The first breathtaking photo of a Manta Ray giving birth??

By Angelina Cecchetto on 7th February 2013

Photography: ©2013 Martin Ureta. All Rights Reserved.

Photography: ©2013 Martin Ureta. All Rights Reserved.

When my friend and Film Maker Martin Ureta came to the Maldives for a dive holiday he was far from imagining that he would be the amazingly lucky and first ever photographer of a giant oceanic manta giving birth in its natural environment!

Despite a growing number of scientific studies on manta populations very little is known thus far about the giant oceanic Manta ray also known as Manta Birostris. No one has ever seen them give birth so far. So it would seem that Martin is the first person to have ever photographed a Manta Birostris in the process of giving birth in its natural environment, and this happened during the first week of January 2013! The shot was taken during a dive in the southern part of the Ari Atoll in the Maldives in a dive spot famous for spotting mantas. During the dive a group of 3 Mantas Birostris were twirling over the shallow reef to feed to the delight of the group of divers observing their graceful underwater moves. The divers were all mesmerized by the spectacle and couldn’t believe their luck to have spotted the mantas and have them twirling over them for some magical minutes. Martin was busy enjoying the show and capturing this underwater ballet on camera. None the divers, nor their guide noticed anything particular happening with the mantas during the actual dive but when they came back to the island and viewed the pictures we noticed something unusual in one of the manta’s pelvic area. I immediately thought this might be the unbelievable capture of a manta birth but I am not a marine biologist.

When he returned from holidays, Martin contacted The Manta Network[1] in California to get an opinion on what is actually happening on the photo. Robert Aston, The Manta Network Executive Director shared the photo with Dr. Robert Rubin who is one of the foremost experts on Manta Birostris and from their very enthusiastic feedback, it would seem that the picture is indeed the first picture of a Manta Birostris giving birth.

We would like to use this picture as a flagship picture to defend mantas and especially the giant oceanic mantas. We hope this picture will create the awareness that mantas are some of the most peaceful and graceful underwater creatures. Very little is known about them so far but all the studies being led are highlighting a drastic decline in their populations. According to the IUCN[2] “The rate of population reduction appears to be high in several regions, as much as 80% over the last three generations (approximately 75 years), and globally a decline of 30% is strongly suspected.”

The IUCN categorized the manta rays as “Vulnerable” in between the “Near Threatened” and “Endangered” species. There are a various factors that led to this critical state of affairs.

The first main threat comes from fishing as mantas are highly valuable in international markets and in particular in Asian markets. As Africa Geographic’s Science Editor Tim Jackson[3] mentions in his article entitled “Myths about manta rays”:  “In traditional Chinese medicine, it is believed that the gill-rakers of mantas and other rays cure chickenpox and alleviate high blood pressure. They don’t!”

The fact that mantas are easy to spot from the surface due to their large size, and easy to fish out because of their slow swimming speed and the fact that they don’t avoid humans, make them a very easy prey for many fishing boats.

Another important factor to understand is mantas reproductive cycle. Although there is a lot to be learnt still, it is thought that Mantas Birostris have a gestation period of one year and generally give birth to a single pup at a time. It is still not quite clear whether females have a pup per year or one every 2 years. At this rate it is important to understand that if the fishing rate is higher than the manta rays reproductive rate, they will soon be extinct.

Another factor to mention is the anthropogenic factor such as water warming and pollution which indirectly affects mantas habitat although it is pretty difficult to evaluate in which measure.

To conclude I would say that in the light of all of the above it appears quite vital that worldwide measures are taken as soon as possible. Some countries have already applied strong measures to protect mantas as the UICN states, mainly the United States, the Republic of Maldives, the Philippines, Mexico, Ecuador, Australia and New Zealand. Whilst this is a great start, Mantas are in danger and need a strong global worldwide protection.

Mantas are some of the most peaceful and graceful underwater creatures I have been given the chance to see. It would be a lot more than just an “awful shame” to loose such a magical underwater specie in the name of an unfounded cure property.

Angelina Cecchetto

13 thoughts on “The first breathtaking photo of a Manta Ray giving birth??

  1. Martin

    Thank you Angie for this inspiring article. I hope it will help us to raise awareness specially in the local communities of Maldives. For me, this experience was like the start of an adventure that would give my life a deep sense of purpose.

    I know we cannot do everything but we all can do something. I encourage everyone to try and adopt this mindset. The potential to do something, even a small act, lives within each of us.

    Reply
    1. Angie Post author

      Thank you Martin for doing all the things you do to defend not only mantas but the ocean’s life and much more. I couldn’t agree more with what you have just said. I truly believe that as individuals we all have the choice to do something – or not – to defend a fair cause. The worldwide population reached 7 billion individuals this year. If 5 or 6 of these 7 billion did just a few actions towards nature conservation or life protection, I believe we could all make a global difference! However small any individual action may be, it is better to do it rather than not!

      Reply
  2. Pingback: The first photo of a giant oceanic Manta Ray giving birth!! | Life of the Worlds | All about water, the oceans, environmental issues | Scoop.it

  3. Pingback: Photo of a giant oceanic Manta Ray giving birth!!

  4. Pingback: The first photo of a giant oceanic Manta Ray giving birth!! | Life of the Worlds | Surfing Culture | Scoop.it

  5. Pingback: Primeiro registro de nascimento de uma Raia Manta | DIVEMAG.org - Sua revista de mergulho !!!

  6. Charlotte

    Hi guys amazing photo, it must have been incredible to see something so rare. I am thinking this will be a Manta alfredi though as even seeing one Manta birostris is rare in the Maldives and especially at the Manta point dive sight in south ari atoll it is normally the alfredi, it would be great if you have any photos of the spot pattern around the gills and stomach and send them to the Manta Trust who has been studying the Maldivian Manta population for around 6 years or you are more than welcome to contact me.
    Otherwise I would like to say WOW, what a miracle to see this.

    Reply
  7. Luke Gordon

    This is an amazing story and photo but the Manta in that photo is not M.birsotris, its M.alfredi. M.birostris does not display markings between the gills and is usually only seen in the southern atoll in the Maldives called Formula. Also the fish on the underside are usually associated with M.alfredi.

    All the best,

    Reply
  8. José Truda Palazzo Jr.

    Amazing image and a great reminder that manta rays and several sharek species, inclduing much-endangered hammerheads, might get partial protection from the CITES Convention when it meets next March. Do you know what YOUR government´s vote will be on it? Please find your CITES representative at http://www.cites.org and write him/her to demand a YES VOTE for shark and ray proposals! Thank you!

    Reply
  9. Marine Megafauna

    Great shot! Unfortunately this is not an image of a manta ray giving birth. This rare shot captures what has been termed ‘gastro-intestinal eversion’, where manta rays clean the lower part of their intestines by ejecting it out of the cloaca and rinsing it of undigestible debris. There is a published scientific paper on this behavior by Tim Clark and colleagues in the journal Coral Reefs (2008) if anyone is interested in reading about it further.

    Reply
  10. Beth

    This photo of a manta ray “giving birth” is NOT a birth photo!! Dr. Andrea Marshall (the “Manta Queen”) set the record straight, referring us to a scientific article that clearly explains, as well as shows a similar image, that this “birth” picture is really intestinal eversion. “Intestinal eversion in a free-ranging manta ray (Manta birostris) by Clark, Papastamatiou, and Meyer, 2007″ From that article: “Eversion of the intestine most likely allows the expulsion of un-digestible material and parasites from the spiral valve, and may be an efficient technique for clearing the intestine as has been suggested for gastric eversion (Sims et al. 2000).” Thankfully, there are many people and organizations working to learn more about mantas and ensure their global protections – we can all help do that!

    Reply

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