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

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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!

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Interview with Shark Researcher Kristian Parton

Kristian Parton

Kristian Parton


This blog post is an interview with Kristian Parton, from the University of Exeter who is studying the effects of plastic pollution on sharks. He’s @KjParton on Twitter

What are some of the threats to sharks today?

KP- Blimey, where do I begin. It’s probably safe to say sharks (and rays) are some of the most threatened species in the worlds’ oceans. They have a variety of different threats, the most notable of which are without doubt overfishing and bycatch – these two practices are responsible for the removal of the greatest number of sharks from the seas. Then we move onto problems such as shark finning for traditional medicines, climate change, ocean acidification and plastic pollution!

Why should we save sharks?

KP- Well, not only are they absolutely awesome, they’re actually really important for the health and well-being of marine ecosystems. Sharks are top predators in the marine food web and consequently if you remove them this can have knock on impacts all the way down. I think it’s also vitally important to save threatened species for future generations. I remember the first time I saw a shark in the wild, it’s an experience I’ll never forget and I want the people who come after us to be able to experience that too.

How did you get started researching the impact of plastic pollution on sharks?

KP-Initially I was an undergraduate at the University of Exeter in the UK studying zoology, but took all the marine modules I possibly could. I knew I wanted to move straight into research after I graduated and have loved sharks since I was a young boy – so it was a no-brainer for me. It’s difficult to avoid the topic of plastic pollution at the moment, particularly in regards to turtles, seals and dolphins, but I read into a little bit more about how it might be impacting sharks and rays. It turns out the scientific literature is fairly scarce on the issue, so I dived in head first looking to expand our knowledge on how sharks and rays are really impacted by plastics – most notably via entanglement and ingestion.

Why did you found the Shark and Ray Entanglement Network?

KP-We founded ShaREN after our first publication a few weeks ago because we realised the issue of shark and ray entanglement in marine debris was severely underreported. In our research paper, we used Twitter reports to help document entanglement cases for sharks and rays and realised that it was occurring at higher levels on Twitter than it was in the scientific literature. We realised that the best way to try and collect more data on the topic was to create a citizen science platform where people around the world could submit their sightings of entangled sharks and rays. ShaREN is growing quickly and we’ve already had over 30 reports of entanglement since its creation a few weeks ago, but are always on the look out for more reports! If you do spot any entanglement incidents for sharks and rays, you can find the report form here: Shark and Ray Entanglement Network

Who’s your favorite Star Wars character(s)? (Both the interviewer and interviewee are big Star Wars Fans! Are you too? My favorites are the droids, R2D2 and BB-8)

KP-Hahah – that’s a tough question! I grew up around the prequels so I have a soft spot for them. I’d probably initially say Anakin, but he ends up going a bit mad (obviously) so I’d lean towards Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan – what a legend! I can’t wait for the new TV series based around him.

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Meet Deep Blue—the Largest Great White Shark Ever Filmed

great white shark

Great White Shark Image by skeeze from Pixabay

The following is about Deep Blue, a Great White Shark most recently filmed in the Hawaiian Islands in January of 2019. She is estimated to be 20 feet long, weigh 2.5 tons, and to be 50 years old. She’ll keep growing throughout her long life. She was last filmed 2,400 miles away off of Guadalupe Island, which is off of Baja California, Mexico in 2013. She also was photographed in 1999.

Aha! I smell it—rotting whale flesh. There’s no smell quite like it. It gets my stomach rumbling, as I haven’t eaten in a month since the last whale carcass I feasted upon.

I can smell blood from miles away. This is necessary in the open ocean. Some dead whales sink and become food for the deep sea life. Thankfully others float, which is where I eat them.

There it is! I’ve found the dead whale. There is a feeding hierarchy, which means the biggest sharks eat first. That means the puny tiger sharks, who had been previously feeding on the whale, sensed me coming and are now gone. They have left me with my own personal banquet!

Great white sharks don’t travel in packs, but occasionally we’ll meet one another at opportunistic feedings such as this. I’ve swum past 2 other large female great white sharks in the area. I’m sure they’ll show up later if they haven’t already eaten.

Mmm, yummy. I open my mouth full of triangular, serrated and sharp teeth and close down on the squishy fat and meat of the dead whale. Blood fills the water around me. Wow, it feels good to have some food in my belly.

I take several more bites, closing my eyes right before I strike. Fortunately this whale can’t bite back and hurt my eyes!

Then some strange creatures show up. They jump off a boat and swim down alongside me. Humans are not on my menu. Not enough fat to even bother with!

Lights flash all around me from the humans. They stay out of my way as I continue to feed. Soon, I’ve gotten my fill of whale flesh. I’ll come back tomorrow when I’ve had time to digest some of the meat.

My belly is so big that I feel like I’m going to burst! I look pregnant, but I’m not right now. I had my dozen pups while I was off the coastal waters. I swim off into the deep blue ocean to digest my huge meal.

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Wisdom the Albatross Has Hatched a New Chick!

Wisdom the Albatross

Wisdom the Laysan Albatross and her chick in 2018 photo by: USFWS


Hello, I’m Wisdom, a Laysan Albatross. I have exciting news! My chick has just hatched after about 2 months of incubation. My life partner, Akeakamai, and I have alternated sitting on the egg and feeding out at sea.

The average Laysan Albatross lives 50 years-I’m an exception as I’m at least 68 years old. I’m the oldest known wild bird! I was banded back in 1956 and estimated to be 5-6 years old since that’s when albatross start to lay eggs.

We, all 1 million albatross (of many species) lay our eggs and raise our chicks on Midway Atoll, just Northwest of Hawaii in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. It is a beautiful place that consists of two flat sandy islands of 2.5 square miles, turquoise water and a stunning coral reef. Up to 3 million seabirds lay eggs and raise their chicks there.

The biologist, Chandler Robbins, that originally banded me in 1956 later me found me in 2002, 46 years later! I have been returning to my birthplace to make a nest ever since. The biologists first noticed me making a nest with Akeakamai in 2006.

Most albatross don’t lay eggs every year– I guess that also makes me an exception as I have laid an egg every year! I may have raised up to 36 chicks in my 68 years of life, but who’s counting?

We can travel up to 10,000 miles just in search of food like squid and fish eggs, fish and crustaceans that are found on the top of the ocean.

We spend 90% of our lives at sea, only stopping to rest on the ocean waves.
I’ve clocked at least 6 million miles of flying.

Biologists found a chick I raised in 2001 nesting just feet from me in 2017. I wish I could recognize my former chicks, but they grow up so fast that I can’t recognize them as adults.

After about 5-6 months, my new chick will fledge and head out to sea to find food, living as I have for the past 68 years.

Note: Plastics and microplastics have become a huge problem in the world’s oceans. Birds like Wisdom ingest plastic and pass it on to their chicks when they feed them, but don’t know that they are doing so. Albatross like Wisdom have been found with bellies full of plastic, many dying from that. See previous post, “Alby the Albatross and Plastic, Plastic Everywhere in the Ocean”

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