Giant Manta


I find this picture unspeakably depressing, but it gives a good idea of the scale of the leviathon being held up by pulleys.

That is the sea devil, the giant manta- and in this case, an amazing creature that strayed a bit too near to human beings.

The giant manta is the largest species of the ray family. Mantas have been known to grow up to 25 feet from wing to wing, and weigh up to 5,000 lbs. (that’s over two tons for the weight conscious sorts out there) Even humbled to hanging flesh and strung up as it is in this picture, the giant manta has a certain undeniable presence; a dignity. Under water it is an eerily gorgeous inhabitant of the tropical seas.

The giant manta glides through the twilight waters, using it’s pectoral fins to ‘fly’ beneath the ocean. These fins are its only defense from predators, and they can deliver a stinging slap when they feel threatened. Unlike human beings however, no manta has ever accompanied a spanking with the words, “Whose your daddy?”

The horns on either side of the giant manta’s head, in combination with shark-like coloring and a broad mouth give the manta a rather piss-your-pants appearance, but in reality these creatures are some of the least hostile you’ll come across in warmer waters. They are filter feeders, meaning that they strain plankton, fish larva and other bitsy junk passively as they swim. The giant manta has the largest brain-to-body ratio of the sharks and rays, according to wikipedia, which is sometimes full of bullocks, but oh well.

Mantas tend to display curiosity toward divers, and these giants have been known to swim long distances beside human beings, accompanied of course by their little stalker friends the remoras. Remora fish are like hitchhikers that attach to mantas and let them do all the swim work. In return, the remoras tend to attract all the skin parasites to their own bodies. Remoras rarely swim far from their chosen manta, but do occasionally stray long enough to grab a bite. A remora without a manta is like an heiress without a designer perfume: Neither is likely to land a gig on the E Network.

Unlike its cousin the sting ray, giant mantas do not have stinging spines or barbs. Steve Irwin would still be alive and well today if it were a giant manta he’d startled rather than a sting ray. Mantas mate belly to belly, and typically bear 1-2 pups at a time. The babies are born rolled up like tubes, and they become active once they have unrolled their wings.

Mantas are considered to be a near threatened species. Their size makes them rarer than many breeds of smaller fish, so their numbers are monitored critically. The giant manta disappeared mysteriously from one of its common fishing grounds, the Sea of Cortez in 2002, and no mantas were sighted for a full two years until suddenly several sightings happened two years later. Remember though, that was also the year Eminem took over the world, so things were pretty fucked up.

In Mexico, legislation was passed to protect the giant manta in November of 2005. Undersea video of a manta devouring a live cocker spaniel puppy:

Okay, I lied. I wanted you to watch the video. You deserve that for being an evil old puppy hater, you sicko.

Early superstitious fishermen called them Devilfish. Manta rays often feed at the surface on small zooplankton and krill funneling them into their mouths with specialized head fins—cephalic fins—unfurled below into twin scoops. Sometimes they accidentally swim into anchor ropes or into hard-hat diver’s air hoses. Since rays have no reverse gear, when caught they swim forward ever faster. Equally frightened fishermen or divers likened the fleeing rays to malignant beasts, with black wings sent from Hell to terrorize them. Fleeing mantas frequently lunge out of the water landing in a resounding slap—a maneuver that completes the Devilfish legend. The story goes that the rays would tow a skiff out to sea then crush the hapless crew by leaping on them.”


18 thoughts on “Giant Manta

  1. That manta looks like a giant captive alien from another planet, coming to deliver a message of peace and being hung and tortured by our wonderfully insensitive species. Yep, depressing, but thanks for the opportunity to admire the splendor of yet another magestic creature sliding rapidly towards extinction.

  2. Mantas are gorgeous to watch underwater–we swam with them off of the Big Island, and met Big Bertha, a 3000lb specimen who was as gentle as a cat. If you sit quietly with your light attracting plankton, they’ll swim right up to you and pass along side like a cat twirling around your legs. It was one of the most awe-inspiring things I’ve ever experienced. Terrifying at first, as I could have fit in her mouth easily, but after a bit, just incredibly cool.

  3. Cool. Giant underwater flying creature. Very funny cool jokes too. I was imagining one that could fly in the air, what a sight drifting overhead, maybe I should learn to scuba. Great entertainment education show, thanks.

  4. fish- …and I thought you were talking about Lewis and Clark for a sec, and wondered what you had against them. Boxing. Got it. Boy stuff.

    aos- the video doesn’t work! But I did manage to find the song. fun tune…. thanks for passing it along

    t.i.v- I couldn’t have put it better, I hate that it’s hanging there immobilized while people grin and laugh and slap eachother on the back. Ugh. This population is still somewhere between the black and the red. They’re much better off than many whale species.

    Sarah- Wow, I envy you that experience. You describe it beautifully.

    gingaTao- I pictured that, the mantas flying overhead, and it almost seemed futuristic. Thanks for noticing the jokes. I added them after the first write, cus I thought it needed a little something.

    rtd13- jordy!

  5. Wow. I read that a long time ago, but didn’t remember hardly anything about that, definitely not the manta. Good memory.

    Island of the Blue Dolphins was his book that I practically memorized.

    He doesnt write particularly happy stories, does he? Interesting, but not happy.

  6. that thing made me pee my pants almost as much as when I read “devouring a cocker spaniel puppy”. I spit cranberry juice out. why that’s such a funny sentence I don’t know.

    phhew. Ok, back to nothing.

  7. That reminds me of the story recently, about the oldest clam ever found…a giant clam that was born when Shakespeare was still alive, and they killed it, so they could find out just how old the bugger was. People suck.

    That manta sure is beautiful, swimming through the water like a bird…

  8. That picture broke my heart. I’m a diver, and though I’ve never seen a giant manta before, the times when mantas swam past us are definitely highlights of my diving experience. I felt blessed to be in their presence. The video give a bit on an idea, but it’s amazing how graceful those creatures are. It’s like they’re performing a ballet underwater. What are these morons doing with that poor thing? They should all be put in prison for that. Or better yet, shot to death. Ok. Maybe that’s a bit extreme but it always angers me to see mankind treating animals as if they were there for us to do as we please with. It just speaks about the ignorance of the vasts majority. That’s what that picture stands for to me: the monumental idiocy of those who aught to know better.

  9. Incredible video of the manta. I find it so peaceful to watch them swim in the video. The name I’ve heard more often is the Devilfish mentioned in the last quote. The Remora fish hitchhikers remind me of the sandpipers on the back of hippos. Some of the creatures of earth are almost prehistoric. Isn’t Nature amazing. (Loved your Eminem comment.) 8)

  10. Hubris is the only explanation for taking your picture alongside such a beauty as this Manta – Dead. And what sort of meaning do they make up about themselves…providers of plenty or despotic spoilers of the sea…it works me up…

    …and how am I like these fishermen…? Did I not watch in anticipation for the spaniel to be eaten…? Strange the mixture of relief and frustration when I found out that there was no puppy…


  11. Oh, I fell behind. Hi david b, ltns.

    1 poet- you make me feel terribly clever, tying those two thoughts together the way you did. We all have that element, I think, that can’t look away from the train wreck.

    QM- That’s it, that’s how I feel too, to see the live ones. Peaceful. Nature IS amazing, but the remoras are just kinda weird. lol.

    Smiler- You’re a diver! You have such a broad and eclectic range of experiences. I wonder if that’s where some of the balance and texture from your posts comes from.

    J- I remember reading about that on your blog! I was too disgusted to comment at the time that they killed the thing. Isn’t that just so human?

  12. I was at San Benedicto Island in 1994 and videoed the Giant Manta massacre that took place there. It was a sad day for me, as I have spent several years diving with these unbelievable beings. They are smarter than dolphins, and looking at the world today obviously smarter than human beings. Human beings are the only beings that kill their own kind……..think about this the next time you think we are the most intelligent on this planet.

  13. I’ve seen really big stingrays in the water and even mistook one for a large piece of rock, but mantas are somehow far more beautiful. It’s a shame an old timer like this got killed and put on show.

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