Giant manta rays are known for their gentleness and beauty. With their graceful wings and almost dancer-like motions as they glide through the water, mantas are considered by many to be one of the most majestic ocean creatures. Related to sharks like other rays, giant ocean mantas (Mobula birostris) are among the largest, growing to over 23 feet in wingspan and weighing almost 3,000 lb! Have no fear though, unlike their carnivorous cousins, ocean mantas feed mainly on tiny plankton. However, even with their conspicuously enormous size, where giant mantas raise their young has remained a constant mystery to scientists, until now.
For the first time in scientific history, a giant ocean manta nursery has been discovered off the coast of Texas! Unbeknown to scientists and by sweet circumstance, the nursery is already protected and held in NOAA’s Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS) in the Gulf of Mexico. The manta nursery was discovered by PhD Candidate Joshua Stewart from Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego. Stewart has been interested in studying marine life since elementary school, and his first clue that he had discovered something special was in 2016 when visiting FSBNMS. There, he spotted his first juvenile manta ray among the reefs and banks of the sanctuary. Having seen none in the wild before, he realized that this place was unique. Since then, he’s continued to study this ecosystem and has determined that 95% of the mantas within the park are juveniles. The importance of this discovery is clear; giant ocean manta rays are labeled as vulnerable, and knowing the habitats where juveniles flourish will aid future conservation efforts to keep these gentle sweet giants swimming for many more years.
This amazing Smarty Scoop was brought to you by a dear friend and marine conservation scientist Raye Evrard. Raye is a member of OCTO Group, and works everyday to make sure news and research about ocean conversation is openly shared. Keep an eye out for more great Smarty Scoops about the ocean from Raye!
Want to learn more? Visit https://scripps.ucsd.edu/news/scripps-graduate-student-discovers-worlds-first-known-manta-ray-nursery
July 2, 2018