Society of Wildlife Artists blog: Care to dance the manta?

Darren was lucky enough to get up close and personal with manta rays. 

© Darren Rees
Watching wild animals usually involves keeping a respectful distance. Using binoculars or telescopes you can watch them go about their business and enjoy glimpses of their world, but inevitably there is a barrier between you and your subject.
You may be swaddled in outdoor gear or simply looking through a lens – there’s something between the wild and the human. Yet watch a buzzard soar and I want to feel the air rushing around me – I want to know the world from its perspective.
Swim with reef fish and you immerse yourself in their fluid environment. The world they inhabit flows over your body and, supported by water, you can float and twist with freedom akin to weightlessness.
Enter deeper water with a group of manta rays and that sensual feeling prickles with vulnerability. I don't think I have ever felt as at one with an animal’s world.
Tiny stings from microscopic jellyfish suspended in the very plankton the rays are feeding on make my skin tingle. I have become part of the soup.
And from the murky blue the horned wings come, with gaping mouths and sinuous undulations of their dark cloaks. I stretch my hands out sideways as one passes just two feet below and its span far exceeds my own.
Twist and glide, wingbeat and arch – I join the marine rhythm. And for an hour I’m lost in the manta paso doble.

Darren Rees has been painting wildlife for over 20 years and is one of the UK's most highly respected nature artists. His first solo book Bird Impressions was published in 1993 to much critical acclaim. He is a knowledgeable naturalist and also acts as a guide on wildlife tours around the world.

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