Manta Ray Bay Resort
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    Moonstruck & Over-whaled

    By Daniel Brinckmann, June 2023
    Sunfish, Yap, Micronesia - Daniel Brinckmann

    When it rains in the tropic, it pours. Thunderstorm clouds and extreme low tide turned our visit to the cleaning station in Goofnuw Channel off Yap in Micronesia into a night dive. “Only” two mantas at bad condition were not exactly uplifting, so when Yap Divers’ second boat arrived and its Captain casually mentioned they just spotted a couple of orcas, we took it with a grain of salt… the way one would react to somebody saying they came across a great white on the way home from La Gabinière to Hyères. However, his cellphone video changed our minds in a second! Off we went and right away we saw the huge dorsal fins sticking out of the water, less than 300 meters from Manta Ray Bay Resort. No matter how calm we were, they disappeared as soon as we entered the water. Off. Gone. Yet another, distinctively different fin that was around at the same time, remained on the surface. It turned out to be the largest sunfish I’ve seen to date. Measuring at least 3 meters from fin to fin, the gentle behemoth dwarfed fellow guest Cécile, whose praying in awe was all spontaneous, not on command in “spread your arms and swim below the manta” fashion. Among all perspectives, I found Cécile expressing her reverence was the keeper as it shows what we all feel when Neptune decides to do magic in front of us visitors. When more snorkelers arrived, the sunfish resorted to its defensive technique – laying flat on the side and rotate its body – so we decided to leave the animal alone. Much later did I learn that marine biologists off Papua New Guinea described orcas playing with sunfishes in a similar way cats play with a mouse, enabling young ones to learn hunting strategies. It seems our sunfish had its lucky day!

    Family of Orcas, Yap, Micronesia - Photo: Daniel Brinckmann

    Given the dark sky, I opted for a 50mm macro lens for the second dive. After all, the encounter with the Orcas sure was a one-time chance, right? Wrong. Minutes into the boat ride, fins popped up again and there I was, equipped for grouper portraits. I set the camera speed to 1/500s, went into the water alone and this time they stayed. Trying to fit a fast-moving 8-meter animal into that frame is a challenge – capturing a family of four with close to zero ambience light into the small angle of a macro lens is impossible. Almost. What saved the shot is the visibility that often exceeds 50 meters off Yap’s outer reefs. So, this once-in-a-lifetime-composition that lasted a split-second, was even possible from 10 meters distance. With the noise to be expected from the ancient camera I used back then, I avoided high ISO and worked at a setting only a lunatic would use these days.


    • Nikon D80, Ikelite housing, 2x Ikelite DS160 strobes.
    • Sunfish: Tokina 12-24mm, f9, 1/250s, ISO 200, strobes set to full power
    • Orcas: Sigma 50mm, f2.8, 1/500s, ISO 200, ambience light, Neat Image Software for noise reduction

    Daniel Brinckmann

    Translated from the original article in PLONGEZ! Magazine, NO. 46.

    Translated from the original article in PLONGEZ! Magasine, NO. 46.
    1-800-DIVE-YAP (1-800-348-3927)