Sea Monsters, mythical beasts of legend and lore that ply the world’s oceans, sinking ships, terrifying sailors, swallowing entire crews whole. Sea monsters occupy a special place in our imagination. The ocean is huge, unfathomable. Of course mighty beast could dwell within, undetected.
Every once in a long while, the myths, the legends, the stories, turn out to be true. This is one of those times.
Occasionally still referred to as devilfish, Manta rays are harmless planktivores. Unlike most ray species, they lack a stinger and instead rely on their size and speed for defense. Despite their gentle nature, their large size and the fact that their shape reminds some people of devil horns, has given mantas a reputation in some cultures as man-eaters. Myths of giant manta rays that smash ships, or leap out of the sea and sweep sailors overboard are much less common than myths about the other sea monsters we’ve discussed, but they still persist.
Previously, Manta rays comprised a monotypic genus (Manta birostris). Recently, scientists studying Manta rays have discovered that there are actually two distinct species, one small, reef dwelling manta (Manta alfredi) and a much larger migratory manta, which retains the original species name.
Of course, this new manta species wasn’t secreted away, hiding from the human race. We’ve been interacting with it for centuries, we just didn’t know it was a separate species. A similar case occured several years ago when a cryptic species of hammerhead shark was discovered.
Although not really a true sea monster, the fact that a large pelagic vertebrate species can exist in the ocean undetected blurs the line between cryptozoology and zoology. New species are discovered in the ocean all the time, some much weirder than any mythical monster.
~Southern Fried Scientist
ANDREA D. MARSHALL, LEONARD J.V. COMPAGNO, & MICHAEL B. BENNETT (2009). Redescription of the genus Manta with resurrection of Manta alfredi (Krefft, 1868) (Chondrichthyes; Myliobatoidei; Mobulidae) Zootaxa, 2301
Manta rays are amazing, graceful animals. I had the very fortunate pleasure of seeing many mantas on my dive expedition to Fiji last winter. In fact, one particular reef we visited, Manta Reef, lived up to its billing – rays on 4 of the 5 dives I was able to do there. Amazing.
Great to see the SFS team writing about mantas. I sincerely hope that the massive effort directed towards shark conservation can spare some muscle power for these enigmatic giants.