Everything You Need to Know About Diving with Manta Rays


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Manta rays belong to the elasmobranch group, identical to sharks. They've existed for round 5 million years, they usually’re intently associated to different rays you might discover within the ocean. Their physique is flattened, however they not stay alongside the underside of the ocean. As an alternative, they transfer inside the water column as if they're flying, elegantly utilizing their modified, wing-like pectoral fins.

There are two species of manta: the Resident Reef Manta Ray and the Giant Oceanic Manta Ray. Each are plankton feeders, so as an alternative of tooth, they use their gills with a view to filter the microscopic meals from the water. It’s thought that they will stay between 40 and 50 years, however we nonetheless want extra info to have the ability to set up their actual longevity.

Now let’s see the right way to distinguish between the 2 species of manta ray.

Resident Reef Manta Ray

Mobula alfredi

Of the 2 species, the Reef Manta is the smallest, with a mean disc-width of 10 to 11.5 ft (Three-Three.5 meters). The exception to this rule is the population of Mozambique, by which they will develop as much as 13 to 15 ft (Four-Four.5 meters) broad. This species weighs round 2,900 kilos (1,300 kilos).

Females are bigger than the males to accommodate their pup throughout “pregnancy.” The ventral a part of the physique is white with black spots, whereas the dorsal aspect is darker, forming a particular white or gray Y-shape alongside the ‘shoulders.’

Because the identify suggests, this species often lives alongside coral reefs and makes brief migrations in response to the abundance of meals.

The sting that's current in Stingrays is absent from all manta rays, so chill out. Mantas are big however not harmful in any respect!

A Resident Reef Manta Ray. Photo credit: Jürgen Gangoly
Photograph credit score: Jürgen Gangoly

Big Oceanic Manta Ray

Mobula birostris

This manta ray can attain a substantial measurement, with a mean width of 13 to 16.5 ft (Four-5 meters) and typically as much as 23 ft (7 meters). They will weigh as much as Four,400 kilos (2,000 kilos)!

Its ventral half is white with black spots, however in contrast to the Resident Reef Manta, the sample is just not current within the space between the gills. Moreover the lighter design on the dorsal aspect is T-shaped.

On the base of the enormous manta’s tail is a fist-sized lump of cartilage. It’s an evolutionary remnant of the time they have been sting rays (mantas advanced from sting rays). It’s non-functional.

In comparison with the reef manta, this mysterious creature is more durable to see as a result of it tends to stay within the open ocean and makes longer migrations. Consequently interactions with this animal are harder.

It’s value mentioning that analysis relating to a 3rd species of manta ray, tentatively known as the Atlantic or Caribbean Manta, is beneath method. This attainable species has traits between the Oceanic and Reef Manta Rays. Genetic testing will probably affirm or reject this speculation within the close to future.

A Giant Oceanic Manta Ray. Photo credit: Elias Levy
Photograph credit score: Elias Levy

The “Black Morph” phenomenon

Each species of manta present three color morphs. The primary morph is known as “Chevron.” That is the basic manta colour sample. The dorsal a part of the physique is black with some white elements on the top and on the information of the lateral fins. The stomach is white with some black spots.

The second morph is astonishing. It's referred to as “Black Morph.” The mantas presenting this specific morph are utterly black dorsally and virtually utterly black ventrally, with white patches solely close to the gill areas.

Reef Mantas presenting the black morph appear absent within the Maldivian population. Then again, it seems greater than plentiful at the remote island of Socorro.

The final colour morph is “Leucism” or leucitic mantas. These mantas have much less pigment than standard, and may look very white. They don't seem to be albino, as they nonetheless have some pigment (their eyes aren’t purple). They could have some black on their tops, and really pale markings on their bellies. They're merely a lot a lot paler than a usually coloured manta.

A manta ray presenting the “Black Morph”. Photo credit: Tam Warner Minton
Photograph credit score: Tam Warner Minton

Manta or Mobula?

There are 9 species usually referred to as Mobula. How can we distinguish them from manta rays? To start with they're often smaller, with a most disc width of 10 ft (Three meters). Mantas and mobulas are each filter feeders, however mobula rays have a backside jaw which is undercut, in order that when their mouths are closed, the sting of the decrease jaw rests a lot additional again than the higher jaw. Manta rays’ jaws are aligned.

The cephalic fins of mobulas are additionally barely totally different. When they're rolled up on themselves, they resemble horns. In truth, it's this function that provides them the identify satan rays.

The sting is absent in mobulas as nicely, besides within the Backbone-tail Satan Ray, the place it's current however brief.

Mobulas are likely to journey in giant teams. When discovered, divers often take pleasure in swimming amongst tons of of people at one time. Nevertheless, mobulas are very shy and solely approachable for a couple of moments.

Filter feeding machine

Manta rays feed totally on plankton. Have you learnt what that's? Plankton is “the mixture of passively floating, drifting, or considerably motile organisms occurring in a physique of water.” We will divide it into two teams: phytoplankton, product of microscopic crops and algae, and zooplankton, made principally of microscopic animals.

Manta rays feed on zooplankton, favouring copepods, arrow worms, mysid shrimps and fish larvae. A resident Reef Manta Ray can eat a every day common of 11 kilos (5 kg) of this meals!

Manta rays filter plankton via their modified gills, utilizing their particular cephalic fins as a funnel to extend the quantity of meals getting into their mouth. As a result of they should eat a lot plankton, they've devised some implausible feeding methods:

  • Floor feeding: Manta rays swim on the floor of the water and feed by opening their mouth, swallowing giant quantities of plankton. In these instances, it's straightforward to find and observe them instantly from the boat.
  • Somersaulting: Some of the lovely spectacles that nature can supply. When there's a dense patch of plankton within the water column, some manta rays will do a backwards somersault within the water, circling across the plankton to optimize meals consumption. It's a splendidly elegant present.
  • Backside feeding: People appear to scrape the underside of the seabed. In actuality they hover up to some centimeters from the seabed the place loads of plankton is concentrated.
  • Forming feeding chains: When many manta rays are feeding in the identical space and the focus of plankton is excessive, they will type a “single file line.” On this method, the zooplankton which is missed by the primary manta will probably be scooped up by the person behind it. By cooperating with one another, mantas can improve the quantity of meals ingested.
  • Cyclone feeding: An unimaginable sight and a uncommon phenomenon, which may, for instance, be seen a couple of occasions a yr within the Maldives. When concentrations of plankton are extraordinarily excessive, greater than 30 manta rays create one big feeding chain. As much as 200 manta rays may be seen on this formation. They begin swimming in a spiral, making a vortex. This pulls the plankton into the open mouths of the ready mantas!
Manta rays feeding credit: Niv Froman
Photograph credit score: Niv Froman

Courtship and Copy

With the ability to witness the courtship and copy of mantas in nature is a uncommon sight. Courtship often begins at a cleansing station. When the feminine comes into estrus, she releases hormones that appeal to males.

Males often comply with the feminine for 20 minutes as much as 48 hours, as she ‘checks’ the males’ power and stamina by main them on a “dance,” looping, swerving, and diving extremely quick till there is just one male left. This male will seize the feminine’s left “wing” in his mouth, then transfer beneath the feminine so they're dealing with one another. Lastly, copulation begins and takes just some seconds.

Because of the marks left by the chew, it may be established if a feminine has already mated. After a few yr, the feminine provides start to at least one pup (not often two). The pups are about 5 ft (1.5 meters) in width, and swim off with none nursing from the females. Sadly, it’s estimated that manta rays breed solely each Three-5 years, leading to a critical danger of extinction.

The variety of pups who're born and survive is way decrease than the variety of manta rays killed by man.

Scuba diving with manta rays. Photo credit: Sarah Lewis
Photograph credit score: Sarah Lewis

The place to See Manta Rays

Mantas recurrently go to areas the place they will eat in abundance (feeding websites) and the place they are often cleaned (cleansing stations). We’ve collected an inventory of the 10 best places in the world to dive with manta ray. Check it out!

Feeding Stations

These are areas the place, throughout a sure interval of the yr, there's a larger focus of meals. These areas are often seasonal locations, as a result of zooplankton comply with the currents influenced by climate patterns (e.g. the monsoons in the Maldives).

Mantas feeding near the surface. Photo credit: Niv Froman
Photograph credit score: Niv Froman

Cleansing Stations

Corresponding to automotive washes! These are the place manta rays come to have cleaner wrasse and different fish chew off all their lifeless pores and skin, parasites and meals detritus. It was noticed that females, on common, spend extra time in this type of magnificence middle… a coincidence? ;)

A manta ray in a cleaning station. Photo credit: Jürgen Gangoly
Photograph credit score: Jürgen Gangoly

The right way to determine a manta

Every manta is totally different. How are you going to distinguish them? Easy, you need to take a look at the ventral half. The black spots that you simply see are distinctive as human fingerprints. The subsequent step is to take a picture and send it to the research centers which can analyze and compare it with the data already included in their huge database and discover out if this manta has already been recognized. If it’s model new, you may give it a reputation! This non-invasive technique permits us to review and study extra about these creatures.

A manta ray. Photo credit: Jürgen Gangoly
Photograph credit score: Jürgen Gangoly

Code of Conduct for Diving with Manta Rays

It's all the time good to take into account that the marine world isn't ours. We're solely visitors. As such there are essential guidelines for interacting with manta rays:

  • Strategy slowly and keep away from noise.
  • Keep away from extra flash images. Don't level your flash immediately into their eyes.
  • Maintain your distance. Attempt to keep at the least 5 ft (Three meters) from them. If they arrive near you, stay calm. Keep in mind, they can't hurt you.
  • Please look and don't contact. Keep away from disturbing them and scale back interplay occasions.
  • All the time attempt to use widespread sense and convey respect for these fantastic creatures.

Do you know…?

Origin of the Identify

The origin of their name is said to a legend. It says that centuries in the past Spanish fishermen have been frightened by an enormous fish whose facet resembled a big cloak (manta in Spanish). They feared that in the event that they fell into the ocean, the creature would wrap them up and drown them.

By no means Stopping

If mantas cease swimming, they'll sink! Mantas, like sharks, have a cartilaginous skeleton that could be very mild, saving them worthwhile power. Nevertheless, they nonetheless weigh greater than a ton. They will management their buoyancy with the variation of an oily substance situated within the liver and by merely swimming.

One more reason for his or her life in movement is the necessity to breathe. Swimming creates a present of oxygen-rich water via the gills. They are not able to create this current themselves.

Copy is the Driving Drive of Existence

Mom Nature gave two penises or claspers to male mantas. (What are claspers? And why have they got two? Click here for the answer).

You may assume that if males have two penises, females have two vaginas. However this isn’t true. Females have just one vagina referred to as a “cloaca,” an inner room the place the reproductive, digestive and urinary ducts excrete their merchandise.

Can Mantas Sting?

Mantas haven't any barbs. Not often some people can present a ineffective barb on the posterior a part of the dorsal fin. They're completely innocent. Actually, snorkeling and diving with them creates an in depth connection. Nevertheless, it's all the time necessary to make use of good conduct whereas within the water with mantas. See the part “Code of Conducts.”

Brainy Mantas

Anatomical research have proven that the manta mind could be very giant. In truth, it has the most important mind to physique ratio among the many studied fish. It's thought that they've extremely developed cognitive talents and fascinating research are in progress. Do you remember the Whale Shark? The dimensions of a whale shark could be ten occasions the dimensions of a manta, however their mind is simply a 3rd of the dimensions of a manta mind.

Most divers which have seen mantas word their strange behaviour. Plainly they're curious, they usually are likely to swim shut to watch divers.

Leaping Mobulas

Nobody is aware of but precisely why mobulas bounce out of the water. Researchers assume this conduct is a spectacular courtship ritual. Just like humpback whales, it's thought that the bounce is used to draw different people or show dominance via the noise produced. Leaping may additionally be a way for eliminating parasites or escaping from predators. Even mantas can do it, however it's far more uncommon to watch a leaping manta.

A group of mobulas

Threats and Options

The pure predators of manta rays are a number of types of sharks, killer whales and false killer whales. Sometimes you may even see a manta with the attribute ‘half-moon’ shark chew on it’s wing. However the actual hazard to those sea creatures is, as all the time, people and their actions. Hooks and fishing nets wound and lure mantas, typically resulting in demise (bycatching).

The flavour and texture of their meat just isn't extremely sought-after. However, their gills are. In Chinese language conventional drugs, it's believed that their gills have medicinal properties, reminiscent of enhancing the immune system, stopping most cancers and aiding nursing moms. With out criticizing this holistic drugs, there isn't a scientific proof supporting these makes use of and up to date research have proven manta rays possess poisonous ranges of heavy metals dangerous to people. (Extra that 20 occasions the WHO suggestion of protected arsenic degree has been present in manta gill rakers.) The manta fishing business is very developed in nations corresponding to Sri Lanka and India.

How can we cease this? By means of consciousness campaigns, sustainable fishing methods, manta conservation tasks that work to introduce sustainable options and by avoiding merchandise that use elements of mantas. However above all, you possibly can travel and enjoy manta rays in their natural habitat. It will give a business worth to them (ecotourism). In such a approach, it is going to be extra advantageous to maintain mantas alive relatively than to kill them.

best places to dive with manta rays coral bay

Manta saviours

Prior to now few many years, the trouble to review and shield mantas has elevated. Individuals, pushed by their ardour for the ocean, have created a number of associations. They've unified these energies to create networks with the aim of the conservation of those fantastic creatures.

For additional info check out Manta Trust, Marine Megafauna Foundation and Project Manta.

Manta Ray Shutterstock


This text was written by Mario Passoni and Luca Saponari – two marine biologists concerned in a number of tasks regarding ocean conservation and schooling. Particular because of Niv Froman, Tam Sawers, Sarah Lewis and Nicola Bassett from Manta Trust, Asia Armstrong from Project Manta and Anna Flam from the Marine Megafauna Foundation.

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