For Joel, a dog or cat just wasn’t going to cut it. He had another animal in mind that he could call a pseudo-pet. Their daily routine had Joel going down to the water in his village to interact with the amazing creature, showing people that they are not to be feared.
Jake Wilton, an underwater photographer from Australia, found the same thing while diving around a reef. The creature was gigantic, but far from harmful. It was placid, even, wanting nothing more than help from someone it trusted. Keep reading to find out what magnificent sea creature these two interacted with.
Valle Gran Rey Is Known For Its Harbor
Joel is a young boy who lives in Valle Gran Rey, a tiny village on La Gomera, one of Spain’s Canary Islands. The town is known for its beautiful black sand beaches and top-notch dive sites. Tourists aren’t the only ones that are attracted to the beauty of the island, though.
The village is also known for its harbor. So, one can typically see boats as well as fishermen lining the waters. Often, they throw unwanted fish back into the water, which then attracts even more sea creatures. That’s how Joel met his unlikely friend.
Joel Went Down To The Water With Food
One morning, Joel and his friend went down to the harbor waters with food. And what seemed like a typical event for the boys turned into something else altogether for onlookers. Someone captured the two on film, hanging out on the steps that go into the harbor.
Again, it seemed as though the young boys were just hanging out near the water. Then Joel started to splash the water around with his hands, almost as if he were trying to alert someone. As it turns out, it wasn’t a someone but rather something.
A Black Fin Popped Out Of The Water
After all of the splashing subsided, Joel noticed a huge fin swimming towards him. Anyone else would most likely be a bit frightened with a giant black fin coming out of the water and swimming straight for them, but Joel was cool as a cucumber. As if he’d done this a thousand times.
And that fist full of food he carried down to the water? Apparently, that wasn’t for him at all. Rather than eat it, he tossed the food scraps into the water! What on Earth was he feeding? It was almost as if it was routine.
The Creature Wasn’t Leaving
The second the food hit the surface; the water began to move rapidly. Joel is in the harbor, so wakes are few and far between. This creature had some power. After all of the food was devoured, the water stopped moving. But the videographers weren’t finished seeing something unbelievable.
When they thought the mystery creature left, the water started to move again. This time, the creature came back at the young boy more forcefully. Maybe it was still hungry and thought Joel was its next meal!
It Was A Gigantic Manta Ray!
By this point, the people watching from the sidelines finally figured out what the mystery animal was. A gigantic manta ray had been approaching the young boy, not at all afraid that the creature was “out of water.” But there was no aggression between the wild sea creature and Joel.
It’s almost as though the manta ray expected Joel to be there to feed him his lunch! Some of the local fishermen knew about the encounter and supplied Joel with shrimp to feed his friend. The manta ray happily scarfed all of it down.
This Manta Ray Likes To Be Hand Fed
Unlike most manta rays, Joel’s buddy has made it perfectly clear that he would rather be hand-fed than hunt for his meals. The best part is, he gets some pats after eating.
In the video, Joel is seen helping the manta ray put his front fin upon the lowest step, a better angle for Joel to give the creature a nice rub down after his meal. He even raises his fin in appreciation after the meal and nice back rub. Who wouldn’t?
The Manta Ray Trusts Joel
The sea creature likes to interact with the young boy. It does not seem afraid at his touch or the food he is feeding him. In the video, you can even see the manta ray inch closer and closer to Joel. It’s quite amazing!
The giant manta ray almost has a puppy-like quality about him, especially considering he goes in for pats and treats. Not once did the creature do anything remotely aggressive or threatening. He trusts Joel and vice versa.
It Was Time To Say Goodbye
Unfortunately, all good things have to come to an end. Once the manta ray had its fill of yummy snacks and human interaction, he left. He was most likely going to rejoin the manta ray ranks that live not far from the harbor.
We bet that won’t be the last time the manta ray will journey to the harbor, though. It is most likely a routine, and he’ll be back the next day and the day after to see his human friend.
There Are Superstitions Surrounding Manta Rays
Although Joel’s manta ray buddy is very friendly, many superstitions surround the sea creature, one of which is an old sailor myth. It’s said that manta rays are bad luck because they will bring death to the entire crew.
This is because it was believed that manta rays were able to attach themselves to the anchor of a ship, dragging the entire ship down to Davy Jones’ Locker. Can you believe that they were feared just as much, if not more than, sharks?
The Creatures Aren’t As Aggressive As People Think
Over the years, the superstitions became mere whispers. Even so, maritime workers will still call manta rays sea devils or devilfish, just for old times’ sake! Even so, these creatures have become a sort of tourist attraction. Divers will follow the species in hopes of swimming alongside them.
This is an activity that was once thought of as a huge risk. Now, people realize that the sea creatures are actually very playful and not nearly as aggressive as they thought. Underwater photographer and diver Jake Wilton can personally attest to how friendly these gentle giants are.
Freckles, The Manta Ray
In 2019, a manta ray, nicknamed Freckles by the locals, was found swimming around Ningaloo Reef in Australia with several fish hooks wedged under her right eye. It must have been painful, and with no way to remove the hooks by herself, the manta ray thought it was best to ask for a helping hand… preferably one with opposable thumbs.
Now, it was a waiting game. It was crucial that the manta ray swim up to the right person. Otherwise, they might get scared, and Freckles would be back at square one.
Freckles Wanted Jake’s Help
Underwater photographer Jake Wilton was out diving one day with marine biologist Monty Hall when Freckles swam right up to him. “I’m often guiding snorkelers in the area, and it’s as if she recognized me and was trusting me to help her,” he says.
“She got closer and closer and then started unfurling to present the eye to me. I knew we had to get the hooks out of her eye, or she would have been in big trouble.” Wilton had to move fast, and carefully, so he did not further injure the poor creature.
Wilton Knew He Had To Help. But How?
Thankfully, Wilton understood what Freckles was trying to tell him. She needed help removing the hooks, and she was recruiting him to do it. Unfortunately, Wilton was a photographer and not a surgeon, so he didn’t really know what he was doing.
All he knew was that he had to work diligently and move slowly, so he didn’t scare off Freckles. She was going to be in big trouble if those hooks stayed that close to her eye.
Hall Filmed The Entire Encounter
Hall filmed the entire encounter, getting the incredible moment on film. It must have been wonderous for him, as a scientist, to witness such an interaction between man and a huge sea creature — especially one that was staying still and had complete trust in the human trying to help.
“I’m sure that manta knew that Jake was trying to get the hooks out,” says Hall. Wilton had to dive down several times to unlatch all the hooks.
Freckles Stayed Very Still
Wilton says, “she knew exactly what was going on. She had to show me, give me access. It’s incredible for an animal to work that out so quickly.” And he worked just as quickly, removing the hooks one at a time, so he didn’t hurt the creature.
During the entire procedure, Freckles never moved. She was the perfect patient, allowing Wilton to help her without freaking out in the process. It doesn’t hurt that manta rays are known to be highly intelligent creatures, so she probably knew he meant her no harm.
Freckles Reminded Jake Of A Little Kid At The Dentist
He used a pair of pliers to jimmy the hooks out of the manta ray’s blubbery exterior. Wilton said that the experience almost reminded him of a young kid at the dentist. Freckles would stay extremely still, just watching him, and then flinch at the last second when the pliers were close.
Honestly, we don’t blame Freckles. She was putting a lot of trust in a stranger (with a sharp tool) to dislodge more sharp objects from her face!
They Had To Work Fast
It’s a good thing Wilton decided to dive the reef that day. Having hooks that close to the eye could have led to infection, blindness, or the worst-case scenario, death due to infection. Obviously, none of these would be a good thing for Freckles.
It’s funny, though; the divers jumped into the water when they spotted the manta ray, not realizing that it was there looking for help. Hall thought he imagined things when it kept coming back to their group.
Hall Thought They Were Imagining Things, At First
In an interview with CNN Travel, Hall said, “We were really lucky in that we saw a manta nice and early, and quietly slipped into the water to spend some time with it. After a few minutes, we noticed that it had some fish hooks buried beneath [its] right eye, and was repeatedly presenting itself to our [tour] guide Jake.”
“This wasn’t my imagination, again and again, it came back, turned over, and paused in the water, and — plainly — was looking to us to be helped,” says Hall. It’s a good thing they got the message!
It Took About A Half-Hour
It was a good thing they were there to help, but it did take a little while for Jake to remove all of the hooks. In an interview with CNN travel, Hall said, “Jake got some pliers, and — made several attempts, with the manta returning each time to allow him another go. It was obviously painful for it. “
The entire procedure took Jake about a half-hour, a time that most likely felt like an eternity for poor Freckles. At least he was able to remove all of the hooks without further hurting Freckles.
This It What Happens When Animals Trust A Human
About the experience, Hall said, “It was an extraordinary half-hour or so, and such a clear illustration that these animals have intelligence, trust, and a strong association with folks who treat them with respect.”
It just goes to show what can happen if you treat animals with respect. Even Joel is learning at a very young age that all he has to do for his manta ray friend is give it bits of food and pat it, never engaging it in a way that makes the animal uncomfortable. It is truly remarkable.