Vieques

Victoria the Manta Ray

Excerpted from "Vieques, A Photographically Illustrated Guide to the Island, Its History and Its Culture"

On many nights a large Manta Ray named Victoria visits the Mosquito Pier, swimming back and forth where the floodlights shine into the water near the beginning of the pier. Victoria has become a tourist attraction, delighting the savvy tourists who make an evening visit to the pier, a "must-do" part of their Vieques experience.

Victoria

Victoria

One night at the end of June 2003, Habiba and I made our way to the pier. There were just three fishermen, sitting there at the time. We walked over to the edge of the pier and within minutes this manta ray cruised right by us. It swam just below the surface and close up against the dock. It was a big, beautiful manta ray, black with white spots on its wings. It swam slowly just a few feet from the edge of the pier starting from where the lights began and continuing until it reached an area of darkness. Then it would make a wide circle, go around and come back to the beginning of the lights.

The big manta ray illuminated by the dock lights and cruising so close to us on that quiet starry tropical night had a surreal quality that served almost to hypnotize those of us observing from above.

Now, everyone is talking about this manta ray that people call Victoria. So on August 1, 2003, we returned to the pier to see Victoria again. We were there a bit earlier, around ten o'clock at night, and there were about a hundred people there. Cars were lined up on both sides of the pier. People were hanging over the dock and along the railing above.

People were selling stuff out of trucks set up with beach umbrellas. A man and a woman were baking clams on a grill and offering them for sale. Another couple was selling skewers of barbequed shish kebabs.

Some people had brought chairs and were stretched out relaxing, but there was no manta ray, there were calamari and tarpon, but no manta ray. A man with a video camera and other sophisticated photographic equipment told us that Victoria had not showed up yet and that he heard that she wasn't there the night before or the night before that. Maybe she would show up later that night, or maybe Victoria was just taking a break.

Meanwhile, people didn't seem to care. It was like a party, everyone just watching out for that manta ray. We don't know if Victoria came back that night or not, but we left and figured we'd return when it wasn't a weekend or maybe later at night, just in case Victoria was shy with so many people hanging around.

We came back to the pier at around 9:00 PM on August 6. There were people and food vendors and there was Victoria, replete with an entourage of remoras swimming just above and just below her. And she was putting on quite a show. When she got by the center of the crowd, she'd rise to the surface and the people would cheer. Then when she reached the end of the lights, she would bank like a jet plane when it makes a turn putting one white-spotted wing into the air and then she'd swim around for another pass and more applause.

The people were thrilled. Men and women, little children and teenagers, Puerto Ricans from the Main Island, Viequenses and North Americans all enthralled by the spectacular Manta Ray Show. It seemed to us that eco-tourism is alive and well on the island of Vieques.

Manta Ray Facts