The word ‘Manta’ comes from the Spanish word for cloak or shawl and in the Maldivian language Manta Rays are known as En Madi, which in English means ‘small fish eating ray’. Both of these terms are very descriptive of Manta Rays, but what do we really know and just as importantly what do we still have to learn about these giant creatures?
Like the whale shark, manta rays are filter feeders that feast on the large amounts of zooplankton and coral spawn found along the Ningaloo Reef. These harmless rays can grow up to 5.5m wide, making them amongst the largest creatures in the ocean.
The Ningaloo is one of very few places on the planet where manta rays can be reliably located year round, providing visitors the opportunity to swim with these very inquisitive and playful creatures. Coral Bay in particular is a manta ray hot spot, with a resident population of mantas with over 700 identified, many of which are so well known they’ve been given names!
One of the major reasons Coral Bay is such a magnet for manta rays is the number of cleaner fish stations found along this section of the Ningaloo Reef. Manta rays visit these natural stations to allow small cleaner wrasse to feed on and remove parasites and dead skin from their bodies; a symbiotic relationship benefiting both creatures. Hence, the manta rays return time and again to these special places and often gather in large numbers.
Visitors have the chance to swim and interact with manta rays on dedicated manta ray snorkel tours which operate out of Coral Bay with Ningaloo Reef Dive & Snorkel right throughout the year.
Here is a few fun facts about manta rays that you might not of known!
*The Manta Ray has the largest brain to body ratio of all sharks and rays on Earth.
*They are very close relatives of the shark. Ironically, sharks as well as orcas are their main predators. They are also closely related to the stingray but they don’t have a stinger.
*Manta rays can travel alone or in groups of up to 50!
*The fact that they are fish means they don’t breathe air, but instead they use their gills to respire underwater. Mantas must keep moving in order to keep water flowing over their gills, which means they can never stop to sleep or rest on the seabed!
*Research would indicate that mantas probably live to at least 50 and possibly up to 100 years. However, until scientists have been studying these animals for another 20 years we are unlikely be able to answer this question more accurately. Ping-Pong, is a Maldivian reef manta who was first photographed by divers in 1989 when she was already fully grown and sexually mature. Ping-Pong is still seen now at the same site almost every year! It’s thought that mantas are 15-20 years old when they reach sexual maturity, which would make Ping-Pong at least 40 years old!
Big thanks to Migration Media for the photos