Onlookers surprised to find manta rays swimming in the Ala Wai

Two manta rays caught the attention of many as they swam along the Ala Wai Canal this week.

Viewers shared their video with KHON2.

Nina Ramdedovic was heading to work Monday when she came upon a group of tourists on the bridge overlooking the canal.

“They were just kind of hovering over the railing and they were just going, ‘Oh my God!'” she said.

Initially, she thought a kayaker was in trouble, “and I look and there were just two baby manta rays swimming in circles together.”

Ramdedovic described them as “very graceful just like gliding on the top of the water in and out, almost like they were playing with each other.”

She knew right away, they were witnessing a rare event.

“You expect that in the ocean maybe, but not in a canal,” she said. “That’s the consensus that I gathered from a lot of the people around here is that that is very unusual, and they’ve never seen anything like that, so it’s kind of remarkable.”

Were they manta rays? We reached to several marine experts, including Keller Laros of the the Manta Pacific Research Foundation. Laros also conducts manta ray night dives off Kona with Jack’s Diving Locker.

“It looks to be manta rays. Their back is that characteristic, dark gray, black. They’ve got the white highlights on their shoulders running out to the wing tips,” he said.

But what brought them to mouth of the Ala Wai?

“They know they have to eat about 12 percent of their body weight every week, so if you’re talking to several hundred to a thousand-pound animal, they’ll need a lot of food and they’ll go wherever their environment has the food source, so possibly they strayed in there and found that there was some food in there,” Laros said.

After hanging around for three days, they were gone.

“Maybe with all the rain, the plankton got washed out to sea, so they left,” Laros said.

According to Laros, Hawaii’s manta ray population is relatively small. The foundation has identified 257 on Hawaii Island, 109 on Maui and only 14 so far on Oahu.

He says these manta did not appear to be in distress.

“They seemed like healthy and happy manta rays,” he said. “The white on their back seems really pronounced, which tends to show that they’re kind of happy and excited. You know, we see that when they’re feeding here on the Big Island.”

“I’m glad to see that they’re not there right now,” Ramdedovic said. “They’re probably back in the ocean where they belong.”

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