We like to think of manta rays as underwater acrobats, but in Spanish manta means 'blanket'. Their massive noggins have also earnt the nickname 'brainiacs' (more on that later), while a freshly born manta pup is often referred to as a burrito, due to the rolled-up position in which they are birthed. It's enough to make the mind boggle. No matter what you call them, to have a manta ray glide inches above you is a truly remarkable experience, not least because of their size which, in oceanic manta rays, can reach seven metres.
Spot The Difference
While there are two different species of manta ray - reef mantas and oceanic mantas - they all have a unique pattern of spots on the underside of their bellies, much like a human fingerprint. This allows scientists to individually identify manta rays and so track them which helps to inform their conservation.
Extraordinarily brainy (literally - they have the largest brains of all fish), manta rays are the first fish to have passed the mirror test, which is widely used to study self-awareness. Human children tend to fail this test until they are at least one-and-a-half years old.
Although the full effects of plastic pollution on manta rays and other filter feeders is still unknown, microplastics can block nutrient absorption and damage a manta's digestive tract. Scientists also speculate that plastic accumulation over decades could lead to altered growth, development and reduced reproduction.
Where To Find Them
Socorro, off Mexico, is hands down the best place in the world for diving with manta rays, with guaranteed sightings on every dive. Divers can also witness the unique spectacle of manta ray mating season in Yap in Micronesia (December to April) as well as Palau (December to March). Diving with manta rays in Indonesia is a common occurrence in Raja Ampat, Komodo and Bali while over in the Maldives, swim with mantas in their hundreds in Hanifaru Bay in the Baa Atoll (June to November).
Weight of fully-grown oceanic manta ray
Their average lifespan
Number birthed every other year