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Lincoln Bell
Lincoln Bell


Manta rays, Manta birostris, are popular visitors to Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. One or more may be spotted on any given visit, at any time of year. But, how much time do they spend there? How many different mantas visit the sanctuary each year? Do they hang around one particular bank more than another?


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These are all things we would like to know. But first, we must be able to identify the individual animals. For this purpose we have developed a photo catalog of manta rays seen at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

Each manta ray possesses a unique set of markings and color patterns on its underbelly, almost like a fingerprint. The whole underside is used to distinguish it as an individual--the color of the cephalic fins, the markings and color of the wings, the markings around the gill slits, and the markings on the belly.

Sanctuary staff and volunteers have been collecting photos and videos of mantas sighted in the sanctuary over many years. These photos are the basis of a newly developed catalog and poster identifying each of the known individuals.

Male manta rays can be distinguished from females by the presence of two claspers that extend beyond the pelvic fins in adult males (see image on left). Females do not have claspers (see image on right).

The manta rays in the catalog have been divided into categories to aid in identifying individuals. Each manta ray is placed in a category according to its unique underbelly markings. However, some manta rays' markings can be accurately described by more than one category, so be sure to look at images in all of the categories that may apply.

This catalog is an ongoing project, so new mantas and additional sightings of current mantas are added at every opportunity. If you don't see an image of the manta you observed, it may be a new addition to our catalog.

Both mantas and mobulas have the distinctive cephalic fins in front, but there are ways to tell them apart. One key distinguinshing feature is the location of the mouth. Manta rays have a "terminal" mouth, located at the very front of the head, between the cephalic fins. On the other hand, mobulas have a "sub-terminal" mouth, located on the underside of the head, in a neck-like region. In addition, mobulas are smaller than manta rays and their cephalic fins are much closer together.

M. birostris has been harvested in tropical America. The manta ray was formerly harvested commercially off Australia and California waters for its liver oil and for its skin which is used as an abrasive. Today it is rarely hunted, although meat from the manta ray is considered a delicacy in the Philippines. Dive tourism has benefited greatly from the manta in locations where they are reliably encountered and sometimes approach divers. In these areas, where divers often touch and interact with mantas, the rays can develop skin lesions in response to the removal of the protective mucous layer.

The manta inhabits temperate, tropical, and subtropical waters worldwide, between 35 N and 35 S latitudes. In the western Atlantic Ocean, this includes South Carolina (US) south to Brazil and Bermuda. Occasionally this ray is observed as far north as New Jersey and San Diego. Other locations include the east coast of Africa, in the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, as well as the Indo-Pacific.

Unlike other mobulids, the mouth of the manta is in the terminal location, not inferior. The spiracles and the eyes are located laterally, while the gills are located ventrally. The disc is 2.2 times wider than it is long, not including the cephalic lobes. The tail from cloaca to tip is as long as the cloaca to the front of head. The tail is slightly flattened and is shorter than disc width. The head is slightly concave between the cephalic lobes, thereby forming a shallow triangular cavity anteriorly. The head region also forms a crest from nape to should but is otherwise flat. M. birostris has a dorsal fin that is located just anterior of the pectoral axis. The height of the dorsal fin is 83% of its base length. The base of the dorsal fins is 34% as long as the mouth is wide.

ColorationIndividual mantas possess distinct dorsal and ventral coloration that is unique to each animal. Generally, it is dark brown, grayish blue, or black on top with pale edges and white underneath. Some individual mantas have pale patches and color patterns on top as well as dark blotches underneath. These color variations have been used to identify individuals.

Size, Age, and GrowthThis ray can achieve a maximum disc width of 29.5 feet (9 m), with an average width of about 22 feet (6.7m). The largest specimens of the manta weigh up to 3,000 pounds (1350 kg). Estimated life span for these giants is approximately 20 years.

ParasitesSpecific parasites associated with M. birostris are unknown. However, this ray is known to visit wrasse cleaning stations on a daily basis. These fish function to remove parasites from the mantas.

Manta birostris was first described by Dondorff in 1798. Synonyms include Cephalopterus vampyrus Mitchill 1824, Cephalopterus manta Bancroft 1829, Manta americana Bancroft 1829, Ceratoptera johnii Müller & Henle 1841, Ceratoptera alfredi Krefft 1868, Brachioptilon hamiltoni Hamilton & Newman 1849, Raja manatia Bloch & Schneider 1801, Manta hamiltoni Hamilton & Newman 1849, and Manta alfredi Krefft 1868.

Manta Guarantee Policy:On the rare occasion where zero manta rays are sighted on your tour, Sea Quest invites you to come back out on another night at no additional cost to you, or on a confirmed Captain Cook Exclusive afternoon snorkel tour at no additional charge. Based on availability. Non-transferable. No refunds given.

very large ray (also called devilfish), 1760, from Spanish manta "blanket" (which is attested in English from 1748 in this sense, specifically in reference to a type of wrap or cloak worn by Spaniards), from Late Latin mantum "cloak," from Latin mantellum "cloak" (see mantle (n.)). The ray so called "for being broad and long like a quilt" [Jorge Juan and Antonio de Ulloa, "A Voyage to South America"].

Old English mentel "a loose, sleeveless garment worn as an outer covering, falling in straight lines from the shoulders," from Latin mantellum "cloak" (source of Italian mantello, Old High German mantal, German Mantel, Old Norse mötull), perhaps from a Celtic source, or, if the Latin word is the same word as mantelum, mantelium "a cloth, hand-towel, napkin," perhaps it is from manus "hand."

We are James and Martina Wing, and we devote our lives to serving and educating the public about the ocean and marine life in general, and manta rays specifically. Our company is built on a bedrock of love for each other and for the manta rays, a passion for giving our guests an exceptional experience, and an unstoppable drive to protect our oceans.

We were so pleasantly surprised and really DO think differently of mantas. They are beautiful. Your team was so informative and fun. We have already recommended you to two different sets of people who are going to book. Thank you for all you do for this graceful species.

Our group were so privileged to have the experience with you and the manta rays last September and the memories sustain us during this COVID crisis. Hope you and yours are staying healthy. Australia seems to be doing well so far with strict requirements but time will tell.

A dark shadow emerges under the ocean waves, growing at an alarmingly fast pace as it approaches the surface. As the diamond-shaped body and thin tail begin to come into focus, suddenly, in a burst of water and flapping fins, a giant manta ray breaks through the surface!

The potential for threats to cause cascading declines in the giant manta ray species is incredibly high - a single manta ray only gives birth to a one offspring every two to three years. With indications that population numbers were dwindling, combined with their low reproductive rate, Defenders of Wildlife submitted a petition in 2015 to the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect the giant manta ray under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In a victory for the future of this species, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced their decision in 2018 to officially list the species as threatened.

That same year, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) developed a conservation guidance outline to help implement new management recommendations. This included investigating giant manta ray bycatch to design methods for safe release and supporting international efforts to identify areas of fisheries overlap. Researchers still have a lot to learn about how to best protect giant manta ray populations and habitat. What they do know is that ocean-based threats are proliferating at a dangerously fast rate and we need to protect the health of entire oceanic ecosystems to preserve reef habitats that the giant manta ray species depends on.

Divers, recreationists and tourists can all play a role in these recovery efforts. If you participate in giant manta ray tourism, please keep a safe distance from these animals to prevent disturbing them. Divers should always set an example for others by maintaining proper distance. Never touch a giant manta ray. Physical contact from divers disrupts their protective layer of mucous and can cause painful skin lesions - with repeated physical contact the extent of this skin damage can quickly worsen. Fishing gear should always be properly stored and boat speeds should be regulated to avoid wildlife collisions. For an activity closer to home, try to see if you can participate in ocean pollution clean-up events near you. Managing pollution will help prevent giant manta rays from accidentally ingesting microplastics. 041b061a72


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