Worldwide in tropical to warm temperate latitudes
Coastal to open ocean (pelagic)
Vulnerable To Extinction
Order Myliobatiformes (eagle rays and relatives), Family Myliobatidae (eagle rays and mantas)
The largest ray and one of the largest fishes in the world is the giant manta. Reaching widths of up to 23 feet (7 m), the manta rays are much larger than any other ray species. For many decades, there was only one known species of manta, but scientists recently divided that species into two: the giant manta, which is a more oceanic species; and the Reef Manta, which is more coastal in nature.
Despite their very large size, giant mantas are similar to the largest fishes (whale shark and basking shark) and the largest mammals (blue whale) in that they eat tiny plankton. They constantly swim along with their large mouths open, filtering plankton and other small food from the water. To aid in this strategy, giant mantas have specialized flaps, known as cephalic lobes, which help direct more water and food into their mouths.
Giant mantas are known to undergo long migrations and may visit colder waters for short periods of the year. They reproduce via internal fertilization and give live birth to a single, well-developed juvenile. Like in other highly migratory species, there are still gaps in scientists’ knowledge of giant manta life history, with individuals spending only short periods of time in any one place. This movement makes them difficult to study. Also like other migratory species, giant mantas are vulnerable to overfishing, and their numbers are currently declining. Scientists believe giant mantas to be vulnerable to extinction, and conservation measures have been adapted in many places. Fortunately, their interest to SCUBA divers and other tourism operations makes them more valuable alive than to fishers. This development may afford the giant manta more protection, but their value as meat and for traditional medicinal purposes continue to risk this species. Therefore, it is important for scientists to continue to monitor giant manta population trends to ensure that they do not continue to decline and to determine if other localized species might exist.