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 of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, 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!
    🙁 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 outline of the aero-nautical ballet. It's cool the dreams that come true.

    Biz and welcome back

  3. Hi Corinne,

    Well here it is clever now I want to leave (grrr) 😡 . Seriously here's another great story about your trip, the sensations must have been too good 🙄 ,I'm really happy for you, too bad for the stingray.

    You are too strong to smile in pain, 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. 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: Yes, I was lucky, in spite of my misadventure with the stingray... I am on my way back, indeed. I'm back in Kuala Lumpur, I'm flying back to France tomorrow night... It went by too fast again, these "little" vacations!

    @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 that I don't even have to jog to pass out in the middle of the street, as you know. Besides, the other day in Sangalaki, I was afraid, at the time, with the stingray injection, that I would have another vagal malaise... But no, I remained perfectly conscious, feeling all the pain radiating in my 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 was staying at the Danakan losmen. No internet on the island, it is only back in Tarakan that I could connect and post these pictures, from a hotel with wifi.
    Sangalaki is a small deserted island or almost. The resort is abandoned and closed. There are only a few guys there, who I suppose are on a mission from the government, recording the passage of visitors and counting turtles. The seabed is much less sumptuous than the one in 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 Petites Bulles d'Ailleurs, Lili. I hope to continue offering you "refreshing" breaks.

    @Funnyworld: Yes, the trip is coming to an end already... I can't believe it, it goes by faster than before. But I'm happy, I had a lot of fun, on land and underwater. I'll be posting new posts soon... But yours is coming soon! Enjoy it! Bizzz

    @Alain: Hey, hey, this blog, it is designed to make you want to leave! As for smiling while suffering, or suffering while smiling, 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 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: I am really happy to have made this dream of mantas in Sangalaki come true. And now, as everyone is telling me, I dream of the Maldives... (sigh)

    @ Marie-Julie: I am preparing for soon a "real" video, properly edited, with the aquatic ballet of mantas... I am really happy to have seen them. It is not so common, as an encounter...

  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 there, it's dangerous Corsica too!!! 😕
    I was lucky that I was able to be treated "properly" by a competent doctor. I was afraid of infection, but she gave me the right drugs to avoid it. The next day, my foot started to swell up and then I was very quiet for two days: I stayed dry and recovered in my hammock, so that the wound closed up properly. I am doing really well...

  11. Interesting the dilating effect of the 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 are right, this is not the place...

  12. @Alimata: Here, the Hairy Troll has struck again!!! 😆
    I can't imagine the violence of the pain caused by the toxins in this very 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 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 😉
    Please don't stop ❗
    @ soon

  16. @ N @ me: Thank you... I'm glad I was able to take you to the end of the world with me! I have no intention of stopping, rest assured. New articles are coming 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, that once you've seen mantas you want to go back 😥


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

  19. Hello

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

    Thank you for this information, and bravo for this love for Mantas ! I have been crazy about them for 10 years, and I had the chance to meet some here and there... and even more, in Mexico...

    For the sting ray, unless I am mistaken, it has a stinger but it is not venomous. It is knife shaped with striations, which makes the exit very painful. A famous Australian presenter was killed a year ago by a direct hit to the heart. In the sea - again unless I am mistaken - only the backbones of fish are poisoned. Not counting shellfish 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 grey ray has only its stinger.

    Then, because the wound may be deep, infection may develop, especially in a tropical environment. Hence, perhaps the other person's problems


  20. @ Manta-Passion: I think you are mistaken... I will contradict you, because I am sure of my fact: the sting of the ray that stung me contained a venom. The pain, fulgurating, spread in all my foot. The area turned blue and the top of the foot swelled up within an hour.

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

    Then she took care of incising and cleaning my wound (which was superficial and very small), precisely to prevent the possible infection due to the barbels you mentioned (an infection that the young Dutch girl did not escape, unfortunately).

    In fact, if all the rays are not venomous, there are quite a few species that have venom glands at the base of one or several spines, placed on the tail. I read in my little book on the tropical underwater faunaIt is important to note that the black stingray, the blue stingray, or the American stingray are venomous, to name 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 stingray's tail in the middle of his heart, I believe that it is precisely because of the venom, sent in the middle of his vital organ, that he died (I would have to find the story on the internet).

    In short, all this to say that I prefer, like you, clearly the mantas which, them, have the grace to be deprived of sting...

    1. Hello,
      I was stung by a stingray 5 days ago in Acapulco! the 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 upset by the poison "gastro style" 🙁
      it is perhaps the cold which avoids deflating and I have the impression to walk with a ski boot!
      I'm going back to France in a few days 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 medication for both the infection and the pain. The bites of these stingrays can take a long, long time to heal, and the foot can remain swollen, if not treated properly...

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

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

  21. Bjr Corinne

    Well then, as said the tree to the woodcutter, I am sawn! I knew that I had to take all precautions with the stingrays of course, but that in addition they are poisonous, I can't believe my ears ! And moreover the same for the eagles ! So there, who to trust my good lady !

    In any case, I did some additional research that corroborates what the link said, very interesting by the way, about envenomation by marine animals.

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

    thank you and have a good trip

  22. Very beautiful report, very pleasant testimony... one has the water (salted) in the mouth...
    can I contact you for 2 or 3 questions?

  23. @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 the "Contact" tab at the top of the menu, which opens a form to be filled in and sent to me by email.