Manta & Mobula Ray Facts

Manta and mobula rays span the tropics of the world and are among the most captivating and charismatic of marine species. However, their survival is severely threatened by growing fisheries pressure driven by demand for the gill rakers that the animals use to filter feed.

Ray Biology

Source: Shark Savers

The group of cartilaginous fish in the family Mobulidae (Mobulid rays) consists of two genera, Manta and Mobula, with two and nine species respectively1,2. All mobulid rays have diamond shaped bodies, wing-like pectoral fins used for propulsion, and five pairs of gill slits. They usually inhabit pelagic zones3,4. Mobulids are often called “devil rays” because of the cephalic fins on the front of their heads that resemble “horns”. The cephalic fins unfurl and help guide water into their mouths, and modified gill features filter zooplankton and small fish, their primary food sources5-7.

Manta rays

The genus Manta includes the larger Manta birostris (oceanic manta), the smaller Manta alfredi (reef manta), and a possible third species, Manta. cf birostris1 Both M. birostris and M. alfredi are circumglobal in overall range, and overlap in some locations8. M. cf birostris, is likely limited to the Gulf of Mexico and Western Caribbean1. Manta birostris has a maximum wingspan (disk width, or DW) of seven to nine meters1,3. Manta alfredi has a maximum 4 to 5 meter disk width9, and usually occupies tropical areas.

Mobula Rays

The nine Mobula species range in size from the largest, Mobula mobular, which can reach 5.2 meters DW, to the smallest, Mobula eregoodootenkee, which averages only 1.1 meters DW10. Mobulas can be found in temperate and tropical waters worldwide. Some Mobula species are range restricted, such as Mobula kuhlii and Mobula eregoodootenkee, found only in the Indian and Western Pacific Oceans respectively. Other species, such as Mobula tarapacana and Mobula thurstoni, are thought to be circumglobal2,11. Since information on the distribution of this genus is based on sparse records and misidentification is common, the estimated ranges of individual species, and even some species classifications, will likely change in the coming years.

Manta birostris Oceanic Manta Ray Vulnerable Circumglobal, tropical and subtropical 680 cm Decreasing Targeted, Bycatch
Manta alfredi Reef Manta Ray Vulnerable Circumglobal, tropical and subtropical 450 cm Decreasing Targeted, Bycatch
Mobula eregoodootenkee Long-horned Pygmy Devilray Near Threatened Wide, Tropical Indo- West Pacific 100 cm Unknown Targeted, Bycatch
Mobula hypostoma Atlantic Devilray Data Deficient Western Atlantic 120 cm Unknown Bycatch
Mobula japanica Spine Tail Devilray Near Threatened, Vulnerable in S.E. Asia Circumglobal 310 cm Unknown Targeted, Bycatch
Mobula kuhlii Shortfin Pygmy Devilray Data Deficient Indian Ocean and Western Central Pacific 119 cm Decreasing Targeted, Bycatch
Mobula mobular Giant Devilray Endangered Mediterranean and possibly North Atlantic 520 cm Decreasing Bycatch
Mobula munkiana Pygmy Devilray Near Threatened Eastern Pacific 110 cm Unknown Targeted, Bycatch
Mobula rochebrunei Lesser Guinean Devilray Vulnerable Eastern and Southwestern Atlantic 133 cm Unknown Targeted, Bycatch
Mobula tarapacana Sicklefin Devil Ray Data Deficient Probably circumglobal, Indian, Pacific, Atlantic Oceans 370 cm Unknown Targeted, Bycatch
Mobula thurstoni Bentfin Devilray Near Threatened, Vulnerable in S.E. Asia Circumglobal, temperate and tropical 180 cm Unknown Targeted, Bycatch

Ray Reproduction

All mobulids are aplacental, viviparous species, meaning that they give birth to fully developed live young4,7,12, and typically bear only a single pup with each pregnancy12,13. While the lifespan and age at sexual maturity are not yet known for many mobulid species, long-term studies of M. alfredi populations in various locations indicate a life history incompatible with targeted commercial fishing.

For example, female M. alfredi are believed to reach maturity at 8-10 years9, however female M. alfredi in an extensively studied population in the Maldives showed no mating scars and did not become pregnant for a number of years after reaching mature size. These observations indicate that female M. alfredi in some subpopulations may not mate until an age of 15 years or more14.

M. alfredi near a Mozambique study site and in Maui had a biennial reproductive period with some females pupping in consecutive years13, while in the Maldives, the reproductive cycle appears to be significantly slower, with female M. alfredi giving birth on average to only one pup every five years14. M. alfredi have been confirmed to live at least 30 years17 and both manta species are believed to live 40 years and possibly longer9,15.

Brain Size and Intelligence

Recent research has revealed that manta and mobula rays have the highest brain mass to body mass ratio of all elasmobranchs, comparable to some birds and mammals. They exhibit high maneuverability, and increased social and cognitive abilities16. Divers cite numerous examples of manta rays cooperating and accepting help when entangled in lines, and many report that injured manta rays even seem to seek assistance.

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