Manta Rays…if you’ve been lucky enough to view these majestic creatures, you don’t need me to tell you about their grace or magnificence. If you’re fortunate and have seen their crazy mating activity, you’ll have been dazzled with their speed and their aerobatics that put shame to any air show. Most divers encounter these giants at cleaning stations, but what else do we know about them; quite little, it seems, but here are a few facts you to keep you up to speed should you stumble across an sea life trivia contest or something.
1) Manta Rays and mobula rays come from the same family of Mobuild Rays. Overall there are eleven species in this classification but just two manta ray species - the Oceanic Manta Ray (manta birostris) and the Reef Manta Ray (manta alfredi).
Oceanic Manta Ray (manta birostris)
Reef Manta Ray (manta alfredi)
2) The Oceanic Manta Ray can have a wing span of 9 meters or 30 feet; the Reef Manta Ray can have a wing span of 7 meters or 23 feet. That’s huge!
That's bigger than my car!
4) Like many of the ocean's largest creatures they eat the smallest ones, zooplankton; up to 60 pounds a day.
This would look delicious if you were a manta!
3) The Giant (Oceanic) Manta Ray was only discovered and classified as a species in 2008. Still very little is known about manta rays comparative even to the secretive great white shark.
5) Manta rays live for around 40 years but reproduce with the same relaxed pace at which they grace the reef. Manta Rays mature at around ten years and give birth to one pup every two to five years. Slow reproduction makes them extremely vulnerable when you consider they are fished for their gills. A mature manta ray has around 7 kilos of gills which go for around US$500 a kilo! It seems consumption, for Chinese medicine, could be as high as 80 thousand kilos a year. The size of this industry equates to US$11 million annually. The good news is that the manta ray tourism market is worth an estimated US$100 million which offers some impetus to keep these colossals in the ocean.
Manta gills in a fish market.
6) Manta rays have the largest brain of any fish, relative to size, and seem to display intelligence. There are many cases of mantas helping divers while they remove fishing line and in some cases they appear to approach humans for help in this situation. Their awareness of the much touted opposable thumb perhaps?
7) As if humans aren't enough to worry about sharks and killer whales hunt them too.
8) They can be seen ‘jumping’ out of the water. While this behavior is spectacular it’s not entirely understood, it is possible that this is to remove parasites or remoras.
Jumping Manta Rays
9) Their skeleton is comprised of cartilage, not bone, which allows for their grace.
10) They are not social beings, but they do congregate around food supplies and cleaning stations and migrate en mass. Think about trying to get out of a junction at rush hour, and you have an idea of what the beginnings of a migration look like. Migration preparation is certainly more spectacular and far less frustrating than trying to nose out into traffic too.
Migrating Manta Rays
11) Manta rays have teeth, even though they filter feed.
Manta Ray Teeth
12) Apart from their main fins which they use to ‘fly’ through the water, manta rays have two more fins at the side of their heads. They use these to direct their food into the open mouths. No need for spoons here!
13) Fossils show that manta rays have been around for 4.8 million years. They’ve certainly seen it all and got the t-shirt. Hey…I should design a Manta T-Shirt…
14) Like a fingerprint, manta rays have spots on their stomachs which is unique and a means by which they can be identified and tracked. If you see them, take a picture, and you can upload it to a database to help feed the data. Find out more at MantaTrust.org or MantaMatcher.org
15) Like most sharks, manta rays need a constant motion to keep oxygen flowing through their gills. It’s estimated they swim around 43 miles a day. No wonder they are so sleek!