An unexpected ophthalmic emergency

Divers come to manta ray's aid as ophthalmology goes underwater

Aidan Hanratty

Posted: Monday, July 22, 2019

Giant manta rays can reach up to seven feet in length. That’s a whole lot of body to come up against whatever ends up in our seas and oceans. One such ray recently found herself with metal hooks in her eye. Thankfully, some conscientious divers were on hand to help out the poor creature.

“I went for a few dives down just to see how she’d react to us being close to her,” said Jake Wilton, photographer and diving instructor.

“This wasn’t my imagination, again and again it came back, turned over, and paused in the water, and – plainly – was looking to us to be helped,” added Monty Halls, photographer, naturalist and marine biologist.

Just like in ophthalmology, the doctor had to gain the trust of the patient.

“Jake went down again and again and again and the animal didn’t move away, because I think the manta knew that Jake was trying to get the hooks out,” Halls said.

He managed to remove the hooks with pliers, to everyone’s relief.

“I went down again one last time to say goodbye – she actually stopped and just waited there,” said Wilton.

“Many divers dive ‘to get away from it all’, to disappear into a place completely separate from the rest of the world,” says vitreoretinal and cataract surgeon and diving enthusiast Leigh Spielberg. “It is a form of escapism into the beauty and silence of the sea.

“One’s day job is usually as far from one’s mind as possible while exploring under water. However, in this video, the divers were confronted with what might be considered an ophthalmic emergency; a hook was lodged in or around the manta ray’s eye,” he said.

“As someone who has operated my fair share of ocular trauma, I am aware of the difficulty and potential danger associated with ocular foreign objects, but these divers, presumably non-ophthalmologists, seem to have done a great job combining their hobby with impromptu ophthalmic care for this gentle giant,” Dr Spielberg concluded.