Aquatic encounters
Oil on Canvas, 150 H x 100 W cm / 59.1 H x 39.4 W in
Created by Ofir Hirsh under the Manati identity in 2011

I entered the reef with sunrise that morning, near our house in Las-Terrenas, Dominican Republic. The water was calm and warm, like a huge swimming pool in paradise. On such days, spearfishing was not a struggle at all, but rather a pure pleasure of the senses. Concentrating on swift silent movements, instead of chasing fish, proved to be a great strategy. After a couple of hours, the hook on my float already carried some of my favorite fish, and I was ready to get out of the water with that silly winning face. Suddenly, a group of squids rapidly crossed my sight, and I became greedy. Due to their almost transparent appearance, I wasn’t sure that I can still see them, nevertheless, I did follow decisively the direction of their movement. After a few moments of staring forward at the empty water, I realized that I lost them. In order to slow down my heart rate, I took a deep breath, and while exhaling, I looked down at the bottom of the ocean, and my eyes wide opened in shock: “What the…??!!” My heart rate accelerated at once. The giant “thing” I saw beneath me blew up my mind. “Calm down” I said to myself, “…whether it is a huge shark or a little whale, your chances to survive are better if you are relaxed”. I looked down again and identified two more giants. They seemed blue-violet, and I recognized a few Remoras (Shark-suckers) on their backs. Their size and behavior reminded me of stories I had heard, from a fisherman friend, about a family of Manatees living around Playa Limon, a beach in the area. I remembered he told me how friendly and harmless they are. I looked down and the manatees were hovering near the bottom. I estimated it to be approx. 30 feet deep, a regular depth, for me back then, to free dive. I took a big breath and went down, pretending to be relaxed. The 3 giants noticed my presence and came closer. I ran out of air and went back up to breath. When I dived deep again, they began circling me together. I was so excited that I wanted to scream, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to scare them, and also knew that accelerated heart rate increases oxygen consumption hence decreases my staying power down the bottom. I forced myself to cool down, so I could enjoy these wondrous giants for long. I probably went up and down 10 to 15 times. They knew I would come back down each time and just waited for me. I tried to absorb their magic and character. Although they were big and fat, their maneuvers were so nimble and elegant, like a young dancing nymph. They were cool and friendly and I even imagined they were smiling at me. At some point, they swam together outside of the reef, and I thought that was it. Then, they came back again to the same spot. I went down and they circled me one more time, like a friendly farewell, and swam back out of the reef. The moments I spent out there, with these friendly aquatic mammals, kept me smiling for a few weeks. I was deeply inspired by their behavior, energy, and the close encounter I had with them. So, as some of you might guess by now, I had to become Manati for a while. Manati is the Taino name of that big marine mammal, also known as a Sea Cow.