Manta Magic

Lisa, our Marine Biologist intern has incredible marine stories to share! Here is her story about Manta Magic.

Only five minutes by speedboat from Coco Bodu Hithi, a location full of wonder awaits the curious snorkeler.

The location is Rasfari North, a nearby reef and cleaning station for Manta Rays. No, it is not us who clean the Manta Rays! We rather leave the job to Mother Nature.

It is small fish, the cleaner wrasses, which clean the Manta Rays. The cleaner wrasses are specialised on eating dead skin and parasites off the Manta Rays. Delicious! While these fish live on the reef, the Manta Rays come for a 5-month long visit only, from December to April. Just a small window for marine biologists to study these impressive animals! By observing and taking ID pictures, we collect as much data as possible to learn and share our knowledge with guests and associates alike.

What makes a Manta lover’s day so special? Swimming with Manta Rays of course and … naming a Manta Ray! On January 16th, I was lucky enough to identify a new Manta Ray! It is a male with a long tail, measuring 2.8m across. I chose the Inuit name “OORUK”.

Getting clean again: Manta ray M3614 “OORUK” enjoying its spa treatment

Getting clean again: Manta Ray M3614 “OORUK” enjoying its spa treatment

This year only, we observed 7 of our 108 identified Manta Rays at Rasfari North pregnant. The most exciting news: 3 females, M341 “SHIZZLE”, M356 “SEABUSCUIT“ and M211 “SUMO”, gave birth already! Let’s watch out for three 1.5m “small” Manta babies swimming around Coco Bodu Hithi!

M211 “SUMO” almost ready to deliver

M211 “SUMO” almost ready to deliver

We frequently observe one of our new mother’s, M211 SUMO, at the cleaning station. Chiara first observed her heavily pregnant on January 16th. One month later, she found “SUMO” without pregnancy bulge and on February 20th, she was already engaged in courtship behaviour with the male M162 “SIMPLE”. Swimming wildly around each other is how manta rays show interest in mating.

The manta love dance: M211 “SUMO” and M162 “SIMPLE” just before mating

The Manta love dance: M211 “SUMO” and M162 “SIMPLE” just before mating

Apart from our two lovebirds “SIMPLE” and “SUMO”, Chiara had another great encounter: A group of Manta Rays feeding near the cleaning station! It has been three years since the last feeding frenzy report. Chiara did not hesitate to show her guests the beauty of swimming eye to eye with a group of Manta Rays!

With mouth wide-open manta rays feed right under the surface

With mouth wide-open Manta Rays feed right under the surface

As many different Manta Rays from all over North Male’ or even neighbouring atolls visit the cleaning station, we frequently find injured manta rays among them. They might have an old shark bite wound or scars and even amputated fins from boat collisions or net entanglements. Unfortunately, Manta Rays cannot free themselves once entangled.

Missing a piece: M90 “PICKLE” with shark bite wound

Missing a piece: M90 “PICKLE” with shark bite wound

On February 25, I had the most exciting and rewarding experience at Rasfari North: Right after jumping into the water, I encountered a Manta Ray entangled in a rope. Heart breaking! The rope was already cutting into the female’s flesh as she was dragging it behind. I shouted out to my water sports colleague Azim to help me. He went after the Manta Ray with my knife, cutting the rope and releasing the female. Luckily, the Manta Ray stayed calm and kept its steady speed instead of swimming off.

Teamwork: On a manta rescue mission with Azim

Teamwork: On a Manta rescue mission with Azim

On January 28, Chiara had a similar encounter with an entangled male Manta Ray. She went after him, cutting 2m off a very long fishing line wrapped all over the poor animal. Unfortunately, the Manta Ray was too scared and swam away very fast, making it impossible for Chiara to remove the whole line. One week later, it reappeared but again he was too shy to let Chiara help him.

Great news from Manta Trust!

In 2014, Coco Bodu Hithi has been the highest submitter of Manta identification pictures from North Male’ atoll. By sending our identification pictures to Manta Trust, we support their research on the Maldivian Manta Ray population.

In addition to being number one in North Male’, Coco Bodu Hithi contributed with four newly identified individuals to the national Manta Ray database: M3200 PICO, M3201 FOGO, M3226 HASE and M3262 PAOLETTA. We rewarded the lucky guest who sent us the ID picture of M3226 with choosing a name for the Manta Ray.

Manta Trust certifying our support to their research and protection of Manta Rays in 2014

Manta Trust certifying our support to their research and protection of Manta Rays in 2014

Snorkeling with Manta Rays is an amazing experience! Watching them move slowly towards you, chased by swarms of cleaner fish, gliding underneath you at only an arm length distance: It will make your day special!

I cannot imagine anything more relaxing and at the same time animating as joining Manta Rays at the cleaning station.

Working on my Manta selfie-skills

Working on my Manta selfie-skills

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