Manta Rays

Learn about Manta Rays

Each year between May and October the waters around the resort are blessed with the elegance of our name sake, the Pacific Manta Ray. As many as 20 manta rays have been recorded in front of the resort at one time. Daily manta ray snorkelling trips allow guests to experience these magnificent creatures up close as they glide majestically through the nutrient rich channel.

The waters around Mantaray Island Resort are an internationally recognised refuge for manta rays.

Where do Mantarays live?

Manta rays are large beautiful creatures that live in warm tropical, subtropical and temperate waters around the globe. There are two species of manta ray in the world – the reef manta ray (Manta alfredi) and the giant manta ray (Manta birostris).

Here at Mantaray Island we’re mostly visited by reef manta rays, which stick closer to islands, seamounts and reefs in shallower water. Giant oceanic manta rays venture further out into the depths of the open ocean. They visit shallower areas and cleaning stations occasionally, which is when we might be lucky enough to see them.

Don’t let the names fool you though – while the giant manta ray really is a giant, reef manta rays are no featherweights either!

Do manta rays migrate?

Yes! Giant oceanic manta rays migrate vast distances of around a thousand kilometres or more. Reef manta rays have shorter migrations because they like to stay in shallower water. They are believed to usually migrate under 100km but have been known to travel over 250km.

Reef manta rays migrate to areas with a good food source and stay there for months at a time.

What is the difference between manta rays and stingrays?

Although manta rays and stingrays look quite similar at first glance, there are actually quite a few differences between the two.

Stingrays are generally smaller than manta rays. The smallest species is a featherweight at only 10cm across. They eat fish and crustaceans using mouths positioned under their bodies, and often rest on or under the sand close to shore. And finally, they have long, thin tails which usually have a sharp venomous barb at the end. This makes them more dangerous than manta rays.

Manta rays, by comparison, are much bigger. Their mouths are found at the front edge of their bodies and they use their unique cephalic lobes (found beside their mouths) to funnel plankton into their bellies. You won’t find them resting on the sand near the beach. They have no venomous barb, either.

What are the fish that suck onto the manta rays?

The suckerfish you may see attached to the manta rays are called remoras. They attach themselves to manta rays or sharks, often near the head.

They don’t harm the manta ray host, but rather have a symbiotic relationship (one that benefits them both). The remoras eat skin parasites attached to the manta ray. In return they get free transport and the occasional snack the manta missed.

Remoras suck on strongly enough to stay in place but can let go and move around if they choose to.

Why do manta rays come into the channel in front of Mantaray Island?

Manta rays come here each May to October to feed in the nutrient-rich waters which are funnelled through the narrow channel.

The strong currents flowing through the channel during the change of tide concentrates nutrients between Nanuya Balavu (our island!) and Drawaqa Island. This makes it a perfect feeding spot to access their main food source, plankton, with ease, and in great abundance.

What is the size of a manta ray?

While giant manta rays are believed to get up to 8.8m (29 feet) across and weigh up to 2400kg (5300 pounds), the average manta is around 4m (12 feet) across.

What is the size of the largest Manta Ray ever found?

Records of giant mantas are notoriously difficult to verify. The largest reported in the scientific literature measured 22 feet (6.7 metres) across and there is one report of an individual 30 feet (9.1 metres) across. But most mantas encountered by people are about 12 feet (4 metres) across.

Manta Ray Facts & Figures

In Fijian manta rays are called the “VAI”. With wingspans reaching over 20 feet across, manta rays are one of the largest fish in the ocean. In recent years, Mantaray Island Resort has been visited by a manta ray spanning 6.5m! The manta ray in the above image is approximately 4.5m across.

Are manta rays friendly?

Manta rays may be intimidating because of their large size (4-6m) but they are gentle creatures. They might watch you as you swim by and show gentle curiosity but will usually keep their distance at the same time.

Manta rays are very intelligent. They have the biggest brain-to-body size of all fish. Studies that set out to understand just how smart they are found that they could be able to recognise themselves in a mirror. They also have well-developed long term memories and can map out their environment using sight and smell.

What do Manta Rays eat?

The answer is definitely not you!

Manta ray are filter feeders. They possess cephalic (head) fins that they use to help funnel food and water into their cavernous mouths. They eat zooplankton, krill and very small crustaceans – all tiny inhabitants of the water column.

To catch these little guys they swim around with their mouths wide open and filter their lunch through gill plates, which are like tiny filtering rakes.

You may also see them doing slow somersaults while feeding. They might also be seen swimming in a circle with other manta rays. This is called chain feeding and manta rays do it to trap zooplankton in a funnel of water between them.

Why do manta rays look the way they do?

Manta rays are large animals with wing-like pectoral fins on each side. These help them to gracefully propel themselves and glide through the water while filtering the water for plankton. Their wing-shaped fins generate a lot of thrust. This creates vortexes of water that propel the manta ray forward.

Cousins to the shark, manta rays have cartilaginous skeletons that make for their graceful flexibility.

What colour are manta rays?

Manta rays are occasionally completely black, but usually, they have a dark back and white belly. Each manta ray also has a distinct pattern of spots on its belly. These are used by researchers to identify individuals because no two are the same.

There have also been a few reports of albino manta rays. This completely white form is extremely rare.

How long do manta rays live?

Researchers have yet to confirm this with certainty, but they believe manta rays live to between 40 and 50 years old.

Do manta rays have predators?

Yes! Although it’s rare for anything to attack these giants, there are some creatures who will hunt them for food. These are orcas, false killer whales and a few of the larger species of sharks.

Do manta rays have teeth or venomous barbs?

Manta rays have gill plates that they use to filter tiny creatures out of the water to eat. These are each 1 – 2 mm long. They do not have teeth for defence or biting large prey.

They also don’t have venomous barbs in their tails like stingrays do.

Swimming with manta rays is a wonderful choice for anyone wanting a remarkable animal encounter with a gentle giant.

Can manta rays leap out of water?

Yes, they can. They can make impressive leaps out of the water when they are playing or trying to impress a mate. This also helps them to remove parasites from their skin.

How fast can manta rays swim?

Manta rays are strong swimmers. They can swim fast and hold their position in strong currents. They can move about a whole body-length in one second!

They can maintain a speed of 14 kilometres (9 miles) per hour, with bursts of up to 35 kilometres (22 miles) per hour.

How deep can manta rays dive?

For a long time, no one had any idea!

Recently, tagged manta rays have shown us that oceanic mantas can make dives of between 200m and 450m deep. The species has been recorded at maximum depths of 1000m deep.

Do manta rays sleep?

Nobody knows for sure but it’s unlikely. Like sharks, manta rays have to keep swimming to pump water over their gills. This is how they breathe.

It’s possible that they shut down certain parts of their brain to give them a rest, though.

How do manta rays reproduce?

Manta rays take about 10 years to reach sexual maturity. Once they start breeding, they usually have a single pup (sometimes two) every two to five years. Gestation is believed to be about a year long. Eggs are retained within the mother mantra ray’s body, where they hatch. Sometime after, she gives birth to live young.

What is a group of manta rays called?

A group of rays is called a ‘fever’!

Manta ray conservation

Manta rays are listed as Vulnerable.

They are fished for their gill rakers and meat, or caught as by-catch. They can also become entangled in fishing nets or other human garbage.

Although exact number are hard to confirm, both species are known to have declined worldwide.


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