Tracking the devil fish


A manta ray

We know little about manta rays. Thanks to the forward-pointing fins on their head that give them their nickname, people probably kept away from the ‘devil fish’. They glide underwater, perform double flips in the air and travel great distances. To see how far these mega marine animals move, Graham and colleagues resorted to an increasingly popular method. They attached satellite-tracking tags on the mantas that collected locations,  temperature, etc.

The study was conducted in the southern Gulf of Mexico where a few marine protected areas exist. The scientists found that mantas remained for longer periods in shallow waters, largely eating plankton and fish eggs. They were capable of switching their diet and this flexibility is another fascinating insight into their mysterious lives. Additionally, manta ray congregations swam below some of the busiest shipping routes of the region, impacts of which are still unknown.

While the tagged animals were sometimes found within the existing marine protected areas, on most occasions they roamed very far, overlapping little with these. The authors recommend that this crucial finding be considered before making new reserves. They also highlight the importance of knowing a species’ whereabouts in space and time before declaring protected areas.

Satellite tracking has once again proven to be a great tool, this time to help understand these mysterious fish and frame better conservation strategies.

Further Reading:
Graham RT, Witt MJ, Castellanos DW, Remolina F, Maxwell S, Godley BJ, & LA Hawkes. 2012. Satellite tracking of manta rays highlights challenges to their conservation. PloS one: 7(5) e36834.

This article is from issue


2011 Dec