Meet the Great 8: Mantas and Rays - Bundaberg Region

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Meet the Great 8: Mantas and Rays

Guest Blogger Bio Natalie Lobartolo

A Master Reef Guide True Story – This actually happens on the Southern Great Barrier Reef
The best places to spot manta rays are around Lady Elliot Island and Lady Musgrave Island

Floating on the surface with your arms outstretched like wings, you hold your breath as a creature more than double your size heads straight towards you with its mouth wide open, wings outstretched in a similar fashion to your own, only far more gracefully. You get the sense you should back away for a moment but remember what your guide said: stay still, allow them to feel safe, and they’ll come right up. You have to remind yourself that these creatures are completely harmless – their only defence is their sheer size! You take a deep breath as the manta ray swims up less than a metre in front of your face to curiously check you out before swiftly dipping its body to glide directly underneath your belly. You turn to watch it swim away, and just as it disappears into the distance, you see the shape of its wings curving gently to turn back towards you for round two.

Fun Facts

Manta rays are essentially flattened sharks without any true bone – their entire skeleton is made of cartilage, allowing them to move gracefully though the water. Despite being one of the largest fish in the ocean, mantas are completely harmless. Unlike sharks, their teeth are good for nothing more than a few love-bites during mating, and they don’t have any stinging barb on their tail like their stingray cousins. They have the biggest brain-to-body size ratio of all the fish in the ocean, and their curiosity has been likened to that of a clever dog. Although they can’t hurt you physically, their size and inquisitive nature could mean that they pop up next to you unexpectedly, wondering what you’re up to in their beautiful ocean home.

All aboard the manta train

The Southern Great Barrier Reef is a manta ray hotspot and although mantas can be spotted year-round, they are known to aggregate in winter – often to feed and mate. Have you ever seen a “Manta Train”? When manta rays are looking for love, the female will swim along, spinning, twirling and barrel rolling as a “train” of hopeful males follow along behind her, attempting to copy her every move. Sometimes these train antics can go on for days, but in the end only one lucky, skillful and persistent male will be the one to win the lady manta’s heart!

Don’t just swim there, do something!

Manta rays have unique markings on their underbellies, a bit like human freckles and fingerprints. You can get involved in citizen science by capturing photographs of the distinct markings and sending them in to Project Manta (https://biomedical-sciences.uq.edu.au/project-manta), an initiative to investigate the biology and ecology of manta ray populations. So far, the project has documented over 700 different individuals on the Australian east coast thanks to visitors like you capturing images and submitting them to the project. Why not turn your magical experiences into meaningful ones by getting involved with Project Manta? If you manage to snap a manta that has never been documented, you earn the rights to name it!

Manta Madness is just the beginning

Manta Rays attract a lot of hype due to their mind-blowing size and grace, but be sure to keep an eye out for the less famous rays. Lucky visitors to the southern Great Barrier Reef have spotted and documented some of the rarest sightings of rays, including the ornate eagle ray, blotched fantail, porcupine, small-eyed and reticulate ray. If you find something rare or unique, take a photo and submit it to the Marine Park Authority’s Citizen Science App: Eye on the Reef Sightings (http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/sightings-network/)

See Manta Rays Today!

Get up close and personal with manta rays on your next Bundaberg, Southern Great Barrier Reef holiday on a day trip or overnight to our off-shore coral cays. For more information and to book, see Southern Great Barrier Reef

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Tuesday, 03 August 2021

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