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

Why Manta Rays Are Becoming Endangered (Moby the Manta Ray Part 3)

Manta Ray & Traditional Chinese Medicine
Manta Ray (photo by Cherilyn Jose)
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!

You can help me and my fellow manta rays by visiting Manta Ray of Hope and watching their convincing video and by visiting Project Aware to sign a petition or donate money.

Moby the Manta Ray Part 2: How I Am Alike and Different From My Cousins the Sharks

Moby the Manta Ray & his Shark cousins
Manta Ray (photo by Cherilyn Jose)

Sharks, rays, and skates are part of a group of fish known as elasmobranchs. There are many ways in which I am the same as my cousins, the sharks and rays. All elasmobranchs do not have any bones. We are made cartilage, which is the same flexible material that human noses and external ear flaps are made of. Like sharks, I have a rigid dorsal fin, but mine is situated more to the rear. If you were to pet a shark (I do not recommend it!) you would immediately notice their denticles. Denticles are little teeth embedded in an elasmobranch’s skin. If you ran your hand from a shark’s head to tail, then their skin would feel very smooth. If you ran your hand from tail to head, then their skin would feel rough like sandpaper. These denticles make sharks’ bodies very streamlined so they can move quickly and quietly through the water.

Most rays have a mouth on their ventral (belly) side, and eyes on the top of their head so they can see when buried in the sand. My mouth is at the front of my body so I can open it wide to filter plankton from the seawater around me. My eyes are on the side of my head, and at the base of where my head fins are fused to my body. The length of our head fins is in proportion to how wide our bodies are.

Manta rays do vary in one special way from our shark and ray cousins, as we have the highest brain to body ratio of any of them! In fact, we have the largest brain of any fish in the ocean! It takes a certain amount of brain power to figure out where to migrate to, and to make repeat visits to those hotspots year after year. Reef manta rays need to remember where their favorite cleaning stations are! We can recognize individual divers, and we are smart enough to know when they are trying to help us, and we stay still. Often we get caught in an anchor line, mooring line, or fishing line since our head fins automatically close when brushed. I have seen, or heard stories about, many humans cutting off any line or hook stuck to a manta ray. For more information on manta rays and why we need your help, see previous blog entry on me, and visit Manta Ray of Hope

Moby the Manta Ray: I Am Not a Devilfish! Part 1

Moby the Manta Ray
Manta Ray (photo by Cherilyn Jose)

Hello, my name is Moby and I am a manta ray (Manta birostris). Despite the unfortunate nickname humans have given me, “devilfish,” I am quite a gentle and graceful giant. My wingspan can be up to 25 feet (7.6 meters) and I can weigh up to 2,900 pounds (1,300 kilograms)! The devilfish name came about as my head (cephalic) fins look like devil horns when they are curled up. But much of the time I am feeding and my head fins are unfurled to help funnel seawater into my gills. Despite my size, I only eat tiny microscopic-sized plankton that I filter through my gills. I use my gills not only to breathe, but they also act like sieves to scoop out my meals from the surrounding seawater. Although SCUBA divers often do not like cloudy water, I love it as it usually means that it is full of food for me! Because I like cloudy water full of yummy things like fish eggs, (and other spawn related products, use your imagination!) I am highly migratory. There is one species of Manta Ray (Manta alfredi), like those that live off the main island of Hawaii, that stays mainly in one area. But I like the thrill of the open ocean and I have a knack of knowing where and when fish and invertebrates will spawn.

I am a ray, which means I am related to sharks, as well as other rays like stingrays and bat rays. But, as you can see from my picture or from videos, I flap my wings and glide gracefully through the water, and I only rarely rest on the bottom. Other rays have stingers near the base of their tail, bury themselves in the sand to hide from predators, and ambush their prey. I do not have a stinger on my tail, as I rely on my speed and agility to out swim any predators, which include sharks and orcas (killer whales).

Unfortunately, my gills are not just valuable to me. Humans have begun to hunt me and my friends on an ocean wide basis mainly for our gill rakers for use in a new controversial formula used in Traditional Chinese Medicine . Sometimes, but not always, they use the rest of our bodies for cheap shark fin soup “filler.” Hunting me and my kind almost solely for my gills is so wasteful, just as hunting sharks just for their fins, or elephants just for their ivory tusks is also very wasteful, not to mention mean! A female manta ray over her lifetime will give birth to as many pups (16) as a great white shark does in a single litter (14). Great white sharks are already becoming endangered, and I hope that I do not have to worry about that too! Some countries protect me in their waters, but most of the time I am in international waters where I am not protected. Please visit Manta Ray of Hope or WildAid to see how you can help me and my kind!

Domino the Whale Shark on Shark Finning

Domino the Whale Shark (picture by Cherilyn Chin)

The Poster Shark for Shark Finning

Hello, my name is Domino, and I am a Whale Shark. I think I should be the poster animal for the ending of shark finning. It might be hard to relate to other sharks that are (supposedly) so menacing, ruthless, and with a mouthful of razor sharp teeth, but look at me! I was named after the gentle giants of the sea, the whales. Whale sharks are every bit as magnificent as whales, yet most humans have not heard of us.

Are you a whale, or a shark?

Humans inevitably ask, are you a whale? Or are you a shark? I am unequivocally a shark. In fact, I am the world’s largest fish as well as the world’s largest shark. My mouth is full of teeth, but my teeth are only 1/12th of an inch (3 mm) long and I don’t even use them to eat! I only eat tiny, microscopic plankton that I filter from the water around me.

I’m unique!

I can grow to be more than 40 feet (12 meters) long and weigh more than 44,000 pounds (20,000 kg). I also have a unique pattern of spots interspersed with occasional stripes that is not found on any other animal! In fact no other whale shark shares my unique polka dot and stripe pattern. It’s my fingerprint, to put it into human terms.

My “Squished” Head

I have a unique body shape, as my head is dorsoventrally compressed. This means that my head is “squished” flat, almost like a pancake, with my 4 foot wide mouth in front. Most sharks have the distinctive sharp snout with a mouth underneath their head that you picture when you hear the name “shark.”

How I am like other sharks

I share some other characteristics with the “other” sharks, like I do not have any bones in my body. My body is made up of cartilage, which is found in human ears and noses. Like other sharks, my thick skin is made up of denticles, or very tiny teeth, which makes our skin rough like sandpaper. These denticles make us sharks very streamlined, and able to swim very swiftly and quietly through the water. My 4 inch (10.2 cm) skin is also the thickest of any animal on earth!

Shark Finning

One very important characteristic I share with all other sharks is the worldwide market for our fins. These are turned into a dish humans eat called shark fin soup. I was flattered–for all of a second–to find out that my fins are highly sought after because they are the largest of any shark. Well, the basking shark has larger fins, but less of it is edible. Whale shark fins are made into the most expensive bowls of shark fin soup. Our meat supposedly tastes and feels like tofu, but most of the time the fishing boats don’t have enough room for our large bodies.

Not only is shark finning barbaric (often only the fins are sliced off a shark and it is tossed back still alive into the ocean to die a slow death), but it is wasteful as the whole shark is not utilized in any way. It’s sad to swim by a once powerful shark that is now unable to swim without its fins.

The Food Chain

I get angry because removing such large numbers of top level predators from the food chain affects the availability of my food (the microscopic plants and animals at the bottom of the food chain). All the seafood humans harvest from the ocean is affected. Killing up to 100 million sharks a year is not sustainable! Although the food chain is very complex, there is an elegant order to it. It is like the food pyramid humans follow for eating. My food (the plankton) is at the base of the pyramid, and sharks are at the very top. The ocean could not sustain having as many sharks as sardines, so there are very few of us sharks to begin with.

I’m a shark but…

I lament being categorized with great white sharks and their menacing reputation. They have their very important place at the top of the food chain, but it is guilt by association. If humans only knew that shark finning included killing gentle and magnificent whale sharks such as myself, I think they could begin to understand our plight. Little by little I think humans are beginning to protect us by banning shark finning in some waters, creating shark sanctuaries, and banning the import, sale and distribution of shark fins. Even though all I share with the whales is my name, size, and the fact that some of us are plankton feeders, I think it is fortuitous. I hope someday humans will stop hunting us for our large fins, and start to revere us like whales. We are just as amazing, and just as gentle.

To see how you can help visit COARE or APAOHA
Also see Snorkeling with Whale Sharks off of Cancun, Mexico
And Domino the Whale Shark Gets Freed From a Net!