Exploring the Majestic Manta Rays of Komodo
Reef manta rays are some of the most majestic and mysterious creatures that inhabit our oceans. These gentle giants can be found in various parts of the world, including the waters surrounding the Komodo Islands in Indonesia. In this blog article, we will explore the fascinating world of manta rays in Komodo and learn more about these incredible creatures.
Komodo National Park is located in Indonesia, east of Bali, specifically on the Lesser Sunda Islands, which are part of the Coral Triangle. The park covers an area of approximately 1,733 square kilometres and includes three main islands: Komodo Island, Rinca Island, and Padar Island, as well as several smaller islands.
The islands are famous for their unique flora and fauna, as well as their rugged and picturesque landscapes. The surrounding waters are home to a diverse marine ecosystem, including coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangroves, which support a wide range of marine species, including various species of sharks, dolphins, whales, and of course, manta rays. Manta rays are members of the family Mobulidae and are closely related to sharks.
TYPES OF MANTA RAYS
Manta rays belong to the subclass “elasmobranchs” and share several traits with other ocean creatures such as skates, rays, and sharks. These creatures have cartilage skeletons instead of bone, which is why they are referred to as “cartilaginous fish.”
Mantas are known for having the largest brain-to-body ratio among all fish. They have a brain size equivalent to an adult fist, making them highly advanced in terms of problem-solving and communication compared to other fish.
There are two types of manta rays: the migratory giant manta ray, also known as the oceanic or pelagic manta, and the reef manta ray, found in shallow coastal areas.
There are two species of manta rays in the manta family, the manta birostris and the manta alfredi.
The manta birostris is also known as the oceanic manta ray or giant manta ray. It is the larger of the two species and can reach up to 7 meters in wingspan. It is found in tropical and subtropical waters around the world. The manta alfredi is also known as the reef manta ray or lesser manta ray. It is smaller than the oceanic manta ray and typically has a wingspan of around 3 to 5 meters. It is found in tropical and subtropical waters in the Indian and Pacific Oceans and commonly found in the Komodo National Park waters.
Both species of manta ray have a distinctive triangular-shaped body with large pectoral fins used for swimming. The colour of a manta ray can vary depending on the species and the individual. Oceanic manta rays are generally dark-coloured on the top, with a black or dark blue back, while reef manta rays are often more brownish or greyish in colour. Both species have a lighter-coloured underside that is usually white or pale in colour.
HOW BIG IS A MANTA RAY?
Manta rays are renowned for their enormous size. Giant oceanic mantas can grow up to 22 feet (7 meters) from wingtip to wingtip and weigh up to 3,000 pounds (1,400 kilos), making them the largest species among over 500 types of rays and skates. Reef mantas are slightly smaller, reaching a size of about 14 feet across (roughly 5 meters).
THE ANATOMY OF A MANTA RAY: BODY PARTS
Although manta rays possess tails, they are capable of surviving without them. During our regular swims with manta rays, we have encountered two tailless mantas that appeared to have no difficulties navigating their environment.
The manta ray’s mouth is situated in the front of its body, and we will delve deeper into its unique features in the following section.
Manta rays are often found in shallow water, and from the ocean’s surface, their dorsal fin may be mistaken for that of a shark. This fin is essential for maneuvering their bodies, as they exhibit remarkable agility and acrobatics.
These swimming abilities are crucial not only for their defence but also for feeding. Manta rays have developed distinctive swimming patterns to aid in filter-feeding.
THE MOUTH OF THE MANTA RAY
The mouth of the manta ray resembles a vast, cavernous cave, which may seem intimidating due to its size. However, mantas can’t consume anything other than plankton, so there is no need to fear being eaten by them.
In the rare instance that a fish accidentally enters a manta’s mouth, it will be promptly expelled.
The mouth of the manta ray is composed of gill rakers and gill arches, with the latter responsible for keeping the cavity open during feeding. Manta rays close their mouths when they are not feeding.
IDENTIFICATION OF MANTA RAY:
Manta rays have a few distinguishing markings that can be used to identify individual animals. Some manta rays have distinctive spots or patterns on their underside, while others may have unique notches or cuts in their fins. Researchers can use these markings to track individual manta rays over time and learn more about their behaviours and movements.
How do Manta Rays feed?
Manta rays are filter feeders and feed on planktonic organisms such as krill, copepods, and small fish. They have large cephalic lobes on either side of their mouth, which they use to direct water into their mouths and filter out their food. Manta rays are also known for their intelligence and social behaviour and have been observed exhibiting playful behaviors, such as barrel rolls and flips. They are also known to form close bonds with other manta rays, and researchers have even observed them swimming in synchronized patterns, much like a choreographed dance. Manta rays are considered one of the most intelligent and charismatic marine species, and they are a popular attraction for ecotourism and scuba diving.
Where to spot manta Ray In Komodo National Park
With the highest concentration of resident manta rays worldwide, Komodo National Park is one of the few places where divers can witness reef manta rays up close. These beautiful creatures can be seen year-round in the waters surrounding the park but are most commonly spotted during the rainy season from December to March. During this time, the plankton blooms, providing abundant food for the manta rays and attracting them to the area.
The best places to observe and dive with manta rays in Komodo are at Manta Point (Karang Makassar) and Mawan. These dive sites, located east of the island of Komodo, are cleaning stations for manta rays. Here, the mantas come to be cleaned by small cleaner fish, which pick parasites and dead skin from the mantas’ bodies. The mantas circle the cleaning station, allowing divers and snorkelers to observe them from a safe distance.
Eco Impact and Endangered Species:
Manta rays are not only fascinating to observe, but they also play an essential role in the marine ecosystem. As filter feeders, they help to control the population of plankton and small fish, which can have a cascading effect on the entire food chain. Manta rays are also crucial for ecotourism, bringing in thousands of visitors yearly to observe these gentle giants in their natural habitat. By protecting manta rays, we also protect the health of our oceans and the livelihoods of those who depend on them.
Unfortunately, manta rays are threatened by various human activities, including overfishing, habitat destruction and pollution.
Plastic pollution is a significant threat to manta rays and other marine life. By reducing your use of single-use plastics and supporting initiatives to clean up plastic waste from oceans and beaches, you can help reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the habitats of manta rays.
In Indonesia, manta rays are targeted for their gill plates, used in traditional Chinese medicine. However, in recent years, there have been efforts to protect manta rays in Komodo and throughout Indonesia. In 2014, Indonesia declared a large part of its waters a Manta Ray Sanctuary, protecting these magnificent creatures.
In conclusion, manta rays are a remarkable and awe-inspiring species found in Indonesia’s waters surrounding the Komodo Islands. Observing these gentle giants in their natural habitat is an unforgettable experience highlighting the importance of protecting our oceans and the creatures that inhabit them. By taking action to protect manta rays and their habitats, we can help ensure that future generations will be able to witness the wonder of these magnificent creatures.
It is essential to choose a reputable and safe dive centre when diving in Komodo National Park, as the currents and conditions can be challenging. Ensure that the dive centre you choose has experienced instructors and follows proper safety protocols to ensure a safe and enjoyable diving experience.
At Manta Dive Komodo, we have been trained to focus on safety.
We will bring you to the best dive sites to see manta rays and teach you about the behaviour to adopt when swimming around them.