thank you for posting your photos. I remembered I forgot my camera as soon as I hit the water. ;( Memories are priceless.
1st November 2008

wow! Having just qualified as an ocean diver with BSAC (in cold mercky waters of British quarries!) I am so inspired by these amazing pics and the blogs posted by Ali on this fab website! I can't wait to get my first dives in the ocean and one day share some of these amazing experiences. Keep up the great inspirational work!
30th November 2008

omg!!! you're an awsome photographer.....seriously this picture are amazing to you take close photo of them? these picture are just so beautiful...great job!!!!!!!
20th December 2008

awesome picts
Wow! What an experience it must have been!
3rd January 2009

I am off to buy my underwater point and shoot having seen these pics! x thanks once again for your inspiration!
26th January 2009

That fish is the tits! Looks like an alien. Great shooting, matey.
10th August 2010
Manta Rays

serious props to the photographer. I would have swam for shore faster than you could imagine screaming "OMG!!! im gonna get eaten!" cuz seriously i'd be afraid. But Manta Rays are quite majestic. Just don't stick yor hand in there mouth. P.S. sad manta ray pic in google images. search manta rays and find the black and white photo of a giant manta ray and it's baby. Enlarge and read it. It is quite sad, but ppl didn't know then that manta rays matter. OMG im so talkitive. I might not comment ever again because i will have forgotten, so now i say bye, have a nice day, and don't harm and animals. Ever. Even if they decide that your car needs a new paint job. L8r.
10th August 2010
Manta Rays

hey its me again
saw the pic? sad. i was gonna say something before i left this site, but i forgot. so ciao.

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