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.”