The reef manta ray, which I differentiated from the giant manta ray back in 2009, appears to be resident to our coastline. This magnificent ray, which swims like a giant underwater bird, has a distinct rhythm to its life. In the mornings it comes close inshore, where it visits cleaning stations to get attended to by small fish. Because they never stop swimming, they’re constantly moving along the great highways of the ocean, migrating from one good feeding area to the next in search of rich patches of zooplankton, the tiny suspended animals in the water column that they feed on. Making a pit stop at a cleaning station is like stopping into a car wash and represents an important daily activity for their health. Tiny fish remove algal buildup and parasites from their skin and help to heal any injuries they may have (e.g. from shark bites).
In the twilight hours most manta rays seems to depart the inshore area and make their way to deeper waters to feed. Today, with the Pristine Seas team, I placed my 50th acoustic tag in Mozambique. I hope that our continued efforts along this coastline will provide a greater understanding of this gentle giant so that we can better manage one of the most important populations for this species in the world—and safeguard one of their last strongholds in Africa.