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Giant oceanic manta ray

Manta birostris

Photo: Giant oceanic manta ray
Weights and measures
Length from 3 to 5 m
Weight 1350 kg
Wingspan from 6,7 to 9 m
Biological data
Lifespan from 20 to 25 years
Length of gestation 13 m
Number of young 1-2
State of endangerment
Animal description
The Giant Oceanic Manta Ray (Manta birostris) is a magnificent and enigmatic creature of the sea, captivating the imagination and admiration of those who encounter it. This species, belonging to the family Mobulidae, represents one of the largest types of rays in the world, with an awe-inspiring presence that is both graceful and powerful. Manta birostris thrives in the open waters of tropical, subtropical, and temperate oceans worldwide, navigating vast distances with an effortless elegance that belies its colossal size.

Characterized by its distinctive body shape, the Giant Oceanic Manta Ray possesses a broad, diamond-shaped disc that can span up to 7 meters (23 feet) across, though average sizes are typically around 4.5 to 6.7 meters (15 to 22 feet). This expansive wingspan is complemented by a weight that can reach a staggering 1,350 kilograms (nearly 3,000 pounds), making it one of the ocean's most formidable inhabitants. The manta ray's body is predominantly black or dark blue on the upper side, with a contrasting white underbelly that often features unique patterns of spots and blotches. These patterns are as individual as fingerprints, allowing researchers to identify and track individual rays.

One of the most striking features of the Giant Oceanic Manta Ray is its cephalic fins, which are located on either side of its wide, rectangular mouth. These flexible, horn-like structures can be rolled up or unfurled and are used to channel plankton, small fish, and crustaceans into the ray's mouth as it swims. This filter-feeding mechanism is facilitated by the ray's gill rakers, which sieve food particles from the water, allowing the ray to consume vast quantities of plankton in areas of high nutrient concentration.

Despite their imposing size, Giant Oceanic Manta Rays are known for their gentle nature and curiosity towards humans, often approaching divers and snorkelers without hesitation. They are highly intelligent creatures, exhibiting complex behaviors such as social interactions, cooperative feeding, and even the use of cleaning stations, where they allow smaller fish to remove parasites from their skin.

The reproductive cycle of the Giant Oceanic Manta Ray is characterized by a low fecundity, with females giving birth to a single pup every two to three years after a gestation period of around 13 months. This slow reproductive rate, combined with increasing threats from overfishing, bycatch, and habitat destruction, has led to concerns about the species' long-term viability.

Conservation efforts are underway to protect the Giant Oceanic Manta Ray, with the species listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Initiatives include the establishment of marine protected areas, the implementation of sustainable fishing practices, and the promotion of ecotourism, which provides economic incentives for local communities to preserve these majestic creatures.

In summary, the Giant Oceanic Manta Ray is a creature of profound beauty and ecological significance, embodying the mysteries and wonders of the ocean. Its presence in the marine ecosystem is a reminder of the interconnectedness of all life forms and the importance of conserving the natural world for future generations.
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