The manta ray is an incredible fish. Not only is it large (we are talking around 23 feet or so wide) but it also weighs a whopping 5000 or so pounds.
They also have the biggest brain compared to any other fish, which is not surprising seeing as their head is far too big compared to the size of its flat-like body. In fact, their brain is similar to that of a mammal of the same size.
They are considered to be gentle despite their huge size, and are intelligent fish that are very curious. They really are a spectacle to see in the ocean.
Sadly, there are a number of threats when it comes to the manta ray, from fishing that is not sustainable, to plastic ending up in the ocean. It is we, humans, who are making sure that the manta ray may no longer exist.
Whilst that is a worrying thought, there are things you can do. So, let’s take a look at the threats for manta rays in more detail.
Plastic Is Becoming A Manta Rays Diet
We have a big problem on this planet, and that is single use plastic. More and more of it is ending up in our ocean, and this means that fish and wildlife are dying because of it.
When a manta ray eats, he will open up his mouth and swim through plankton to take them in, using his gill rakers as natural filters. However, their mouths are large and they take up plastic too which they will end up ingesting.
It is sad to say it, but half a manta ray’s diet is likely to be made up of single use plastic which has accidentally ended up in their mouth. This isn’t the end of it either.
Once they eat the plastic, which usually ends up being tiny particles or microplastics, toxins are released which will eventually kill them.
In fact, there is said to be around one million marine animal deaths due to plastic every single year.
Plastic bags that are often used in grocery stores and the like, whilst useful, are difficult to break down. Many end up in the ocean and turn into small plastic bits which end up killing marine life, like the manta ray.
Killed For Their Gills
It might sound a little odd, but manta rays are hunted for their gill rakers. These are the natural filters which help the fish to literally filter the water as it swims along hoping to catch plankton.
Whilst we have already spoken about the fact microplastics make their way through them, the manta rays are also hunted for their gill rakers. This is because they are used within Chinese medicine.
The want for them has gone up over time, all because people believe that this part of the manta ray has the ability to cure different diseases such as chicken pox to cancer. Whilst it has never been proven, people still want to believe it.
In the past, this was never a thing. It is only in modern times that a manta ray has been hunted for its gill rakers.
Being Wasteful Bycatch
Often manta rays are caught by accident as bycatch and then die because of it. Due to modern fishing methods, people can fish in a wider area than they used to.
Whilst this might be good for a business, it is also unnecessarily killing other types of fish that were not the target of the fishermen.
To put it into perspective, around 60 million pounds worth of fish are caught as bycatch and killed. They are then discarded, meaning they are pointlessly killed.
There are ways to try and avoid this, and this is by only eating fish which has been caught in a sustainable and legal manner. If you have no idea where the fish has come from, then avoid purchasing or eating it.
No Time To Reproduce
Manta rays are known for being quite slow when it comes to reproducing. The majority of them take around 15 years to reach sexual maturity. Even so, they may still only produce a pup every couple or so years.
When they are being overfished for various reasons, they then don’t have time to reproduce. Despite having restrictions put in place for those who fish legally, it will take years for the manta ray to recover.
They have had years of people taking them from the ocean at a much faster rate than they can multiply, so even if they stay fully protected, it will take a few decades for them to recover.
Because of this, they are in decline, meaning action needs to be taken now.
Are There Things We Can Do To Help Save Manta Rays?
There are things you can do to help save the manta rays from dying. Whilst you are less likely to be able to stop fishing that isn’t deemed as sustainable, you can stop buying and using single use plastics.
And if you do buy these, to dispose of them responsibility in a way that they hopefully will not end up in the ocean.
You can do other things too, such as being aware of what is in your products, from medication to the seafood that you eat. If it wasn’t sourced properly, then avoid buying it.
Another thing you can do is spend time volunteering by cleaning a beach of plastic and other items that have been left behind or washed up by the sea. This way, you can actively save marine life.
The manta ray is a magnificent marine animal that is wide and heavy. Unfortunately, they are in decline due to overfishing, single use plastics, and other man made threats.
Hopefully over time these beautiful sea creatures can be protected, and maybe one day they will begin thriving in larger numbers again.
Until then, people can do as much as possible to help protect them from going extinct.