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Majestic Manta Rays – Facts, Threats, Images & Video

Marine Life mediumIn this fourth edition of Marine Life monthly post, I am honored to include beautiful photos of Manta Rays from talented underwater photographers: Andre Philip, Boris Bialek and Chuck Gerlovich. Special thanks to Andre, Boris and Chuck for allowing me to use their amazing photos in this post.

My diving certifications include a specialty of Manta Ray Diver – thanks to Scuba Schools International (SSI) and Orca Dive Center in Flores (Indonesia) for this exciting and eye-opening course. That’s my one of my favorite achievements in scuba diving after getting my first article and photography published in a diving magazine. My first encounter with Manta Rays was in Nusa Penida, Bali where I was at 15-meter depth and watched seven manta rays did the manta’s “circle” on the surface. It was a beautiful sight. The second encounter was in Komodo, Flores where I had a chance to dive for 70 minutes with more than ten Manta Rays!

Facts about Manta Rays
Manta by Andre Philip

Black Manta in Raja Ampat by Andre Philip

Up until today, there are two species of manta rays identified: Giant Oceanic Manta Ray and Reef Manta Ray. Both species are migratory animals, endangered and protected by International Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals. The Reef Manta Ray has a maximum width of 4.5 meters with a weight of around 1,5 tonnes.

Meanwhile, the Oceanic Manta Ray has a width up to 7 meters with weight up to 2 tonnes. Other difference of the Oceanic Manta and the Reef Manta can also be seen from their dorsal patterns on their shoulders. The Reef Manta has Y-shaped on the shoulder stripe while the Oceanic has T-shaped shoulder stripe.

Interestingly, every manta ray has its patterns/spots on its belly, and these spots can be used to identify them individually. Manta’s spots are similar to human’s fingerprints. When I took the specialty course, I had to identify the mantas through their spots on their belly. It was fascinating to see how unique the manta ray from each other. This identification method was introduced in IDtheManta Initiative from a nonprofit organization Manta Trust to monitor the number of Manta Rays population. Scuba divers and snorkelers are welcomed to send their manta photos to Manta Trust to help their monitoring program.

The Manta Ray does not have dangerous venom like the sting ray. Its tail also does not contain a spine. In fact manta rays are gentle swimmers and they portray no threats to human, but sadly they are facing threats that lead to extinctions.

Komodo Manta

Just Look, Don’t Touch!

Manta is a slow swimmer that makes manta an easy target by irresponsible hunters who look for its meat for sale and the manta’s gill raker (Peng Yu Sai in Chinese) for Chinese traditional medicine. Peng Yu Sai is believed can reduce the toxin in the blood and cure cancer.  Despite the fact that it has been proven not helpful to cure any health problems, the illegal manta hunting is still ongoing. It will never stop unless the demands for Peng Yu Sai and the Rays meat discontinued. That will be a huge achievement if these people stop consuming endangered animals.

Another threat to the Manta Rays comes from their own admirers, the snorkelers and scuba divers, who would like to touch them. The human touch to the Manta caused the Manta Ray loses its protective mucous layer on its skins leading to infections to the Manta Ray. The infections could cause long term pains to the Manta. Please, if you are snorkeling or scuba diving for the Manta Rays, do not touch Manta Ray because your touch will harm the Manta Ray.

I am glad that my country, Indonesia, takes the issue of endangered manta rays situation seriously. Earlier this year, the Indonesian government announced the world’s largest sanctuary for manta rays within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that covers 6 million square kilometers! No manta rays fishing and selling allowed in Indonesia. The authorities have arrested illegal manta rays traffickers since the sanctuary applied. I hope this effort will continue and stimulate other countries to protect the Manta Rays within their water zone from the greedy hunters and traffickers!

Where to Find Manta Rays

The Mantas usually can be found in the shallow tropical and subtropical waters and around remote islands. They look for an area that full of plankton so the visibility of the water usually not clear just like in this following video. The video was taken in Komodo when I was diving with them.

The Reef Manta Rays especially the females are social towards scuba divers and snorkelers. They are very gentle swimmers though so just ensure while observing them that you do not touch any parts of the Manta Rays. The Oceanic Manta usually found in cooler waters, although it was reported the sights of Oceanic Manta in warm waters of Raja Ampat (Indonesia).

Here is the list of places where the Manta Rays were seen as I gathered from some scuba divers reports and reviews.

  • Australia – Byron Bay, Lady Elliot, Ningaloo Reef
  • Costa Rica – Cano, Cocos
  • Ecuador – Galápagos Islands
  • Hawaii – Kona Mantas
  • India – Andaman Islands
  • Indonesia – Nusa Penida, Derawan, Komodo, Raja Ampat
  • Maldives
  • Mexico – Cabo Pulmo, Revillagigedo Islands
  • Mozambique – Tofo
  • Micronesia – Palau, Yap
  • Thailand – the Similan Islands

November 24, 2014, Update from Readers where the Manta Rays have been seen:

Australia – Heron Island
Indonesia – Sangalaki Island

2015 Update from Readers where the Manta Rays have been seen:

Ecuador – Isla de la Plata
Japan – Ishigaki Island
Bora-bora Island

Have you seen Manta Rays? Or do you wish to see them someday?


  1. What a great specialty to have in your diving credentials ~ the experience to be around them must have been incredible. I have seen a few in my trips to Mexico, and their gracefulness pretty much takes the breath away, they do need to be protected. Great photos as well, Boris Bialek’s shot is cool with the yellow fish, something else. Cheers!

    • Thank you so much Randall! It was unforgettable experience to see such wildlife. It reminds us that we share this planet together with them..and perhaps that’s how you felt on your trip in Kenya – your photography there was stunning and those only come with true passions 🙂

  2. Beautiful pictures and very informative.This was good for me to read ’cause since a few years I created a type of fear for Manta rays. Maybe I estranged them because of living many years now in Europe. But whenever I see a video or visit an aquarium, especially those with big tunnels..I keep staring at them, looking how the move how they behave… can’t take my eyes of them but despite that I wish not to come again face to face with a big one under water. Last time was many years ago and nothing bad happened but I felt a little uncomfortable. Being born on an island where diving is the most important activity, it’s strange to have this kind of fear, but I think everyone have a weakness. But I’ll keep working on it to get rid of it. Posts like your might help for sure! 😉 I enjoyed reading. Thanks a lot for sharing and have a wonderful week!

    • Hi Nadyess, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and it is a pleasure to share this information about the Rays. You are so lucky to be born in one of Caribbean Islands – I love diving in Caribbean waters and I found Caribbean has relaxing atmosphere with rich colorful culture 🙂 I am glad that my post might lessen your fear to the Manta Rays. They can be shy and swim away avoiding human but also they can be very social. I meant social here, I have seen they were hovering in front of scuba divers or on top of a scuba diver to feel the scuba bubbles. So far I notice, they did not mean to harm us, maybe curiosity or enjoying the “massage” from the scuba divers bubble was weird and beyond imagination – I guess that’s how they tried to communicate with us that they trust us, maybe?
      My best wishes for you and have a wonderful week too!

      • You’re right! They don’t mean to harm anyone! I think they react on us exactly how we approach them. Radiate them calmth and they’ll give that back. And, like you said.. The trust! That’s also very important and really needed to enjoy being with them in the same waters and close to each other. And you’re right: I am lucky to be born in the Caribbean! 🙂 The sea, the sun and the relaxation is the most I miss next to the nice people and family I have there, but I’m also lucky to have my special and loved ones closed to me over here in Europe. 🙂 Thanks again and I wish you a wonderful evening!

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