Happy World Manta Ray Day!

manta ray named Cherilyn
Manta Ray named Cherilyn (yes, after me!)

Happy World Manta Ray Day! This is Moby, and I’m a manta ray. I’ve been lucky to be featured in this blog, see Moby the Manta Ray: I Am Not a Devilfish Part 1, Moby the Manta Ray Part 2: How I Am Alike and Different From My Cousins the Sharks and Why Manta Rays Are Becoming Endangered and today I felt the need to bring up the state of the ocean I live in.

We manta rays really are gentle giants, reaching lengths of 23 feet (7 meters) and 6,600 pounds (3000 kg). But all we eat are plankton, the tiny plants and animals floating in the ocean. And we don’t have a stinger on our tail like stingrays. Our only defense is our size, but as you’ll find out, it’s no match for humans.

I face so many threats living in the ocean including pollution (especially plastic), ghost nets, and being fished out by fishermen, to name a few.

I’ve heard things are going poorly on land, but at least you’re not swimming around in and eating garbage! I mean that literally—junk food is nothing compared to the microplastic I ingest everyday.

Microplastic are small bits of plastic. Some pieces are grinded down from larger pieces, and some are manufactured that way (like microbeads in beauty products).

I eat plankton, the tiny plants and animals that live in the sea. The microplastic floats around with the plankton. I filter the seawater around me through my gills, and have finger-like gill rakers on my gills that trap the plankton, which I then swallow.

Each gulp of water brings probably thousands (or more!) microplastic bits in which I swallow. This plastic bioaccumulates in my body, which means that little by little the plastic builds up in my body over time.

You, as humans, carry several pounds of plastic in your body. Even human babies are born with plastic in their bodies.

It’s ironic, the very structure that keeps me alive—my gills—helps me to breathe oxygen from the water around me, and also helps me filter out the food I eat— may lead to my downfall.

You see, me and my manta ray friends’ gill rakers are used in a new controversial Traditional Chinese Medicine formula created in modern times. Some TCM formulas date back 2,200 years but not this one. This means now that manta rays are being hunted exclusively for our gill rakers.


We weren’t always well-liked by fishermen in the past because we manta rays would get caught in their nets and ruin them. They nicknamed us “devil rays” because of that and because our curled up head fins look like devil horns.

Phew, don’t get me started on the dangers of fishing nets to manta rays. If we do get caught in a fisherman’s net there’s no guarantee that we’ll get set free in time to survive.


And there’s something called ghost nets which also lead to many manta rays and other large sea creatures dying. Ghost nets are fishing nets that fishermen have abandoned at sea. Many times they are made of a semi-transparent material called monofilament which looks nearly invisible underwater to most sea creatures.

Once tangled in one, it’s likely that the animal, like a sea turtle, shark or dolphin will die without getting enough oxygen. Sea turtles and dolphins need to get oxygen from air and sharks need to swim constantly to move water over their gills to breathe.

How can you help? You can visit the websites below and donate your time or money. Or just learn more about me and my manta ray friends and spread the word about our plight.

Please vote and let legislators know the health of our oceans matter to you (and me especially!).

Manta Trust
Dr Andrea Marshall, the Queen of the Mantas
Manta Pacific Research Foundation
Marine Mega Fauna Foundation
Wild Aid Manta Ray Program

10 Cool Shark Facts: Your Questions Answered!

bull shark bahamas, bull shark, bahamas
Bull Shark By Albert Kok~enwiki – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

The following are 10 Cool Shark Facts in a question and answer format.

1.How many shark species are there?

There are 512 described and 23 un-described shark species (according to Wikipedia)

2. Are sharks vertebrates?

Yes, sharks are vertebrates. Vertebrates have a backbone or spinal column. In the case of sharks, they have a spinal column made out of cartilage, not bone as in other vertebrates like bony fishes.

2.What is a group of sharks called?

A shoal (this applies to other fish as well)

3. What are baby sharks called?
Pups!

5. Are sharks endangered?
At least 143 species are on the IUCN red list with 210 more as data deficient (meaning we haven’t studied them closely enough to know how endangered the sharks are). But all sharks are in danger of becoming endangered due to overfishing, pollution, and other threats facing our oceans.

6. How many millions of years old are sharks?
The first sharks appeared 440 million years ago.

7. Which shark is the smallest? Which shark is the largest?
The smallest shark is the dwarf lantern shark, which grows to 7.9 inches (20 cm)
The largest shark is the whale shark, which can grow up to 60 feet (but is found to be 18-33 feet long on average)

8. Are sharks found in freshwater or saltwater?
Most sharks are found in the ocean in saltwater, but the river sharks are found in fresh and brackish water (slightly salty water) in Asia and Australia. The bull shark is unique in that it can live both in fresh and saltwater in tropical rivers worldwide.

9. Do sharks have swim bladders?
No, unlike the bony fishes, sharks don’t have swim bladders but the oil in their livers help them stay afloat.

And the final cool shark fact is:
10. How often do sharks eat?
It varies greatly between shark species. A great white shark can go a month without food after a full meal.

Also see: 10 Not-so-Scary Tiger Shark Facts

10 Interesting Great White Shark Facts

and Great White Shark’s Adventure at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Fun quiz on sharks from NatGeoKids

The diversity of shark sizes graphic

Sharks on endangered species list

List of all sharks on Wikipedia

Meet the Pink Manta Ray!

pink manta ray, manta ray Australia
Pink Manta Ray from Australia photo by Kristian Lane/Instagram

Yes, I’m really a pink manta ray

My belly is pink, whereas in “normal” manta rays their belly is white with black spots and splotches on it. I’ve been nicknamed “Inspector Clouseau” from the movies and tv program called the Pink Panther. You clever humans!

Why am I a pink manta ray?

I don’t know, I think I was just born that way. You intelligent humans have ruled out stress. From a small skin sample (a biopsy) they have ruled out a diet full of red food, it’s not an infection or a genetic mutation.

My pink pigments

So now you humans guess that it’s a “unique expression of melanin” or that my skin pigments are just “off”. Duh, I could’ve told you that! After all there are “strawberry blonde leopards,” and “fuchsia grasshoppers,” due to something called erythrism. That causes animals to appear reddish or pinkish.

I’m a boy!

I was first seen in 2015 off of Australia’s Lady Elliot Island. I’m now 11 feet wide (wingtip to wingtip) and yes, I’m a boy. I was last seen as part of a courting train, which is when a line of males (in this case 8) chase a female to try and mate with. Her pheromones are quite irresistible! If she’s looking for unique, I’ve got all the other boys beat–I’m a pink manta ray after all!

My biggest predator…

Even though as a pink manta ray I stand out in a crowd of manta rays, I’m relatively safe from killer whales and great white sharks due to my size. In fact, my biggest potential predator is you humans!

Devil rays

Yes, all manta rays are at risk at being targeted and hunted by humans. Fishermen nicknamed us devil rays because our curled up head fins look like devil horns. We would often get tangled in their fishing nets and ruin them. They really didn’t like that or us because of that.

What are gill rakers?

Now us manta rays are targeted for our gill rakers. They are thin, comb-like strings on our gills that capture all the yummy plankton from the water I strain through my gills. In other words, my gill rakers are what keep me alive!

Even pink manta rays can’t outsmart humans though…

Unfortunately, a new not-so-traditional and controversial formula of Traditional Chinese Medicine utilizes gill rakers and humans now target us gentle and giant beings. We manta rays have the largest brain-to-body ratio of any fish, but alas, even our intelligence cannot keep us from being hunted, possibly someday to the point of extinction. Coupled with our lack of defense (we have no stingers) we have little hope of surviving unless humans stop targeting and killing us faster than we can reproduce. Its no wonder females have a train of males trying to court them—they only mate every two years and have pups every 2-5 years.

Also see Moby the Manta Ray: Happy Manta Ray Day!

For more on how you can help manta rays, visit these ocean conservation non-profits:

Manta Pacific Research Foundation

Manta Trust

Marine Megafauna Foundation

Wild Aid’s Manta Ray Program

Articles used in this blog post:

Rare pink manta ray spotted near Australia’s Lady Elliot Island

How manta rays gill rakers filter water without clogging

Manta ray reproduction

Manta Rays Have Social Lives!

manta ray, reef manta ray, Manta alfredi
Reef manta ray (manta alfredi) photo by: Shiyam ElkCloner, Wikimedia Commons

Hee, hee. Did you know manta rays have a social life? I know because I AM a manta ray. My name is Molly. Humans have only studied manta rays in depth (probably) for decades. Before we were admired for being a gentle giant, fishermen called us “devilfish.” Our curled up head fins look like devil horns, hence the name. Never mind most of the time we’re feeding and our cephalic fins are uncurled. We’d often get caught in fishermen’s nets by accident. The fishermen would get angry that not only did they have to untangle us, but they often had to repair their nets.

In any case, humans have come out with a research study showing that female reef manta rays (Manta alfredi) “show preference” to other female manta rays. I’d say we’re friends, or acquaintances at least for the short-term. We also remember our contact with each other.

We form bonds with other female manta rays over weeks and months but not necessarily longer. That’s okay as many times after a feeding frenzy, or a stop at a cleaning station, we go our separate ways. We don’t vocalize like whales, who keep in touch at long distances. When we get excited socially we can brighten the white splotches on our black backs. But we do have the largest brain-to-body ratio of any fish so it’s no wonder we can use some of our brainpower to recognize others.

The boys, well they’re on their own unless they group with other males, females and juveniles. The main times we all come together are for feeding (plankton for all!), at cleaning stations (ahh…), and for mating. A train of males will trail a female for a long time until she gives in and mates with one. It’s fun, up to a certain point. Who doesn’t like all that attention?

We are in trouble nowadays because of our gill rakers. The very body parts that keep us alive are now threatening our lives. Gill rakers are a covering on my gills, which not only help me breathe, but also feed. The gill rakers act like strainers. They filter ocean water as I swim. Plankton in the water stick to the gill rakers. Plankton are the tiny plants and animals that live in the ocean and are at the bottom of the food chain. The plankton builds up on my gill rakers and yum, time to swallow!

Unfortunately many humans covet our gill rakers for the Traditional Chinese Medicine market. There is no traditional formula that contains manta ray gill rakers, just a controversial new one.

I only have 1-2 pups every 2-5 years. That’s not very often, and we certainly can’t keep up with the fishermen killing us.

Other threats to manta rays, which are making us become endangered, are injuries from being entangled in discarded fishing nets, pollution (especially microplastics) and habitat destruction.

For more information on how you can help visit:

Marine Megafauna Foundation’s work with manta rays

Manta Trust and threats to manta rays

Wild Aid’s work in China to save manta rays

Paper published on 22 August 2019: Rob Perryman et al, “Social preferences and network structure in a population of reef manta rays” Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

Interview with Shark Scientist Melissa Cristina Marquez

Melissa Cristina Marquez portrait
Shark Scientist Melissa Cristina Marquez

Melissa Cristina Marquez is a Marine Biologist, Wildlife Educator, TV Presenter, TEDx speaker, Podcast Host & Author from Sydney, Australia.

Tell me more about Fins United Initiative-how you got started, what you do, and how people can get involved-what are some ways people can help save sharks?

The organization was first established in 2013 in sunny Florida, and was dubbed as “Sarasota Fins.” Inspired by the lack of shark education and conservation integrated into school curriculum’s, I began creating the tools and products I believed will help inspire understanding of these beautiful creatures. As the program’s popularity grew, its educational outreach expanded and the need for a more encompassing name became clear: thus, The Fins United Initiative was born.

The Fins United Initiative is a shark, skate, ray and chimaera education and conservation program aiming to unite fin lovers worldwide. Our mission is to provide easy-to-access information on all sharks and their relatives worldwide through partnerships with educational institutions and other programs.

We are looking for representatives worldwide – and you don’t have to have a background in marine biology, just a passion for sharks and their relatives – to volunteer their time and go to classrooms, clubs, events, etc and give a #SharkTalk! Contact us here.

How do other cultures perceive sharks (other than as scary or dangerous)?

It really varies on the relationship a culture has with the ocean. Some cultures see sharks as these scary monsters will others perceive them as shapers of the land that are to be respected. I’m hoping to publish more information about this in the near future.

How has your cultural background affected your career?

It has made me a strong advocate for not just diversity in science and science communication but also inclusion. Many people think those terms are interchangeable but they are not the same thing. While science and science communication has become more diverse in the past decade, they still are not inclusive. Science, in general, is a very expensive industry to get into, leaving many at a disadvantage. My career has been shaped by my mission of giving my platform to others to speak their truth and their science.

Tell me more about your books and/or podcast-what are they about and how can we find them?

Joining forces with Speak Up for The Blue podcast, the ConCiencia Azul podcast is COMPLETELY IN SPANISH and interviews Spanish-speaking marine scientists, conservationists, grad students, photographers, and more from around the world. We discuss their studies and some of the unique challenges they face (such as racism, poverty, government corruption, etc).

There are people out there who are doing incredible work that doesn’t get highlighted, which is unfortunate. In many cases, they overcame obstacles, including racism and sexism, poverty, cultural and family expectations, and lack of mathematics background, in order to work and excel in the fields that they love. We Latinos y Latinas have the talent, and we often just lack the opportunity. This is my way of providing that opportunity to shine a light on them.

As for the books, I can’t talk too much about them other than it features an Afro-Latinx family that dedicate their lives to wildlife conservation and education. The series pulls from my life experiences, especially with what the main character (a young female) goes through. More information will be available in the next few months!