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Mantas and Mola Mola in Nusa Penida

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10 September 2009

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After five months of straight shooting, we had to slow down and work on the thousands of images. The WWF Global Photo Network had been patiently waiting for their hi-resolution images but we could feel their itchy fingers wanting to get hold of the files! 🙂 So in beautiful Bali we holed ourselves up in our hotel room to work on images and captions. There was no better place on earth than here to do this work.

And yet we knew we were missing out on a great dive out of Bali. Nusa Penida is known to the world of film makers and photographers as well as ALL divers as one of the most reliable places to see the elusive ocean sunfish or mola mola. And we were right smack in the middle of peak season for molas. So with the generous offer to dive with them, we joined Bali Scuba when we had too much of staring at the computer for one day.  One of Bali Scuba’s owners/partners, David, gladly offered to be our dive guide and off we went on a Thursday morning. We had been warned of a rough crossing and cold 17° – 20°C waters. The upwelling cold waters are, after all, the reason why the molas come up from the deep. And of course, the cleaner fish that abound! But we had no worries with the fast speedboat of David. With 400HP engines, we left Sanur at 9 am and were in Nusa Penida by 9:45am  – no sweat at all and it was all too easy!

One of the fast speedboats of Bali Scuba named ChilliChilli - one of the fast speedboats of Bali Scuba

Well “too easy!” is the reason why the dive business in Bali is thriving. The months of August, September and October are peak season in Sanur – the nearest point from Bali to Nusa Penida. Everybody is here to wish on their lucky stars to see a mola. We have dived thousands of dives all over Australia and Asia, and Yogi the rest of the world, and never saw a mola mola once!  If these animals know what great ambassadors they are and what happy bubble makers they make, they might just start a union!

We have never seen so many divers underwater in one spot and yet the mantas came!We have never seen so many divers underwater in one spot and yet the mantas came!

Our first dive was Manta Point. We were already forewarned that there would be lots of divers after seeing all the dive boats scattered all over one place. We thought, no way would there be any mantas. Well, guess what?  The mantas came not 5 minutes into the dive! I was flabbergasted! It was quite phenomenal that these beautiful ballerinas were unperturbed by bubbles the divers made and actually came quite close! In the one hour dive here, we saw a maximum of 6 or 7 mantas. I actually lost count!

And another manta! And another manta!

Then also like bubbles, all the dive boats disappeared! Off to Crystal Bay everybody went and the main event was eagerly anticipated. Mola Molas! It was already cold in Manta Point so we were soaking up sun during the surface interval to warm up. The second dive was a test of patience. 23°C for one hour with only our hopes to keep us warm. Well, we saw many bannerfish at 28 meters waiting like street car-wash urchins with no business! I seriously did not think I would see one.

At 42 meters there it was, a mola mola with 7 hard working bannerfish and an angelfish!At 42 meters there it was, a mola mola with five hard working & two swimming cleaner bannerfish and one angelfish!

Then on the third and last dive, when we had accumulated so much nitrogen, we saw stationary divers at 40 meters! They must be there for a reason, unwilling to move! Then David pointed down . . . mola mola! The first set of divers had to move on as they were fast going into deco. Aaah, the lovely logic of TIME’s UP! We had the mola mola to ourselves for a good 4 minutes, until we soon reached our deco limit. Well 2 minutes of that Yogi went on a non-stop shooting frenzy. He actually didn’t see the huge animal. He only saw it through the camera’s finder, then looked at his computer after 2 minutes and went up!  He didn’t see the mola but he had pictures to prove he was there!

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  • http://www.panda.org/coraltriangle Lida Pet-Soede

    Wow Jurgen and Stella, you found the Mola! That is so special, even while more and more people are coming just to see these amazing deep water creatures, and you kknow its likely that you will see them too, its still quite amazing when you are actually hanging near one and see eye-to-eye. Chris Paporakis a good friends and fantastic underwater filmer, once got an award with his Mola short movie and now each time I am lucky to see one, I hear the music he put over his shots, you should ask him to play it for you once!

    • Stella Chiu-Freund

      We forgot to tell you Lida about the MOLA!!! Yes, it was totally amazing that we could do a day trip out of Bali and see 2 spectacular animals. I’m so sure Chris would have fantastic footage. These animals are right outside your doorstep!!!!! And needless to say, we are having a grand time in Tulamben as well. But that’s for the next blog entry 😉

  • Ari

    Greetings to Yogi and Stella and thanks for sharing this. I have moved to London to continue my post grad studies and looking at these pictures reminds me of the vastness of nature. Thank you and ad multos annos to WWF!

  • http://axel.net.au Axel Passeck

    Hi Yogi and Stella!
    Great to her from you and finally you got a good Manta Shot O’l Mate!
    Still nothing to the ones from Ningaloo but we are very jealous!
    We are now off on our trip of a lifetime in a couple of days, into Australia for a couple of years!
    You guys are stars and please keep up the great work!
    We love you!
    Axel and the Passeck Family!

  • http://www.naturepl.com Tim Aldred

    Absolutely INCREDIBLE!
    Just LOOK at that mola!
    Love the mantis shrimp out of his burrow, too. There’s some great stuff coming out of this trip and it’s so interesting hearing all of your stories! Keep it up!

  • Stephanie

    Hey Yogi and Stella…Bali is sooo great ain’t it??

    Glad that you went with Bali Scuba as recommended…Been faithfully following your blog and drooling at the same time! Hope to see you both soon!

  • vyvy_panda

    GOD!! its really cooooollllll… 🙂