When this young boy peered into the water, he expected to see some fish and not much more. But as he looked out to sea, he felt something move by his feet. And when he saw the size of it, he couldn’t believe his eyes.
La Gomera is a Spanish Canary Island which sits in the Atlantic Ocean, just off the African coast. It is known for its gorgeous, untouched landscapes and attracts visitors from near and far all year round.
The main tourist resort on the island is called Valle Gran Rey and was once a haven for hippies. Today, all kinds of people visit the area, and the town’s biggest draw is its glorious beaches. With that said, though, in recent years the resort has become known for another, quite peculiar attraction.
In 2013 someone caught a strange spectacle on camera. The footage was then posted on YouTube, where over 50 million people have watched it. And it’s not hard to see why viewers have found the video so mesmerizing.
The video opens with a little boy stood in the water on the edge of Valle Gran Rey harbor. As if to attract something, he starts splashing his hand in the waves. And then, not before long, a giant fin arrives sloshing at his feet.
Undeterred by the mysterious mass in the water, the little boy begins throwing fistfuls of food into the deep. As he does so, there’s a noticeable stirring in the ocean. Yes, as the unknown sea creature nears the shore, a number of fish dart out of the way to accommodate it.
After that, everything goes quiet for a while – until the beast then comes back with a vengeance. Without warning, the creature in question emerges from the water and drags itself up a ramp to come within touching distance of the child.
It is only really at this point of the video that viewers can make out what lies beneath the water’s surface. The harbor visitor is, in fact, a gigantic manta ray. And as it turns out, this ray is on the hunt for its next meal.
However, the creature isn’t content to feed like other rays of its kind. Instead, he wants the little boy, Joel, to place food directly into his mouth. And so in unbelievable scenes, Joel can be seen hand-feeding the animal before giving it a reassuring stroke.
Happy with its meal, the manta ray responds by giving the boy an appreciative wave of its fin. Then, for a few minutes, the fascinating fish skulks around the harbor, returning regularly to Joel for a quick bite or a pet. Indeed, it seems completely at ease in the company of humans.
At one point, the ray appears to try and get closer to Joel as it enjoys a stroke. However, it seems that the animal has places to be, and so it soon departs the scene – leaving its little friend all alone on the seafront.
There is, however, a good chance that Joel and the manta ray met again, because Vueltas, where the extraordinary scene took place, is still a popular fishing harbor. As a result, manta rays often follow boats into the harbor in the hope of feasting on their discarded bycatch.
In the past, sailors were superstitious about mantra rays. Indeed, due to the creature’s size and power, some seamen believed that the animals could sink boats by yanking on their anchors. However, in 1978, a group of divers in California began to interact with the creatures and revealed them to be very placid indeed.
And since then many people have formed bonds with the animals – just as Joel did. In fact, in recent years many videos have emerged online showing humans interacting with manta rays in the ocean, and the vast majority of them depict positive experiences.
One such video mirrors the one in which Joel stars. The footage was taken in the Maldives and shows a mantra ray climbing a ramp to take food from some excitable tourists. And after its meal, the ray sticks around for a while, allowing onlookers to play with it.
Another video features a group of divers just off the coast of Costa Rica. The party are exploring the underwater landscape when a giant stingray swims over to them. But that’s when they realize that the animal is actually caught in a fishing net and needs their help to be freed.
Luckily, the divers were only too happy to oblige and swiftly got to work. In the astonishing footage, a man – Brian Thompson – cuts the stingray free with a knife, allowing the sea creature to continue its life in the ocean as normal.
Unfortunately, rays often get caught in fishing nets. In fact, alongside fishing, entanglement poses a big threat to manta ray populations. Sadly, conservationists now consider the species to be vulnerable to extinction.
However, in some ways the animals’ online popularity may help their conservation status. Manta tourism is now popular across the globe. And not only does it raise money for local economies, but it also raises awareness of the creature’s plight.
In fact, in 2014 Indonesia banned manta rays fishing after realizing tourism was actually much more profitable. Because while a dead manta could be sold for $500, an animal in tourism may earn $1 million during its lifetime. So while Joel’s gesture might not seem much at first, the more people who get to see manta rays as friends, not foes, the better it is for everyone.