TEN MAGICAL MANTA FACTS
Manta rays are one of the stars of the Ningaloo Reef – to see them flying through the water is a truly unique experience. Here’s just a few of the reasons we love them:
1) Mantas have the biggest brains (relative to their size) of any fish, and not just that – these brains are enlarged in the areas linked to intelligence, vision and motor coordination. One study found that mantas can recognise themselves in a mirror – this shows they may be self aware, a trait which is pretty unique in the animal kingdom (so far it’s mostly just us and some other apes who can recognise themselves).
2) While mantas are found all around the world in tropical & subtropical waters (and occasionally even temperate) there are only 2 places in Australia where you can see manta rays all year round – Coral Bay and Lady Elliot Island.
3) Mantas are technically a fish and evolved from bottom-dwelling stingrays to be filter-feeders that fly through the water with their mouth at the front. They don’t have any barbs like stingrays, so their main defence is to swim really fast (in bursts of over 35km/h).
4) There are 2 types of manta ray in the world - oceanic mantas (Mobula birostris) which can reach over 7 metres across and reef mantas (Mobula alfredi) which can be up to 5.5 metres. Here in Coral Bay is one of just a few places in the world where it’s possible to see both, the most common ones we see are the reef mantas.
5) The name “manta” is Spanish for blanket or cloak, and in some places they’re also called “devil fish” because when their cephalic lobes (the flaps on the front) are rolled up they look a bit like horns.
6) Most mantas are dark grey on their back and lighter underneath, but some are almost entirely black - they’re known as “black morph” or “melanistic”. This melanism (dark colouration) is common on land (like black panthers, which are just melanistic jaguars) but uncommon in the ocean. There is also one bright pink manta on the Great Barrier Reef - nicknamed Clouseau, this may be the only pink manta in the world.
7) While they’re usually swimming solo, studies have shown that mantas have complex social networks – just like us they have a mix of acquaintances and best friends. Females tend to have more long-term friend connections than males. They usually gather to interact at cleaning stations (where fish will clean parasites from their bodies) and shallow water feeding sites.
8) Recently scientists noticed that sometimes mantas move their cephalic lobes in unique ways when around other mantas, and even with human divers – it’s thought they may be communicating using these lobes, basically using a type of sign language.
9) Each manta has a unique spot pattern on their underside – much like our fingerprints – researchers can use these patterns to track the mantas and learn more about their movements and populations.
10) Globally mantas are listed as Vulnerable – their biggest threat is fishing, some methods of fishing (like long-lines and deep sea trawling) accidentally catch non-target species, including mantas. They’re also sometimes targeted for their gills. Plastic pollution is an issue too, in many places they filter-feed tiny pieces of plastic out of the water along with their food.
So by now we’re sure you’ll agree that manta rays are seriously amazing. If, like us, you think that mantas are worth protecting, you can support organisations like Manta Trust who are working to learn more about these creatures and ensure their protection.
If you’d like to see one for yourself, you can join us on a Marine Eco Safari anytime – we have tours running most days to explore the Ningaloo Reef and encounter the majestic mantas.