Cruising both the open oceans and the sunlit tropical shallows, a manta ray cuts a pretty imposing silhouette in the water. With undulating pectoral fins that look like gargantuan wings, these creatures can span in excess of seven metres. There are two distinct supersized species: Manta birostris, the giant oceanic manta ray, and Manta alfredi, the reef manta ray. The giant oceanic manta ray is migratory, and uses the ocean currents as highways to traverse huge distances in search of the best feeding grounds. The smaller resident reef manta prefers to stay closer to shallow waters, swimming near coastal reefs in the tropics and subtropics.
Manta rays are solitary creatures, and only really come together to breed. These interactions can often begin at feeding areas, or at ‘cleaning stations’ – areas of coral reef where fish and shrimp feed on parasites on the manta’s skin. While they may look pretty fearsome, the undersea giants are not great predators, instead choosing to feed on plankton – tiny microscopic creatures suspended in the water. The rays will open their mouths wide, and let the water flow over their gills as they filter out tasty morsels. Mantas will eat around 13 per cent of their body weight each week. When the plankton is just right, feeding can get acrobatic, with the massive rays making loop-the-loops and corkscrew spirals in the water to ensure they get their fill.