Manta; Mantarochen; Teufelsrochen; Grosser Manta; Planktonfresser; Plantontier; Planktonriere; Filtrierer; Fisch; Mantarochen an der Oberfläche beim Plankton fressen, Mexiko, Yukatan, Isla Mujeres | manta ray at the surface eating plankton; manta; mantaray; ray; fish |; Manta birostris; Mobulidae

Photo by: Westend61


New Study from Brazil Makes a Huge Splash in Manta Ray Conservation

By: Vicky Vásquez

One batoid (the skates and rays) that needs no introduction are the manta rays. With 20-ft wingspans, these plankton-loving filter feeders can glide through bright blue oceans as if soaring effortlessly across a cloudless sky.

June 24, 2021

Manta rays have increased in popularity as more people hop in the ocean and snap a photo. With that said, development of those majestic wings doesn’t happen overnight. The life history traits of mantas goes veeery slooowlyyy. The average litter size consists of a single pup, with females taking about five years between pregnancies. To put that in perspective, consider how common twins are in human siblings or a one-year age difference for others. This means that mantas are especially susceptible to overfishing, which is exactly what’s happening.



Swimming with Manta Rays has grown in popularity.

Photo by: Anthony Harvie

Anthony Harvie

Swimming with Manta Rays has grown in popularity.

Thanks to scientist Dr. Andrea Marshall dubbed Queen of the Mantas, two separate species of manta rays — the reef manta ray (Mobula alfredi) and the giant manta ray (Mobula birostris) — have been confirmed. This information is incredibly important in making conservation efforts more effective. For instance, confirmation of two manta species prompted review by the IUCN Red List Assessment, which found that reef manta rays are ‘Vulnerable’ whereas the giants are ‘Endangered’. Consequently, the latter are of greater conservation concern. This has resulted, in part because manta rays are targeted for their gill rakers. Used by people for health tonics, manta rays need this appendage to filter food out of the water. In particular, Brazil has been pegged as a major supplier to this demand. This has made knowledge of mantas in the South Atlantic critical for manta survival.

A recent study with Nayara Bucair as lead author is making a huge splash for manta research, becoming only the third publication ever published for Brazilian waters. Specifically, mantas were observed in northeast Brazil among 21 clustered islands of volcanic rock known as the Ferando de Noronha Archipelago (FNA). Bursting with biodiversity and a thriving ecosystem, FNA is a marine protected area (MPA) that has even become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.



Reef manta in shallow water.

Photo by: Aleksei Permiakov

Aleksei Permiakov

Reef manta in shallow water.

To uncover the secret lives of mantas at FNA, the all-female team of researchers reviewed 130 manta sightings recorded by the public — aka citizen scientist. The researchers scrutinized over their data for trends in sex, size, and coloration. The information told the team whether use of FNA by mantas differed between males and females, inferred presence of a nursery ground, and varied by species (distinguished by color patterns).

The research team’s efforts found some BIG surprises that came in small packages. None of those 20-ft-wide adult manta rays were encountered. This means FNA is a kids-only playground! A more scientific way to put it- based on the presence of only juveniles, FNA is likely a manta ray nursery ground. The discovery is a big deal in manta ray conservation, since the total nursery grounds identified worldwide can be counted on a person’s hand. As mentioned before, equally important to this knowledge is knowing exactly who is using FNA. That’s where things get weird.



Scientists discovered a new Manta Ray nursing ground.

Photo by: Michele Westmorland

Michele Westmorland

Scientists discovered a new Manta Ray nursing ground.

Despite reef and giant mantas differing noticeably in their color patterns, it turns out mantas at FNA are rocking their own style. FNA mantas have white faces like the reef mantas while also sporting the dark gill blotches unique to the giants. It turns out mantas from FNA lend support to a theory that’s been floating along the streets of shark science, which hypothesizes existence of a third manta species!

This work is another testament to the value and need for citizen scientists, which can be anyone like you, the reader! To participate, enter your information or spread the word for groups like Mantas do Brasil (used in this study), MantaMatcher, Manta Trust, and Manta Watch.

Next Up

How COVID-19 Could Be Good News For Endangered Wildlife

Trafficking of wild animals around the world may be coming to a close, thanks to the novel coronavirus pandemic that is sweeping the globe.

The T-Rex Has a New Branch on its Family Tree

A farmer happened upon one of the greatest fossil finds in Canada, which was recently announced by paleontologists to be, quite possibly, one of the oldest dino-finds in the country!

The “Lungs of Our Planet” are Under Threat

World Rainforest Day is June 22, bringing awareness and action to save these precious ecosystems. But if the current rate of deforestation continues, will there be any rainforests in 100 years?

Saving the Black Bears of the West

Black bears are North America’s most familiar bears. One non-profit is working to reduce state-approved hunting programs in the American West to save the black bears.

A Look at ‘Rewilding’ Around the World

A look at 'rewilding' around the world. Resist by doing absolutely nothing.

Bei Bei Says Bye Bye - National Zoo’s Giant Panda Prepares for Move to China

After four years of delighting individuals and families in the United States, giant panda Bei Bei is ready to bid farewell and embark on the next stage of his life in China.

Rare Blue Ghost Fireflies Only Glow in One Part of North America

These insects emit a glow a yellow-green hue.

Earthworms Aren't as Good for the Soil as You Think

Are worms really an invasive pest outside of the garden?

Maine: The Battleground for Preserving America's Wildlife

A whopping 55 species are under threat in Maine, and this is the story of the scientists trying to save them.