To see the manta rays evolving, from close up, c'is an extraordinary spectacle... (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
To see the manta rays evolve, from close up, it's an extraordinary spectacle... (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)

The majestic Manta rays of Sangalaki (and the atrocious bite of the stingray)

#Indonesia #Borneo

  Borneo [Malaysia and Indonesia] - July 2009

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation made from a post originally written in French. My apologies for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have been generated during the process. If you are reading French, click on the French flag below to access the original and correct text: 

July 26, 2009. I left Derawan and its archipelago today. I realized this dream I had since the beginning of this Indonesian journey in Borneo : swim with manta rays,, in the waters of Sangalaki !

From graceful giants

First of all (because I am always asked this question): no, large manta rays do not sting. They do NOT have a stinger, and they are totally harmless (unlike the small stingrays, but I will talk about that below...)

I start by giving you some pictures of these magic moments with manta rays, in the waters of Sangalaki (an island of the Derawan archipelago near Borneo, on the Indonesian side)... These graceful giants are powerful, fast. You have to paddle hard not to lose sight of them!

To see the manta rays evolve, from close up, it's an extraordinary spectacle... (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
To see the manta rays evolving, from close up, is an extraordinary spectacle... (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)

At ground level or deeper, they seem more aerial than aquatic. They hover and split the wave of a fin flapping, stretched like a wing.

You can easily go to meet them, simply by snorkeling (PMT), or by scuba diving. I've tested both with pleasure...


Added October 25, 2009 : I published a new post on the Sangalaki Manta Rays, with the video mounted → Excursion to Sangalaki. I give it to you below too:

Swim with mantas in snorkeling

The first time, it was from a big boat with powerful engines, chartered by pilots and mechanics of the MY F (Mission Aviation Fellowship). It is a Christian American organization that has bases and planes all over the world. True missionaries, who do not forget to say the blessing before swallowing their nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice). They rally the isolated populations for humanitarian and religious purposes.

Based in Tarakan, they were a small group of people who came to spend the weekend on the island of Derawan, with women and children. Paul and Becky, my English fellow travellers, bumped into them the day we arrived on the island. The Americans kindly offered us to take advantage of their boat for a snorkeling trip in Sangalaki. We obviously jumped on the occasion!

I don't do much snorkeling, and it's not at all the same feeling as diving. I'm not as good a swimmer as I am a diver, and I always feel a bit "naked", vulnerable, without my wetsuit or regulator, moving around on the surface, tossed around like a small cork in the swell. Much less comfortable for the pictures...

Manta rays are easy to observe in snorkeling. (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
Manta rays are easy to observe in snorkeling. (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)

It's a funny thing to jump into the water, like that, just with his snorkel, to approach the black fins seen spurt in the foam between two waves.

But then... When you put your head in the water, what a show! A real ballet.

It's all about keeping up with the rhythm, between the twists and turns of the mantas. I give you below some small raw video sequences, so that you can appreciate the majestic "flight" of the beast.

When one of them decides to keep you in the curve of its trajectory and approaches right, gaping jaws, all at his feast of plankton, a little shiver runs down your spine. You drink the cup in your snorkel and stop palming so as not to break the spell.

The beautiful continues its momentum and evades you smoothly, without effort, offering you its milky belly by way of goodbye.

Several mantas rays flutter near the surface. (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
Several mantas rays flutter near the surface. (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
Manta rays swim gracefully just below the surface. (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
Manta rays swim gracefully just below the surface. (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
Her mouth wide open, she filters the water to feed on plankton. (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
Her mouth wide open, she filters the water to feed on plankton. (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
Manta rays pass and repass ... (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
Manta rays pass and repass ... (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)

Meeting with the mantas in diving

The second, more stealthy encounter was made by diving a few days later. I was underwater with a ski instructor, Philippe, and his son Julien (I never met as many French people during this trip as in Derawan!).

We crossed a little too far, alas, the road of an enormous manta, all black, this one. Like a real sea devil, with rolled "horns", it did not deviate from its trajectory, and continued, impassively, its slow flight in the blue...

We were lucky to be able to admire the manta rays. They are, it seems, less numerous than in the past. The previous week, tourists went several times to the site without noticing one.

Stingray sting (sting ray)

Finally, this so beautiful first day in Sangalaki ended in pain, for me. I was stung by a stingray. In other words, a beast stingray with blue dotsThis is a very common species in these tropical waters, a miniature but venomous cousin of the harmless large manta rays. Hidden in the sand, at the edge of the beach, it stabbed me with its poisonous sting in my left foot while I was returning to the boat.

I had my diving boots and I was walking carefully. The dart is on the side of the foot, near the little toe, just above the rubber of my sole.

The rangers who guard the island since the Sangalaki resort is closed brought a tub of very hot water to relieve the excruciating pain. Ah... this reminds me of my Rescue ! Yes, the venom of stingrays (is thermolabile, which means that its toxicity decreases at a certain temperature.

Only remedy to soothe the pain of a stingray sting: very hot water. (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
Only remedy to soothe the pain of a stingray sting: very hot water. (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
Just under the small left toe, we see the sting left by the sting of the ray. The left side of my foot is a little swollen. (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
Just under the small left toe, we see the sting left by the sting of the ray. The left side of my foot is a little swollen. (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)

Then I gritted my teeth on the boat until I got back to Derawan. It does not show at all on the photo below, but I hurt, really badly.

I'm brave in the midst of all these caring Americans, and I even find the strength to wince and smile like Indonesians every time they get their picture taken, but this return has been a torture .

I know, it does not show on this picture where I'm brave, but I'm in pain. Very bad ... (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
I know, it does not show on this picture where I'm brave, but I'm in pain. Very bad ... (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)

I was the attraction of the day in the village. A nice lady took me on her motorcycle to the small clinic where, by chance, a doctor was present that day. A young woman who spoke perfect English, who took care of me.

Hot water, anaesthetic injection, incision to clean the inside of the wound. Then medication to avoid infection and prohibition to go in the water for three days, the time to heal...

Convalescence... dry!

Three days of forced rest, therefore, watching the turtles from the pontoon, without ploufs nor snorkeling... what a torment!

I have to stay dry for three days so that the foot scar, and just admire the turtles of the pontoon ... (Derawan, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
I have to stay dry for three days while I heal, and just admire the turtles on the pontoon... (Derawan, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)

But I am doing well. My foot soon swelled up and looked normal again. Marjolijna young Dutch woman who is doing her doctoral thesis here (she studies Derawan turtles and even cleans the beach edges of garbage) was less fortunate than me.

He had the same misadventure with a stingray the day before yesterday. Except the doctor wasn't there. And it was the dispensary assistant, less gifted, who butchered his foot, less carefully.

As a result, his wound looked worse than mine... Stingray stings are common here, it happens very often, to islanders and tourists alike.

I gave Marjolijn what I had left of sterile compresses. We all took them from our little travel pharmacies to allow her to disinfect the wound as well as possible and to soothe the pain in the meantime. I hope she will recover as fast as I did!

In the end, it's more dangerous than it seems, tropical beaches...

Updated August 26, 2009 : Marjolijn tells, on her blog, about her ordeal... Poorly treated, she ended up with an infection 😱 To read (in English) here :
 → About infections and stingrays


  Borneo [Malaysia and Indonesia] - July 2009

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. 8) Bravo for the mantas! I'm delighted for you!
    🙁 Sorry about the stingray adventure... hope the pain passes quickly. So, did you find internet access? A place to stay? Tell us all about it, how is Sangalaki?

  2. Yo

    Superb these mantas and the video gives a small glimpse of the aero-nautical ballet. It's cool dreams come true.

    Biz and welcome back

  3. Hi Corinne,

    Well that's clever now I want to go (grrr) 😡 . Seriously here's another great story about your trip, the feelings must have been too good 🙄 ,I'm well happy for you, shame about the stingray.

    You're too strong to smile while suffering, what's your secret?

    Thanks for the breath of fresh air...!!! 😉

    See you soon 8)


  4. Great write-up Corinne.
    Excellent footage of the Manta Rays. These beautiful creatures. Glad to see you got in some good diving.
    Any pain left?
    Cheers 8)

  5. @Laurence: Yes, I was lucky, despite my mishap with the stingray ... I'm on the return, indeed. I came back to Kuala Lumpur, I take the plane back to France tomorrow night ... It was again too fast, these "small" holidays!

    @Bizut: Merkiii !!! But I swear I did not feel too much Wonderwoman after that damn stingray sting ...

    @Paskle: Yes, I saw the news the other night while I was typing on my netbook to put my manta ray pictures online. I had a good laugh reading this... That makes me at least one thing in common with Nicolas!!! 😆
    Except me, I do not even need to jog to fall into apples in the street, as you know. Moreover, the other day in Sangalaki, I feared, at the moment, with the stingray sting, to make a vagal discomfort again ... But no, I remained perfectly conscious, to feel all the pain radiate me in foot.

    @Nono: You're right, I should walk on stingrays more often ...

    @Manta: The pain passed the evening of my mishap. No worries, it has healed and healed!
    In Derawan, I stayed at the losmen Danakan. No internet on the island, it is only returned to Tarakan that I could connect and post these images, from a hotel with wifi.
    Sangalaki is a small desert island or almost. The resort is abandoned and closed. There are only a few guys that I suppose are missioned by the government, who record the passage of visitors and who count the turtles. The funds are much less sumptuous than those of Sipadan, but the presence of mantas is an attraction in itself. I will tell more about Derawan, Sangalaki and Kakaban in future posts.

    @Views of China: Welcome to Little Bubbles Elsewhere, Lili. I hope to continue offering you "refreshing" breaks.

    @Funnyworld: Yes, the trip is coming to an end, already ... I can not believe it's happening every time faster than before. But I'm happy, I took full mirettes, on land as under water. I'm posting new posts soon ... But yours, holidays, are approaching! Make the best of it! Bizzz

    @Alain: Hey, hey, this blog, it is designed specifically to give you the desire to leave !!! As for smiling, suffering, or suffering with a smile, it only lasted 30 seconds, the time of the photo.

    @Karl: Hi Karl! The pain is gone, so no worries about it. I was able to dive again two days later !!! And I'm very proud that you're promoting my blog to your family and friends! Thank you for your help that day ... I really had a good time in Sangalaki with you guys, despite this painful incident. Say hello to the others for me. I'm back in KL, now, and will fly back to France tomorrow. I'm gonna post more pics very soon.

  6. Hello the traveler,
    I see you accomplished your mission, see Manta ...

    The mishap with the stingray ends well, so no problem, but am impressed that it passes through the botillon ...

    I am in France and I leave Thursday for Singapore, then Phuket. Our planes will almost cross each other ...

    Good shopping tomorrow at KL and welcome back ...

  7. Veinarde, it is a sacred experience to swim with mantas.
    I hope to go to Maldives or Malaysia one day.
    Have a nice trip.

  8. @Martinoo: For a bit, we could almost drink a shot together in Amsterdam !!! Welcome back to Phuket.

    @Denis: I am really happy to have realized this dream of mantas in Sangalaki. And now, as everyone is telling me, I dream of the Maldives ... (sigh)

    @ Marie-Julie: I'm getting ready for a "real" video, edited properly, with the aquatic ballet of the mantas ... I'm really happy to have seen them. It's not so common, like meeting ...

  9. Veni sangalaki, vidi birostri 8)

    In Corsica I had seen a diver stung by a live one and the wound had necrosed to the point of needing a skin graft. Glad for you that it went better 😡

  10. @Alimata: Ooh, it's dangerous in Corsica too!!! 😕
    I was lucky to have been treated "cleanly" by a competent doctor. I feared the infection, but she spun the ad hoc meds to avoid that. The next day, my foot began to dislodge and then I was very good for two days: I stayed dry to recover from my emotions in my hammock, so that the wound was closed properly. I'm doing really well ...

  11. Interesting the dilating effect of the stingray stingray
    Do you have any information on the impact of this poison on a highly vascularized male organ?
    If it works, there is a buoyant market that deserves a market study and ...

    Yes, Corinne, I know, you're right, it's not the place ...

  12. @Alimata: Here, the Hairy Troll has struck again!!! 😆
    I dare not imagine the violence of the pain caused by the toxins in this sensitive area ...

  13. Hey Sister in stingray-bread!

    The stingray was not so kind to me. After you left I got a major infection, today, 2 weeks after the sting I still can not walk and the wound is still inflamed, despite the good care Dokter Wita. All about the mantri (stand in for the docter that gave me the first care) put the unclean 5cm scissor deep inside my foot! Wawan finished the fieldwork for me so the research is still going great.
    Nice that you found my weblog! I should update I more frequently but you now the internet situation on Derawan island 😉 In the next 2 weeks I will update it with new posts! I am also so happy to know your blog, it's great, except sometimes I have to guess for the french translation 🙂
    What a great overview of how to travel to Derawan! AT the moment I'm back in Jakarta for the last time I'm finally asking for a major foot-check-up!

    Keep on diving & posting such nice stories!


  14. @Marjolijn: Oh, I'm so happy to you, but I'm really sorry for your foot and that serious infection. I realize now, when you say that I was ... I was ... I could walk almost normally at the end of the day Dr. Wita's efficient care. Despite this dreadfull story, it's a good news that you could count on Wawan to help you. I'm gonna check your blog for the next posts!

    I have plenty of stories to tell here. Derawan itself, but more photos and posts are coming soon. For the translation, the Google Translator I have installed in the right sidebar is not very accurate, but it helps to get the global meaning.

    I sincerely hope you will be soon on your two feet. Take care, sister in stingray-bread!

  15. Hello Corinne,

    I'm catching up a bit (reading your stories), and I see once again that you always manage a bit to transport us in your luggage or to make us envy 😛 with your new stories, new adventures (or even misadventures 😈 ) or still great shots 😉
    Do not stop especially ❗
    @ soon

  16. @ N @ me: Thank you ... Nice to manage to carry you a little with me at the end of the world! I have no intention of stopping, rest assured. New articles arrive very soon.

  17. Hello,

    here's a little movie made this summer in manta point in Bali 🙂

    it was the first time I saw it for real 😉

    I was in front of it like a kid in front of a chocolate cake 😆

    A real joy to see this majestic being evolve in front of me 😯

    I understand better now, when they say, once you've seen mantas you want to go back 😥


  18. @lain: Many thanks for the link! Another magical moment ... Yes, the mantas, once we have tasted, we have only one desire: to see them again and again!

  19. Hello

    I had heard so much about SANGALAKI that via, I had this link with this CR and this blog.

    Thank you for this information, and congratulations for this favorite for the Mantas! I'm crazy for 10 years, and I had the chance to meet here and there ... or even more, in Mexico ...

    For sting ray, unless I'm mistaken, she has a sting but it is not poisonous. It is shaped like a knife with streaks, which makes the exit very painful. A famous Australian presenter was killed a year ago with a direct blow to the heart. In the sea - again, unless I'm mistaken - only the backbones of the fish are poisoned. Not to mention seashells or sea snakes.

    La viv, too, has a venomous spine, which puts it in the category of stone fish and other scorpions.

    The stingray or gray stripe has only its sting.

    Then, as the injury can be deep, the infection can develop, especially in a tropical environment. Where may the problems of the other person


  20. @ Manta-Passion: I think there's an error on your part ... I'm going to contradict you, because I'm sure of my fact: the sting of the line that stung me contained venom. The pain, blazing, spread all over my foot. The area began to turn blue and the top of the foot to inflate within an hour.

    The doctor who treated me told me again that stingray toxins were heat-labile and she first re-dipped my foot in a tub of hot water to help me with the pain (pain equivalent, according to her, "to that of a scorpion sting"). Immediate relief!

    Then she took care of incising and cleaning my wound (wound that was superficial and very small), precisely to prevent the possible infection due to the barbs of which you speak. (Infection that did not escape the young Dutch, alas.)

    In fact, if all the lines are not venomous, there are still quite a few species that have venom glands at the base of one or more spines, placed on the tail. I read in my little book on the tropical underwater fauna, that the black spot, the stingray with blue spots, or the American stingray are venomous, to name but a few.

    And I refer you to this link (exciting) that I just found, which precisely details the characteristics of the underwater venomous fauna:
    Envenomation by marine animals

    As for the famous case of the guy who died because of a stroke of ray tail right in the heart, I believe, precisely, that it is because of the venom, sent in full vital organ, that he succumbed ( I would have to find the story on the internet).

    In short, all this to say that I prefer, like you, definitely the mantas who, they, have the grace to be devoid of sting ...

    1. Hello,
      I got stung by a ray 5 days ago in Acapulco! Absolute horror !!!
      tremors, shortness of breath, and big burns for at least an hour!
      then I went to Montreal to see some friends but 5 days later my toes were all bruised and my foot was still swollen and my stomach was completely messed up by the poison "gastro style" 🙁
      it may be the cold that avoids deflating and I feel like walking with a ski boot!
      I return in a few days in France and I hope that all this will remain a bad memory!
      good continuation on your travels 😉

    2. @ meaculpa2001: it would be better to consult a doctor, who will give you medicine against both infection and pain. The stings of these lines can take a very long time to heal, and the foot remain inflated, if not treated properly ...

      Anyway, I sympathize, because I still remember the pain ...

    3. the doctor gave me a bite, boiling water, and antibiotics!
      it calms down slowly!
      thank you for all this information 🙂

  21. Bjr Corinne

    Well then, as the tree said to the lumberjack, I saw! I knew I had to take all my precautions with stingrays of course, but in addition they are poisonous, I can not believe my esgourdes! And in addition to the Eagles !! So here, who do you trust my good lady !!

    In any case, I have done additional research that corroborates what was said about the link, which is very interesting, on marine envenomation.

    Like what, even after 15 years of diving, we learn always and again !!

    thank you and have a good trip

  22. @Poums: Thank you ! To contact me, it's easy: via the "Contact" link at the bottom of the page, which opens a new message in your email, or "Contact" tab at the top of the menu, which opens a form to fill in. will arrive by email.