Although we see them also in other months of the year February to May is the best time to see several species of pelagic rays.
Cold nutrient rich water from the sea floor is brought by upwelling, caused mainly by the Humboldt Current, to the surface. This upwelling starts usually around mid of February, but this year it started already after the January New Moon in the third week of January. These nutrients support abundant microscopic life, what together with the abundance of fish larvae attract bait fish and pelagic predators feeding on it.
This is the time, when Coiba becomes gathering ground for large pelagic animals like whale sharks, different kind of pelagic rays, tuna, marlin and sword fish.
January and February 2013 we had fewer encounters with whale sharks compared to the last years, what might have been caused by the early upwelling of cold water to shallow depth, but we seem to see more schooling pelagic rays as we had the last year. The last time we had such an abundance of mobulas and pelagic sting rays was in 2006, when cold water hit Coiba earlier than usually. Rays prefer colder water than whale sharks, as per scientific literature, they prefer to feed just above the thermocline in waters between 21 – 28°C, with upwelling cold water around 17°C, while whale sharks don´t like it colder than 20°C.
Mantas and the smaller Mobulas (also known as Devil Rays, Flying Rays or Mini Mantas) as well as Giant Reef Mantas can be spotted now commonly on a variety of dive sites – some of them only accessible with one of our Multi – Day Trips.
Pelagic sting rays with up to 3.5 meters wide visit some of the more challenging and deeper sites, swept by stronger currents in the channel between Canales and Rancheria or around the northern island group of Contreras. They stay usually in water colder than 21°C.
Lucky ones might see giant oceanic mantas with up to 7 meters wing span at some of our cleaning stations this time of the year too.