Manta Rays are pretty interesting creatures. They’re smart, for starters. In fact, their brain to body weight ratio is the largest of any fish, and they legit give dolphins a run for their money. They’re also bloody huge. They can reach a wingspan of up to seven metres, but they’re gentle and totally harmless to humans.
They’re also on the endangered list. Booooo.
Which is why The University of Queensland kicked off a study named Project Manta in 2007, which has now produced some interesting results.
The study had professional researchers, but also recreational divers, working together along the Queensland coast to monitor and track these amazing creatures and finally pull together an accurate record of how many mantas called the QLD seas home, and how far they travelled.
How did it work? Anyone who felt like going for a dive could snap a photo of a manta ray and send it into the project, as mantas have unique spots on their belly they can be identified from. Who knew? In fact, most of the 1300 individual reef manta rays identified were thanks to donated photos.
The results? While previous studies thought reef manta rays travelled around 500km during migration, turns out it’s actually about double that.
“Our research found some rays travelled over 1150 kilometres, from North Stradbroke Island [off Brisbane] to waters off Townsville,” UQ PhD candidate Asia Armstrong, who led the study, explained to The Brisbane Times.
“There’s a conception around Lady Elliot Island [off Bundaberg] that they have about 40 resident rays, but through photo identification we counted over 500 animals at the island over the peak of the winter months,” she said. This is obviously super exciting for conservationists and just the environment in general.
The next stage of the project? Heading further north, passed Townsville.
“We’re quite data deficient at this stage but there might be population connectivity even further north than we previously thought,” Asia recommended.