The Manta Ray
Manta Rays are large rays made up of two subspecies, with the larger species (M.birostris) reaching 7 metres (23 ft) in width. The word ‘manta’ is a Portugese and Spanish word meaning ‘mantle’, referring to the blanket-like net traditionally used to capture the rays. The Manta Ray’s most distinguishable features are the triangular wing-like pectoral fins, and the horn-like cephalic fins on either side of the head which has earned it the nickname ‘devil fish’. They can be found in tropical, subtropical and temperate waters around the world, migrating vast distances either solo or in groups. They’re often seen swimming with open mouths, filtering the water for planktonic food. Their massive bodies are built from hard cartilage instead of bone, earning them a classification of Elasmobranchii which is the same as sharks.
Mating is believed to be triggered by a full moon, and may involve up to 20 males pursuing one female, with a high speed courtship dance involving spectacular barrel-rolling and swerving. The successful courtier will then attach himself to the female by the teeth, turn upside down beneath her, and insert his claspers. Gestation is 12 to 13 months, and live pups are born. Mantas may live as long as 50 years.
Their greatest threat is overfishing, with the Chinese medicine market now targeting them specifically for the gill rakers (cartilaginous parts protecting their gills). Thousands of animals are killed each year for just this small body-part.