I want to start off by saying how amazing this video is! Sean Heindricks’ work is truly remarkable and Hannah Fraser is absolutely breathtaking. They did an awe-inspiring job at grabbing the public’s attention in an effort to conserve manta ray populations all over the world. Although I could go on for days about the importance of conserving these majestic creatures, today, I want to talk about the feeding strategies shown in the video. These particular feeding habits are why mantas are known as the ballerinas of the ocean.
Some people may compare seeing a manta ray to an alien from a si-fi movie but I see the sheer beauty of a docile giant. If you are ever lucky enough to witness mantas rays feeding you will surely agree that these intelligent fish are more comparable to ballet dancers than an extraterrestrial. When feeding, cephalic horns on either side of the manta’s mouth unroll. Moving slowly and deliberately with mouths wide-open they feed on some of the smallest creatures in the ocean called plankton. Mantas participate in a variety of feeding behaviors moving through the water as elegantly and practiced as ballerinas.
During benthic feeding, mantas move in figure eights along the bottom, swimming back and forth, scooping plankton off of the seabed. They have also been observed changing the position of their cephalic fins to adapt to this feeding behavior. As a result, some mantas have been seen with red abrasions on their cephalic fins and gill slits. I have witnessed bottom-feeding behaviors with juveniles and adults alike, and have seen many individuals with abrasions on the ventral side of their bodies.
On the other extreme, surface feeding exposes the dorsal side of the body directly to the sun. They swim along the surface thrashing their pectoral fins to propel them forward. Hugging the surface they can access the plankton hiding amongst the waves.
When plankton is found in high concentrations mantas may gather to form a train. Individuals line up head-to-tail working together to improve their feeding success. Small males also benefit from riding the backs of larger females coordinating their movements. Another group strategy called cyclone feeding has only been observed in the waters of the Maldives. This group behavior has been witnessed with an astonishing 150 manta rays feeding at once.
My favorite and most frequently observed feeding strategy of mantas is the barrel roll. This particular behavior is why I dub the manta ray the ballerina of the ocean. Mantas roll backwards, looping over and over, in an attempt to funnel concentrations of plankton into their mouths. This behavior can go on for hours in a dizzying dance. Due to the size difference between them and their prey, mantas spend many hours a day feeding and searching for their next meal. With the largest mantas weighing over a 1,300kg (2,500 lbs) they must consume about 13% of their body weight every week.
Now that I am all amped up writing about manta rays, what’s particularly exciting is that they can be seen right here in Costa Rica! The giant Pacific manta ray (Manta birostris), the largest of all the manta ray species, can be observed between November and May. The optimal time to see these 7-meter wide (24 ft) giants is when water temperatures drop. So, get our your wetsuit! We are about to enter the beginning of manta ray season and if you and I are lucky enough we may get to see one of these majestic ballerinas in action.
Links to check out!
Manta Trust: MantaTrust.org
Shawn’s Website: BlueSphereMedia.com