Dancing With The Devil Rays Around The Gili Islands

Gili Trawangan, The Gilis
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The Gili Islands

The Gili Islands were buzzing recently! Day after day, diver after diver returned to land buzzing after seeing a group of Devil Rays cruising around at  Sunset Point/Sunset Reef/Manta Point (depending on which Dive Centre you use). There were regular sightings of these elusive creatures off the south coast of Gili Trawangan for over two months which had divers walking around with huge smiles on their faces. If you were a non-diver visiting the Gilis, you may  have wondered why on earth there were so many people grinning like Cheshire cats; well, let me explain why!

The Devil Rays, or Mobula Rays to give them their true name, were first sited around October last year. To begin with, if anyone saw a group which ranged in numbers from between 8 – 40 at any one time, other divers thought this was pure luck and you were one of the chosen few. Everyone believed they would disappear never to be seen again, but this wasn’t to be the case. A group of Devil Rays were also spotted at Meno Slope off the coast of Gili Meno and continued to hang around Gili Trawangan for quite some time. This gave everyone the opportunity to actively search for the Devils. And not just divers; snorkelers out and about on a boat were reported to have seen them. As Devil Rays are filter feeders, they can sometimes be found just a few metres below the surface, although recent research has shown that they can dive to 2,000 metres which makes them some of the ocean’s deepest and fastest divers- no wonder they are so difficult to find!

So, was everyone lucky enough to see them? Nope! This is nature after all and nothing is guaranteed, and that is what makes diving (and snorkelling) so thrilling … you never know what you will see. Each dive is completely different.

The Gili Island, Gili Trawangan

I was one of the many divers that heard about the Devil Rays and I was determined to find them. During the boat journey on my first devil ray dive search I was filled with high hopes but; alas, after 55 minutes underwater between depths of 8 – 25 metres where they had been reported, sadly it was time to surface with no sighting. There was a disappointed silence on the boat as other groups searched but to no avail … that is; until we picked up the last group of the day who were all paired with smiles from ear to ear. Darn, the Devil Rays were still around and I had just been unlucky! If a 10-year old boy on his first ever dive was lucky enough to see them at 12 metres, then surely I would have a chance? I was gutted I had missed out and shamelessly sulked for a small while.

The Gili Island, Gili Trawangan

I won’t lie, I was in a miserable mood for the rest of the day! Unperturbed, I booked another dive a couple of days later and, with renewed excitement, off I went to search for them. The dive site is beautiful and as turtles, octopus, puffer fish, cuttlefish, titan triggerfish, giant moray eels, schools of blue snappers, big eye trevally and yellow snappers were pointed out to me, I had zero care factor … I wanted to see the Devil Rays (I know, I know, shame on me for being so shallow!).

The Gili Island, Gili Trawangan
Photo credit – #photobyJJ

Once again, I was to be disappointed. They say the sun shines on the righteous and clearly that wasn’t me. This time, I was in an even worse mood. I couldn’t shake the frustration and the sting of disappointment was worse second time around. As a diver, I know that nothing is certain, nothing is guaranteed and everything you see is a blessing, but I am not one of the world’s most natural divers and I do have stress issues (I often tell people that the “Stress and Rescue Course” was written about me!)

So, why do I do it? Why do I put myself through this stress when I dive? It’s simple. It’s the beauty in what I see as I glide through that endless deep blue ocean; and I know for a fact that I am not alone in this feeling of awe.

# Photo credit – Polii Da Raffi

Third time lucky then? I gave myself one final shot of seeing them! I have seen the majestic manta rays in other parts of Indonesia and Devils are their smaller, less famous cousins, so might ask why I desired to see them so much? Well, it’s because they were there and seeing Devil Rays around the Gili Islands is NOT the norm. In fact, no one on the island has reported ever seeing them here. This wasn’t just a rare occurrence for this area but possibly a once in a lifetime opportunity. This was special; really special, and I had never seen Devil Rays before.

The Gili Island, Gili Trawangan

As I boarded the boat knowing I was going to call it quits after this third attempt, I tried to be realistic and, as I entered the water and descended, I tried to appreciate the beauty of the dive site. I took a chill pill (metaphorically speaking!) and relaxed, able to truly appreciate the paradise conditions of warm, crystal aquamarine waters and the abundance of marine life which surround the Gili Islands.

The Gili Island, Gili Trawangan

Ting ting ting ting …!!!!!

That’s the sound of someone using their tank banger! I turned to look where the noise was coming from and I SAW THEM! The Devil Rays! A small group of around 10 cruised on by at 19 metres and I was transfixed. It was a fleeting visit but that was enough for me. Happy was an understatement. Now I could absolutely relax and enjoy the rest of the dive, but not before doing a few summersaults and flapping my arms like a majestic sea-flap-flap (although less of the majestic).

The Gili Island, Gili Trawangan
# Photo credit – Polii Da Raffi

There was more to come … Out of nowhere the group of 10 had joined another group of 20 which were all heading straight for me. Oh wow! This time, at 10 metres, it wasn’t a fleeting visit, I watched in awe as they swam around in an arrow-like formation while I followed from a respectable distance. They swim with such ease even in to the current, with their perfectly built form. I could see their eyes turning and looking; they were aware that I was there. They are naturally shy creatures which has made it difficult for scientists to study them, unlike their cousins the Manta Rays. Mantas will come close to patient divers out of curiosity and have been known to swim in divers’ bubbles … nothing shy about Mantas.

The Gili Island, Gili Trawangan

As I watched the Devil Rays, every now and then one would break from the formation and swim upwards, do a somersault then join the group at the back. Why did they do this? Was it for fun, was it a form of communication or was it because they just want to be at the back like a naughty school child at the back of a bus? With their wing-like pectoral fins, they can swoop through water and have been seen from the surface launching themselves into the air as high as two metres like a bird, hence their nickname “flying rays”. Of course, I may never know what causes this behaviour, and scientists are also perplexed.

The Gili Island, Gili Trawangan

On this dive I spent about 20 minutes watching, observing and following them. If my only breathing source wasn’t the regulator in my mouth, I would have been swimming along with my mouth wide open. The boat journey back to shore was full of excited divers sharing their stories and photographs; everyone was elated … especially me! If only I could bottle this emotion and bring it out in times of need, but otherwise: Mission: Complete!

A month after seeing the amazing Devil Rays, a group of divers saw a Whale Shark!! But that’s a story for another time.

Devil Ray facts

  • There are nine different species of Devil Ray and all are part of the genus Mobula. Together with the two species of Manta Ray, they belong to one family called Mobulidae.
  • Although Devil Rays and Manta Rays belong to the same family, Devil Rays are related more closely to Stingrays.
  • This fish species will generally grow up to 2-3 metres across.
  • Devil Rays are given their name because their cephalic fins point forward giving them more of a devil-like appearance.
  • Fossil records show that devil rays have been around for 20-25 million years.
  • They are one of the fastest, deepest divers of our oceans and, whilst feeding, can dive at speeds of 22kmh to depths of nearly 2km/2,000 metres.
  • Devil Rays are very acrobatic and can be seen performing incredible acrobatics on the surface such as high jumps, twists and turns, even belly flops.


How do I get to the Gili Islands?

Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno are easily reached from Bali, or from nearby Lombok international airport. However, you don’t have to stay on one island, island hopping between the Gilis is easy.

Which Dive Centre should I use?

All Dive Centres visit the three islands so all you have to do is choose where you want to stay and who you want to dive with – simples! If you need advice on where to stay and who to dive with, we can help with your Accommodation and our list of Dive Centres around the Gilis can be your guide!


Were you one of the lucky ones to have dived the Gili Islands and saw the Devil Rays? We would love to hear about your encounter, please tell us in the comments section below.

credit cover photo – #photobyJJ


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