An elegant and majestic pelagic species, manta rays are closely related to sharks. Weighing up to 1350kg, their wingspan can reach a whopping 6.7 metres (22ft), which is more than a metre (3ft) longer than the biggest known shark. The word ‘manta’ means mantle or cloak in Spanish and refers to the blanket-shaped trap traditionally used for catching rays.
Mantas feed on microscopic zooplankton by using their gill rakers to filter the water. Another distinguishing feature of the mantas are the structures that protrude from their head, called cephalic lobes. When navigating, manta rays keep their lobes coiled up. But when they are feeding, manta rays stretch their lobes which forms a tunnel to help boost food-rich water into their mouths.
There are two kinds of mantas; manta alfredi (reef manta) and manta birostris (oceanic manta). The oceanic mantas are larger than the reef mantas and tend to be seen further out at sea.
With more than 5000 species counted, the Maldives is a hotspot for mantas all year round. The nutrient-rich currents feed not only the mantas, but the coral reefs and an abundance of other marine life that the Maldives is famous for.
A well-known spot to see mantas is Hanifaru Bay in the Baa Atoll region. It’s possible to see hundreds of mantas here if you’re lucky. Diving is banned at Hanifaru Bay as it was officially declared a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO IN 2011 but snorkeling is allowed. Take a look at what you can expect to see at this famous site:
All photos in this blog: © Daniel Norwood