The Manta Ray (Manta) is a large species of ray that lives in tropical and subtropical waters in all the world’s major oceans. They are filter feeders and eat large amounts of zooplankton, which they swallow with open mouths as they swim. Gestation lasts over a year and mantas give birth to live pups. Mantas may visit cleaning stations for the removal of parasites. Like whales, they breach, for unknown reasons.
Manta rays have broad heads, triangular pectoral fins, and horn-shaped cephalic fins located on either side of their mouths. They have horizontally flattened bodies with eyes on the sides of their heads behind the cephalic fins, and gill slits on their ventral surfaces. Their tails lack skeletal support and are shorter than their disc-like bodies. The dorsal fins are small and at the base of the tail. The largest mantas can reach 2,980lb. Dorsally, mantas are typically black or dark in color with pale markings on their “shoulders”. Ventrally, they are usually white or pale with distinctive dark markings by which individual mantas can be recognized. All-black color morphs are known to exist.
Threats include pollution, entanglement in fishing nets, and direct harvesting for their gill rakers for use in medicine. Their slow reproductive rate exacerbates these threats. They are protected in international waters by the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals but are more vulnerable closer to shore. Areas, where mantas congregate, are popular with tourists. Only a few public aquariums are large enough to house them.