Manta rays are the world’s largest rays that are filter feeders and eat large quantities of plankton. These giant rays can have a wingspan of up to 29 feet and weigh as much as 5,300 pounds.
These slow-growing, migratory animals have small populations that are distributed around the world, in areas such as Indonesia, the Maldives, and other tropical and sub-tropical waters.
Today we’re going to discuss manta ray populations as a whole and answer a question that often comes up when discussing these rays. Are manta rays endangered?
Yes, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced that the conservation status of the giant manta ray has changed from ‘Vulnerable’ to ‘Endangered’ on the Red List Of Threatened Species.
Are Manta Rays Really Endangered?
Yes, giant manta rays are now categorized as endangered by the IUCN. They now join over 16,000 endangered species to be assessed with this serious threat level.
Currently, 30 percent of sharks and rays are now threatened with extinction, and the giant manta ray is included in this shocking statistic.
These beautiful animals are targeted for their gill plates which they use to filter feed on small zooplankton from the water column.
The relentless increase in demand for these body parts has left manta ray populations all around the globe in ruin, with the relatively new Asian-based trade impacting the giant manta ray more than other manta ray species.
How Many Manta Rays Are Left?
Information on how many manta rays are left worldwide is difficult to find due to their migratory patterns.
Regional populations are small, ranging from around 100 to 1,500 individuals, but in areas subject to fishing populations have declined rapidly and numbers are very small.
Ecuador is thought to be the largest population of giant manta rays, with large aggregation sites within the waters of Machalilla National Park and the Galapagos Marine Reserve.
As a whole, manta rays populations are suffering all around the world due to the many threats they face from human activities.
Sadly they have a low likelihood of recovery due to their slow reproductivity but additional research is needed to understand the population structure and global distribution of giant manta rays.
Is It Rare To See A Manta Rare?
Giant manta rays are becoming increasingly rare in the wild and any diver or snorkeler that is lucky enough to encounter one should count their lucky stars.
There are some places in the world where you are most likely to find manta rays in the wild, such as Indonesia, Hawaii, the Maldives, and more, but it’s not guaranteed.
They are found all over the world in tropical and subtropical waters and are commonly found offshore in productive coastal areas.
Manta rays feed near the surface and have a huge wingspan, so they are hard to miss if you do come across some feeding mantas.
These gentle giants pose no threat to humans and are actually rather friendly towards us, making for a magical experience when swimming with manta rays.
Why Manta Rays Need Protection
The biggest reason why manta rays need protection is that they have an incredibly slow reproduction rate.
Female manta rays reach sexual maturity between 8 and 10 years old and tend to only give birth once every couple of years.
Pregnancy lasts about 12 to 13 months and then manta rays give birth to usually only a single pup, so you can see how slow their reproduction rate is.
The good news is that in 2011, manta rays became protected in international waters thanks to their inclusion in the Convention of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.
That said, they still face a number of threats and are illegally fished to this day for their gills.
Manta Ray Threats
Giant manta rays face a number of threats that put the species at risk of extinction in the near future if nothing changes and continues how it is.
One of the most alarming threats to the manta ray species of overfishing as they are targeted due to the increase in demand for their gill plates.
Manta rays have fallen victim to an all too common exploitation where a large animal is killed for a small, lucrative body part.
As the gill plates are in high demand, illegal fishing and overfishing of manta rays take place all over the world with has a significant impact on their population as a whole.
Due to the sheer size of giant manta rays and despite being protected by the increasing gill plate trade, manta rays are still being killed in their thousands from bycatch.
The term bycatch is used to describe fish or other animals that are caught unintentionally in a fishery, often entangled in large fishing nets.
Measures to address the bycatch of the species in industrial fisheries are rare, so it keeps happening time and time again without any intervention.
Harvest for International Trade
The demand for manta rays has dramatically risen in Asian markets over recent years.
With this expansion of the international gill raker market and increasing demand for manta ray products, the estimated harvest of giant manta rays particularly in many portions of the Indo-Pacific frequently exceeds the numbers of identified individuals in those areas and is accompanied by declines in sightings and landings of the species of up to 95 percent.
Are manta rays endangered? Yes, they are. Manta rays are in high demand especially in the Asian market for their gill plates, meaning they are being overfished at an alarming rate.
They also face threats from bycatch and international trade as well as other threats that have caused a dramatic decline in their numbers.
Giant manta rays have an incredibly slow reproduction rate, so the likelihood of the species making a comeback is slim.
Despite these majestic rays being protected, little is done to prevent bycatch, and sadly money speaks louder when it comes to overfishing.
More than ever the giant manta ray is staring in the face of extinction in the near future if nothing more is done to protect the species.
Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed this post and have learned something new today about the manta ray population and why they are endangered.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post and feel free to share it with others who may find it useful.
Hi, I’m George – the founder of MarinePatch. I created this blog as marine wildlife has been my passion for many years. I’ve spent over a decade in the marine wildlife industry and spent years out in the field conducting research. In today’s modern world, an online blog is the best place for me to share my findings and reach as many people as possible to help educate and inspire others. Enjoy your time here and you’re welcome back anytime!