Sea Creature Feature of the Week: Giant Manta Ray

By Shannon Campbell

SCIENCE |The Giant Manta Ray is one of the world’s largest fish and largest ray. This species can reach a wingspan of up to 29 feet and thrive for up to 40 years. This manta ray, which may weigh up to 5,300 pounds, is a filter feeder that feeds on vast amounts of zooplankton and small fish. They are found in tropical, subtropical, and temperate areas all over the world. Off the east coast, they are often in seas ranging from 19 to 22 degrees Celsius (66 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit).

This vertebrate species is the only one with three paired appendages. The first pair consists of two wing-like pectoral fins, the second of two sets of gills, and the third of two lobes that extend from the mouth and funnel in the water. These fish have the biggest brains of any fish investigated thus far. According to Oceana, they use that brain power to learn, exercise their memory, distinguish between objects, and even recognize themselves in the mirror. 

Because of its cephalic lobes, this species is commonly known as the “devil ray.” These lobes reside on each side of the ray’s mouth and resemble horns when extended forwards. These appendages help in feeding. Rays may also swim in somersaults to increase their food intake, which is a fascinating eating method.

The manta ray was classified as endangered by the IUCN Red List in 2019. One of the most serious risks to manta rays is overexploitation for commercial interests. Giant manta rays are targeted and taken as bycatch in a variety of fisheries. In addition, demand for their gills has increased in Asian markets and international trade. Other typical treats include maritime pollution, vessel collisions, entanglement, and recreational fishing.

NOAA Fisheries gives the following four methods on how you can help:

  • Follow Manta Ray Safe Handling and Release Guidelines
  • Keep Your Distance
  • Report Manta Ray Sightings
  • Email 
  • Reduce Ocean Trash
  • Participate in coastal cleanups
  • Reduce plastic use
  • Properly stow or dispose of fishing gear

To watch a manta ray for yourself, visit the Georgia Aquarium’s ocean voyager camera HERE.

What sea creature are you most interested in learning more about? Leave a comment below!