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CRITTER: Lunch with an eagle ray in Hanalei Bay

As a marine biologist, I have spent more than 10,000 hours in the sea in the last 30 years and over 300 hours in Hanalei Bay where I call home.

Hanalei Bay has very unique marine life because it has a shallow lagoon at Waipa, underwater vertical cliffs on both sides of the bay, outside seamounts at Kings reef and super deep open ocean water right offshore. This creates the habitat for a wide variety of marine life and the mountains that surround Hanalei Bay create a lot of rain, which flows in 11 waterfalls out into the bay.

Hanalei Bay is a very spiritual palace where Hawaiian deities live in and around the bay so you never know what to expect when you enter the water. This can prove to be very exciting and also sometimes hard to understand what is taking place.

One lovely warm afternoon in the summer, I decided to go for a snorkel with my underwater movie camera out to the Waikoko side of the bay. Nothing unusual, but on this dive something very unusual happened when I got about 200 yards offshore.

I love to study Hawaiian mythology and I am well aware that there are ancient Hawaiian spirits that protect the bay and one of them is Kanaloa — the god of the sea. In the Hawaiian Kumulipo ( Hawaiian chant of creation), it talks about how Kanaloa was once a powerful chief and ruled over Hanalei Bay and he could change his form into an octopus at will.

The chant also talks about how hihimanu the eagle ray is the guardian of the coral reef so having an octopus and an eagle ray show up at the same time is quite a powerful experience and what happened next left me wondering if I had swam into another realm .

The Kumulipo talks about how he’e the octopus was the only animal to survive from the previous universe into the current universe and it is an alien to our planet. Sure enough it was discovered that an octopus has DNA unlike any other animal on earth.

As I was diving, I noticed a large eagle ray come out of the deep blue water right toward me. This is unusual because usually they are shy and go away from divers, but this one came at me slowly and started circling right under me.

When it got about 10 feet away I noticed it had an octopus in its mouth. I was so amazed, I turned my video camera on and shot the whole event. The eagle ray made six slow circles right below me, then slowly came right up to me and placed the octopus in my hands. We looked in each other’s eyes, then she slowly left back into the deep. I felt a great deal of respect for the ray and the octopus, and was deeply honored to be a part of this amazing connection.

The Hawaiian name for the eagle ray is hihimanu which means “magnificent.” One of the mountains above Hanalei has twin peaks and it is called Hihimanu, and was said to be the home of the powerful chief Kanaloa.

So why did this magical event happen? I pondered it for quite a while, but felt the story had not yet unfolded. Sure enough, a week after having lunch with hihimanu I discovered a horrible coral disease in Hanalei Bay that killed over 70 percent of the reef within a year.

Sometimes you just have to believe in the connection with nature and follow your path even though you may not know where it is leading. We figured out what was causing the coral disease and fixed the problem, and now Hanalei Bay has many live healthy corals.

You can see the entire video I shot with hihimanu and he‘e in Hanalei Bay on my YouTube link at I am also finishing up a new documentary movie about the amazing marine life in Hanalei Bay. It will be out soon, so make sure and subscribe to my YouTube channel at Underwater2web. All of my 300 underwater movies are kid friendly and produced to use in school educational programs.


Terry Lilley is a marine biologist living in Hanalei Kaua‘i and co-founder of Reef Guardians Hawai‘i, a nonprofit on a mission to provide education and resources to protect the coral reef. To donate to Reef Guardians Hawaii go to
Source: The Garden Island

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