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 sting of the sting ray)

#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 manta rays, from very close, is an extraordinary spectacle... (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)

At the surface or deeper, they seem more aerial than aquatic. They glide and split the wave with a flutter of their fins, stretched like a wing.

You can easily go to meet them, simply by snorkeling or by diving with a tank. I tested with happiness both...


Added October 25, 2009 : I published a new post about manta rays in Sangalaki, with the edited video → Excursion to Sangalaki. I give it to you below too:

Swim with mantas in snorkeling

The first time, it was from a large boat with powerful engines, chartered by pilots and mechanics of the MY F (Mission Aviation Fellowship). It is an American Christian organization with bases and planes all over the world. Real missionaries, who don't forget to say grace before swallowing their nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice). They reach isolated populations by air, for humanitarian and religious purposes.

Based in Tarakan, they were a small group who had come to spend the weekend on Derawan Island, with wives and children. Paul and Becky, my English travel companions, bumped into them the day we arrived on the island. The Americans kindly offered us to use their boat for a snorkeling trip in Sangalaki. We obviously jumped at the opportunity!

I don't do much snorkeling, and it's not at all the same feeling as diving. I'm not a good swimmer than a diver, and I always feel a bit "naked", vulnerable, without my wetsuit nor my regulator, to evolve on the surface, tossed around like a little cork by the swell. Much less comfortable for 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, just like that, with your snorkel, to get closer to the black fins that you can see spouting in the foam between two waves.

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

The trick is to keep the rhythm, between the mantas' flights. 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 well in front, mouth wide open, all to its plankton feast, a little shiver runs down your spine. You drink the cup in your snorkel and stop paddling so as not to break the spell.

The beautiful one continues its dash and dodges you all in flexibility, without effort, offering you its milky belly as a 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)
With its mouth wide open, it filters the water to feed on plankton (Sangalaki, Borneo, Indonesia, July 2009)
With its mouth wide open, it 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 meeting, more stealthy, took place while diving, a few days later. I was underwater with a ski instructor, Philippe, and his son Julien (I have never met so many French people during this trip as in Derawan!)

Unfortunately, we crossed, from a little too far, the road of an enormous manta, all black, this one. Like a real sea devil, with its "horns" rolled up, it did not deviate from its trajectory, and continued, impassive, 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 was wearing my diving boots and walking carefully. The stinger went through the side of my 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 we got back to Derawan. You can't see it at all on the picture below, but I'm hurting, really hurting.

I am brave in the midst of all these solicitous Americans, and I even find the strength to grimace a smile and raise my fingers like the 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 to heal, and just admire the turtles from the pier... (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.

The day before yesterday, the same thing happened to him with a stingray. Except that the doctor was not there. And it is the assistant of the dispensary, less gifted, who butchered his foot, with less precautions.

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!

Finally, it is more dangerous than it seems, the 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

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  1. 8) Bravo for the mantas! I'm delighted for you!
    🙁 Désolée pour l’aventure de la raie… j’espère que la douleur va vite se passer. Alors, tu as trouvé un accès internet? Un logement? Raconte nous tout, c’est comment Sangalaki?

  2. Yo

    Superbes ces mantas et la vidéo donne un petit aperçu du ballet aero-nautique. C’est cool les rêves qui se réalisent.

    Biz and welcome back

  3. Hi Corinne,

    Ben voilà c’est malin maintenant j’ai envie de partir (grrr) 😡 . Sérieux voici encore un très beau récit sur ton voyage, les sensations devaient être trop bonnes 🙄 ,je suis bien content pour toi, dommage pour le stingray.

    Tu es trop forte pour sourire en souffrant, c’est quoi ton secret?

    Merci pour la bouffée d’air…!!! 😉

    See you soon 8)


  4. Great write-up Corinne.
    Excellent footage of the Manta Rays. I’ve had to send a link of your blog to family and friends back home so that they see these beautiful creatures. Glad to see you got in some good diving.
    Any pain left?
    Cheers 8)

  5. @Laurence: Oui, j’ai eu de la chance, malgré ma mésaventure avec la stingray… Je suis sur le retour, en effet. Je suis revenue à Kuala Lumpur, je reprends l’avion pour la France demain soir… C’est encore passé trop vite, ces “petites” vacances!

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

    @Paskle: Oui, j’ai vu la nouvelle tomber l’autre soir alors que je pianotais sur mon netbook pour mettre en ligne mes photos de raies mantas. Je me suis bien marrée en lisant ça… Ça me fait au moins un point commun avec Nicolas!!! 😆
    Sauf que moi, je n’ai même pas besoin de faire du jogging pour tomber dans les pommes en pleine rue, comme tu sais. D’ailleurs, l’autre jour à Sangalaki, j’ai craint, sur le moment, avec la piqûre de stingray, de refaire un malaise vagal… Mais non, suis restée parfaitement consciente, à bien sentir toute la douleur m’irradier dans le pied.

    @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!
    A Derawan, je logeais au losmen Danakan. Pas d’internet sur l’île, ce n’est que revenue à Tarakan que j’ai pu me connecter et poster ces images, à partir d’un hôtel doté du wifi.
    Sangalaki est une petite île déserte ou presque. Le resort est abandonné et fermé. Il n’y a plus là que quelques gars que je suppose missionnés par le gouvernement, qui enregistrent le passage des visiteurs et qui comptent les tortues. Les fonds sont nettement moins somptueux que ceux de Sipadan, mais la présence des mantas est une attraction en soi. Je raconterai plus en détail Derawan, Sangalaki et Kakaban dans de prochains posts.

    @Views of China: Bienvenue sur Petites Bulles d’Ailleurs, Lili. J’espère bien continuer à vous offrir des pauses “rafraîchissantes”.

    @Funnyworld: Eh oui, le voyage touche à sa fin, déjà… Je n’en reviens pas, ça passe chaque fois plus vite qu’avant. Mais je suis contente, j’en ai pris plein les mirettes, sur terre comme sous l’eau. Je mets en ligne bientôt de nouveaux posts… Mais les tiennes, de vacances, approchent! Profites-en bien! Bizzz

    @Alain: Hé, hé, ce blog, il est conçu tout exprès pour donner des envies de partir!!! Pour ce qui est de sourire en souffrant, ou de souffrir en souriant, ça n’a duré que 30 secondes, le temps de la 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 again for your help that day… I really had 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 flight 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: Je suis vraiment heureuse d’avoir concrétisé ce rêve de mantas à Sangalaki. Et maintenant, comme tout le monde m’en parle, je rêve des Maldives… (soupir)

    @ Marie-Julie: Je prépare pour bientôt une “vraie” vidéo, montée proprement, avec le ballet aquatique des mantas… Je suis drôlement contente, de les avoir vues. C’est pas si courant, comme rencontre…

  9. Veni sangalaki, vidi birostri 8)

    En Corse j’avais vu une plongeuse se faire piquer par une vive et la blessure s’était nécrosée au point de nécessiter une greffe de peau. Content pour toi que cela ce soit mieux passé 😡

  10. @Alimata: Ouh là, c’est dangereux la Corse aussi!!! 😕
    J’ai eu de la chance d’avoir pu me faire soigner “proprement” par une médecin compétente. Je craignais l’infection, mais elle m’a filé les médocs ad hoc pour éviter ça. Dès le lendemain, mon pied a commencé à désenfler et puis j’ai été bien sage pendant deux jours: je suis resté au sec à me remettre de mes émotions dans mon hamac, si fait que la plaie s’est refermée comme il faut. Je m’en sors vraiment bien…

  11. Intéressant l’effet dilatant de la piqure de stingray
    As tu des infos sur l’impact de ce poison sur un organe masculin fortement vascularisé ?
    If it works, there is a buoyant market that deserves a market study and ...

    Oui, Corinne, je sais, tu as raison, c’est pas le lieu…

  12. @Alimata: Here, the Hairy Troll has struck again!!! 😆
    Je n’ose imaginer la violence de la douleur provoquée par les toxines dans cette zone si sensible…

  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 some last visa things before going back home and where I can finally ask for a major foot-check-up!

    Keep on diving & posting such nice stories!


  14. @Marjolijn: Oh, I’m so happy to have some news from you, but I feel really sorry for your foot and that serious infection. I realize now, when you say that you can’t walk two weeks after, how lucky I was… I could walk almost normally at the end of the day thanks to Dr Wita’s efficient care. Despite this dreadfull story, it’s 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. I haven’t said much yet of 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 😉
    N’arrêtez surtout pas ❗
    @ soon

  16. @ N @ me: Merci… Ravie de réussir à vous transporter un peu avec moi au bout du monde!!! Je n’ai aucune intention d’arrêter, rassurez-vous. De nouveaux articles arrivent très bientôt.

  17. Hello,

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

    c’était la première fois que j’en voyais pour de vrai 😉

    J’étais devant comme un gosse devant un gâteau au chocolat 😆

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

    Je comprend mieux maintenant, quand on dit, qu’une fois qu’on a vu des mantas on veut y retourner 😥


  18. @lain: Mille mercis pour le lien! Encore un instant magique… Eh oui, les mantas, une fois qu’on y a goûté, on n’a qu’une envie: les revoir, encore et encore!!!

  19. Hello

    J’avais tellement entendu parler de SANGALAKI que, via, j’ai eu ce lien avec ce CR et ce blog.

    Merci de ces infos, et bravo pour ce coup de coeur pour les Mantas ! Moi j’en suis dingue depuis 10 ans, et j’ai eu la chance d’en rencontrer ici et là… voire même plus, au Mexique…

    Pour la sting ray, sauf erreur de ma part, elle possède un dard mais il n’est pas venimeux. Il est en forme de couteau avec des stries, qui rend la sortie très douloureuse. Un fameux présentateur australien a été tué il y a un an d’un coup direct au coeur. Dans la mer – là encore sauf erreur de ma part – seules les épines dorsales des poissons sont empoisonnées. Sans compter les coquillages ou les serpents de mer.

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

    La raie pastenague, ou raie grise n’a que son dard.

    Ensuite, comme la blessure peut être profonde, l’infection peut se développer, surtout dans un milieu tropicale. D’où peut-être les problèmes de l’autre personne


  20. @ Manta-Passion: Je pense qu’il y a erreur de ta part… Je vais te contredire, car je suis sûre de mon fait: l’aiguillon de la raie qui m’a piquée contenait un venin. La douleur, fulgurante, s’est répandue dans tout mon pied. La zone s’est mise à virer au bleu et le dessus du pied à gonfler dans l’heure qui a suivi.

    La médecin qui m’a soignée m’a d’ailleurs redit que les toxines de stingray étaient thermolabiles et elle m’a d’abord refait plonger le pied dans un bac d’eau chaude pour m’aider à supporter la douleur (douleur équivalente, selon elle, « à celle d’une piqûre de scorpion »). Soulagement immédiat!

    Ensuite, elle s’est occupée d’inciser et nettoyer ma plaie (plaie qui était superficielle et très petite), justement pour prévenir l’infection possible due aux barbillons dont tu parles. (Infection à laquelle n’a pas échappé la jeune Hollandaise, hélas.)

    En fait, si toutes les raies ne sont pas venimeuses, il y a tout de même pas mal d’espèces qui ont des glandes à venin à la base d’un ou plusieurs aiguillons, placés sur la queue. Je lis dans my little book on the tropical underwater fauna, que la raie à taches noires, la raie pastenague à taches bleues, ou la pastenague américaine sont venimeuses, pour n’en citer que quelques-unes.

    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

    Quant au cas célèbre du gars qui est mort à cause d’un coup de queue de raie en plein cœur, je crois bien, justement, que c’est à cause du venin, expédié en plein organe vital, qu’il a succombé (faudrait que je retrouve l’histoire sur internet).

    Bref, tout ceci pour dire que je préfère, comme toi, nettement les mantas qui, elles, ont la grâce d’être dépourvues de dard…

    1. Hello,
      je me suis fait piqué par une raie il y a 5 jours a Acapulco ! l’horreur absolue !!!
      tremors, shortness of breath, and big burns for at least an hour!
      ensuite je suis parti sur Montreal voir des amis mais 5 jours apres orteils tout bleus et le pied encore gonflé et l’estomac completement derangé par le poison “style gastro ” 🙁
      c’est peut etre le froid qui evite de degonfler et j’ai l’impression de marcher avec une chaussure de ski !
      je rentre dans quelques jours en france et j’espere que tout ceci restera un mauvais souvenir !
      good continuation on your travels 😉

    2. @meaculpa2001: il vaudrait mieux consulter un médecin, qui te filera des médocs à la fois contre l’infection et contre la douleur. Les piqûres de ces raies peuvent mettre très très longtemps à guérir, et le pied rester gonflé, si ce n’est pas traité correctement…

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

    3. le medecin m’a fait une piqure , eau bouillante ,et antibiotiques !
      it calms down slowly!
      thank you for all this information 🙂

  21. Bjr Corinne

    Ben alors là, comme disait l’arbre au bucheron, je suis scié !! Je savais devoir prendre toutes mes précautions avec les pastenagues bien sur, mais qu’en plus elles soient venimeuses, je n’arrive pas à en croire mes esgourdes ! Et en plus idem pour les Aigles !! Alors là, à qui se fier ma brave dame !!

    En tout cas, j’ai fait des recherches supplémentaires qui corroborent ce que disait le lien, très intéressant par ailleurs, sur l’envenimation par animaux marins.

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

    thank you and have a good trip

  22. Très beau reportage, témoignage très agréable … on a l’eau (salée) à la bouche …
    can I contact you for 2 or 3 questions?

  23. @Poums: Merci ! Pour me contacter, c’est facile : via le lien “Contact” en pied de page, qui ouvre un nouveau message dans votre messagerie email, ou onglet “Contact” en haut dans le menu, qui ouvre un formulaire à remplir qui m’arrivera par email.