It has been brought to my attention that even though I am a very fascinating animal, many humans do not understand why us manta rays need their help to gain protection worldwide. Here are the reasons why:
1. Manta rays are now being targeted by fishermen and killed for their gill rakers, as opposed to being killed by “accidental” by-catch.
2. Gill rakers (the feathery part of my gills that helps me sieve out microscopic food from the seawater around me) are used in a controversial new formula of Traditional Chinese Medicine. That formula is not listed in the classic textbooks.
3. The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) reports that the worldwide catch of manta rays has quadrupled in 7 years.
4. As the IUCN (International Union for Conserving Nature) states, we “are easy to target because of (our) large size, slow swimming speed, aggregative behavior, predictable habitat use, and lack of human avoidance.”
5. In short, we are highly migratory due to the seasonal and geographic variability of our food source, plankton. We are not protected in international waters, nor off the waters of many heavily fished countries.
6. One of the most important reasons we are vulnerable to extinction is that female manta rays only give birth to one pup every 2-3 years, and over her lifetime will only produce as many pups (14) as a great white shark does in one year (16).
7. The good news is that manta ray tourism worldwide brings in $100 million in revenue versus $500 per kilogram of gill rakers. We are worth more alive than dead, duh!