The manta ray, (Manata Birostris), also known as the Pacific Manta, Devilfish, or just Manta, is the largest species of ray in the world; manta rays are commonly found with fin spans of over 17 feet, while the largest Manta Ray on record measured an enormous 25 feet across.
The manta ray is one of the most popular animals to see while scuba diving, because of its enormous size and peacefulness. Throughout history, the manta ray has been revered by several cultures, including the Peruvians. More recently, a manta ray rollercoaster was opened at Sea World in Orlando along with exhibits depicting several other Ray species.
Manta Ray Habitat
Manta rays can be found throughout tropical waters across the world where they often congregate around coral reefs. The Maldives is a particularly good destination for people wishing to see Manta Rays while scuba diving or snorkelling. It is estimated that there are around 10,000 Manta Rays living in the Maldives. The manta rays live in the Maldives year-round, migrating from one part of the atolls to another depending on the season. Manta rays are easily found at various “cleaning stations” around the Maldives, where they gather near the coral reef and small fish pass through their gills, feeding off dead tissue and parasite and cleaning the manta in the process. It is not uncommon to see groups of up to 150 Manta Rays at a cleaning station at one time.
Manta Ray Appearance
The manta ray is a ray shaped creature with a darker dorsal (top) side than ventral (under) side. Usually, the manta is dark blue-grey on top with a near-white belly. Apart from being much bigger than the Stingray, the manta ray is also different because it does not have a sting at the end of its tail. The centre of the manta ray's body is quite spherical and has a large opening through which the feeds. Some say this looks like the grill on the front of a sports car.
Manta Ray Diet
Manta rays are filter feeders, meaning that fish eggs, small crustaceans and primarily plankton, are filtered from the ocean into the Manta’s large gills as they move through the water. Many years ago, the manta ray was a bottom-feeder, but has since evolved and now the Manta has very few teeth except for a small row of teeth on their lower jaw.
Manta Ray Behaviour towards Scuba Divers
Manta Rays are extremely peaceful creatures and pose no threat to scuba divers. On the contrary, they display curiosity towards humans and enjoy swimming among scuba divers. However, when scuba divers have the opportunity to witness a gathering at a cleaning station, they should keep their distance and remain quiet, so as not to startle the manta rays, who will leave if disturbed.
Manta Ray Reproduction
Manta Rays typically give birth to two young, known as “pups”, who will live close to the shore until they are big enough to defend themselves in the open ocean. They spend much of their juvenile life hiding under the sand.
Threats to Manta Rays
Manta rays are threatened in the wild by Killer Whales and Sharks, who will eat them. However, the greatest threat to the manta ray's survival is human interaction. There are efforts from the Save Our Seas Foundation to conserve and protect the manta rayy as it is extremely important to the Maldives both from an ecological point of view and also an economical standpoint: the revenues generated for the Maldives from tourists coming to scuba dive or snorkel with the Manta Rays is estimated at around USD $10 million each year.