According to marine biologists, it is not OK to touch the mantas. I was told that it could lead to skin infections on the animal. But years ago we were allowed to tickle their underside if they came to us. It seemed as though the mantas saw divers as big cleaner fish. They would circle around to check us out. Trying to get the manta to come to me took some serious underwater telepathy. I stayed very still in the water and waved one arm above me to get the manta’s attention. I looked it in the eye, sang to it, and called it to come to me like a would a puppy. It did work and mantas did come to me over and over again. Watching a massive animal swimming a bee-line straight at me was a bit unnerving. I was tempted to duck out of the way, but it gently glided directly above my head. I could reach up to touch it.
Several year ago I had a wonderful encounter with a manta at The Boiler. She came to me over and over again for a belly rub. When she stopped swimming directly above me, we would both start sinking. Mind you she has to weigh a thousand pounds. I had to push myself out from under her and swim back up to shallower water, where she looped around to meet me. This went on about four or five times in a succession. Other divers who were watching said she would roll her cephalic fins and twitch her wing tips when I was tickling her.
I have seen the same manta on return trips to San Benedicto Island. I like to think that she remembers me. For now she’ll have to settle for bubbles.