Manta’s are a relative of the Shark and have previously been thought to be mammals, however in reality, they are fish, belonging to the same class (Elasmobranchii) as sharks, and other species of ray. Manta’s have to swim continually to allow oxygenated water to pass through their gills and normally travel around 45 miles per day.
Like a handful of creatures that can relate their ancestry back to prehistoric times, manta rays are in elite company in that they have been in their current form for at least 20 million years. Considering the rate that evolution has modified so many modern creatures, this is an astounding feat and really speaks to the aptitude and physical superiority of these amazing creatures. When you swim with manta rays, you are really swimming with oceanic dinosaurs that have existed on the planet for far longer than humans! Manta rays may live to up to an impressive 50 years. Unfortunately, they are very vulnerable to over fishing. One of the reasons behind this is obviously their naturally slow reproduction. A more serious problem is that, despite being protected by law, mantas are still being caught for their gill plates. These are used in Chinese medicine to supposedly cure almost anything, including cancer, or infertility.
Manta Rays don’t reach sexual maturity until they are 15 years. The gestation period of a manta lasts over a year. They give birth to a single pup every other year, or even every three years. Mantas are oviparous, meaning they actually produce eggs, the eggs hatch internally giving birth to a live pup. The pup continues to live in the oviduct and receives milky secretions with nutrients from his mother. When delivered, the pup can measure up to 6 ft.
Manta Rays have been referred to as “Devil Rays” due to their unique look, however despite their impressive size of up to 20 ft and a weight that can reach up to 3500 lbs, mantas are completely harmless to humans. Around scuba divers, they are usually calm, friendly, even curious. They do not have stings or barbs on their tails. There have been no instances of a manta intentionally harming a diver, although being in close proximity to a 3000 animal all divers should exercise caution.Every manta ray has spots and marks on their belly. Just like a fingerprint, these spots are unique and there are no two mantas with the same pattern, manta’s are social animals and congregate in groups, they interact with each other and when Mantas see new individuals the white coloration on their heads and back becomes larger and brighter.
Manta’s have large brains in comparison to their size which is an indication of intelligence, Manta brains may be up to ten times larger than whale sharks, this means Manta’s have the largest brain of all fish known today, they display intelligent behavior such as coordinating together to catch prey and after conducting research using mirrors, which allowed the animals to see their own reflection they blew bubbles and admired their reflections for a long period of time leading some scientists believe they are self aware.
Swim or Fly, Mantas swim by moving their large, triangular, pectoral fins in a motion similar to flying. Although it is a rare sighting, mantas can actually jump out of water to impressive heights (more than 2 m). When they do, they flap their fins as in the attempt to fly. Scientists haven’t yet come to the conclusion as to what might be the reason for this. It might be a part of the mating ritual or to get rid of parasites. Or maybe just for the fun of it?Manta’s can also reach speeds of 13 mph when diving to deeper, colder depths to feed
Manta Rays have small cephalic fins on either side of their head, used to direct food into their mouths, they are carnivorous and eat krill, small fish and plankton and a fully grown adult manta can consume over 60 lbs of food per day. Mantas have rows of small teeth in their mouths, however they are covered with a thin layer of skin. When feeding Manta Rays can dive to depths of over 2000 m which puts them among some of the deepest ocean feeders, scientists believe that they allow their bodies to heat up in the warmer water first before making the dive to where temperatures can be as low as 4 C
Manta Rays Are Able To Adapt To All Water Temperatures they are unique in that they are able to dive deep into the chilly depths of the ocean while regulating their temperature through a sophisticated circulatory system. While they are in the comparably warmer surface waters, manta rays cool off. For deeper journeys into the water, they warm up, keeping the manta ray’s body nice and warm during expeditions into the depths. This is unique for marine animals, who usually occupy a certain level of the ocean and do not venture out of their comfort zones. This incredible versatility makes manta rays totally unique and possible has contributed to their sophisticated evolution over the centuries!
Threats To Manta Rays
Despite their prowess in the water and high intelligence, manta rays are vulnerable to over fishing. Since they only have a handful of offspring per year, these gentle giants need to be protected in order to prevent them from going extinct. They rely heavily on coral reefs, so as the reefs disappear or become compromised, so do the manta rays. There is also an epidemic of people hunting manta rays for their gills, making the big creatures especially vulnerable. Manta rays aren’t consumed for meat, but their gills are popular on the black market where they are thought to cure cancer and fortify the blood.
Since killing these big creatures is illegal, many people who slaughter manta rays for their gills do so in an unregulated market, making manta rays even more susceptible to human violence.
Best Dive Spots To See Manta Rays In Their Natural Habitat
You can see manta rays all around the world, but some of the best dive spots to check out these majestic giants in their natural habitat are as follows:
- Manta Alley, Indonesia: As the name suggests, you will be able to swim with any number of manta rays in this Southeast Asian hot spot.
- Galapagos Islands, Ecuador: The Galapagos are famous for having the most diverse wildlife on the planet and manta rays are no exception!
- Lighthouse Bommies, Australia: The country that is home to the great coral reef is also one of the best places in the world to swim with manta rays.