Scientists target manta ray mysteries

May 01, 2007
Scientists target manta ray mysteries
Manta rays are one of the ocean's mysteries. Photo: Andrea Marshall

Manta rays are hard to miss —big, black and stretching up to seven metres wide, but scientists are still in the dark about the world's largest ray.

A team of UQ scientists is joining forces with industry and government partners to launch the most comprehensive study of manta rays yet.

Project Manta will detail manta ray populations, their behaviours, feeding patterns, movements, migrations using observations and satellite imagery and will identify individuals via DNA and photographic analysis.

One of the project's lead scientists, Dr Kathy Townsend, said little was known about manta rays, which were listed as vulnerable by the World Conservation Union.

“Manta rays are a big ecotourism drawcard, forming the basis of multimillion dollar industries around the globe,” Dr Townsend said.

“Our research focuses on the population of manta rays along the eastern seaboard of Australia and includes Moreton Bay and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

“Surprisingly, basic information about their population, lifespan, migrations and breeding information remains unknown.”

Dr Townsend said local divers and snorkellers, some with 20 years of diving photos, would be involved in creating an image database to identify manta rays.

“We specifically want the pictures of the underbelly of the manta ray because this can be used to identify individuals,” she said.

“The black and white pattern is as unique as a fingerprint.”

She said much of the research work would start in October when the manta rays returned to Moreton Bay Marine Park.

Fellow lead scientists,Associate Professor Mike Bennett and Dr Scarla Weeks said the project built on a four-year-study of the world's largest known manta ray population off the Mozambican coast by UQ PhD student Andrea Marshall.

“We are in a unique position of having over a decade's worth of data on Australian, African and Japanese manta ray populations which together with satellite imagery, will allow us to address many questions about the rays' biology,” Associate Professor Bennett said.

Project Manta will also address the broader issues of the effect of climate change on the marine environment.

“Understanding the manta ray's feeding activities, movements and migrations in relation to oceanic conditions will allow us to use this highly visible species as a biological indicator of ecosystem impacts resulting from climate change,” Dr Weeks said.

Dr Townsend said the project had support from Consolidated Rutile Limited (CRL), South East Queensland Catchment, Lady Elliott Eco Resort, Undersea Explorer and Bounty Divers from Norfolk Island.

“Manta rays are a key drawcard for divers and naturalists and generally all of those that use Moreton Bay and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park,” CRL Environment and Community Relations Manager Paul Smith said.

“By sponsoring research into this animal that lives right on our doorstep, we can assist not just manta rays, but the marine environment for future generations.”

Source: University of Queensland

Explore further: Free the seed: OSSI nurtures growing plants without patent barriers

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Corals track strongest Indian Ocean current over 334 years

Mar 19, 2014

Natural variations in the warming and cooling cycles of the globally important Agulhas ocean current core region have been revealed in a new study of a Madagascar corals led by The University of Western Australia ...

Indonesia announces world's biggest manta ray sanctuary

Feb 21, 2014

Indonesia on Friday instituted the world's biggest manta ray sanctuary covering millions of square kilometres as it seeks to protect the huge winged fish and draw more tourists to the sprawling archipelago.

Do Guam mantas plan moon parties?

Feb 18, 2014

Several of Hartup's paddler and free diving friends told her about seeing mantas congregating purposefully in an area where surgeonfish were spawning. Since they were able to give her an exact date, Julie ...

Study says sharks/rays globally overfished

Jan 21, 2014

(Phys.org) —One quarter of the world's cartilaginous fish, namely sharks and rays, face extinction within the next few decades, according to the first study to systematically and globally assess their fate.

Indonesia announces shark, manta ray sanctuary

Feb 20, 2013

Indonesia has announced a new shark and manta ray sanctuary, the first to protect the species in the rich marine ecosystem of the Coral Triangle, known as the "Amazon of the ocean".

Recommended for you

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

Apr 18, 2014

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.

Low tolerance for pain? The reason may be in your genes

Researchers may have identified key genes linked to why some people have a higher tolerance for pain than others, according to a study released today that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 66th Annual ...

How to keep your fitness goals on track

(HealthDay)—The New Year's resolutions many made to get fit have stalled by now. And one expert thinks that's because many people set their goals too high.