Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Unbelievable Manta Ray Sightings!

The Manta action is really heating up here at Gili Lankanfushi, as we are treated to some of the best Manta sightings at our local Manta Point in 15 years! As we step off the boat at our Manta Points these days, it's getting really hard not to have massive expectations, and so far, the Manta's have delivered! 
We had 30 positive IDs from this day at Lankan Manta Point! The activity is mind blowing! Credit: Deborah Burn
Normally between 5 and 10 Mantas on the cleaning station is a good day for us, with 16 being the maximum number of individuals we have sighted there during one dive over the last 4 years (Remember last September's Manta Mania post). This year however, is a different story with at least 30 individual Manta rays gracing our Manta Point at one time! The Manta Trust tells us they're receiving about 100 different individual IDs for the site over a one day period! The reason why? A super productive monsoon combined with breeding season! The Manta Trust are speculating that this years' plankton productivity has boosted our Manta's energy levels, causing record breaking breeding activity! 

Manta Courtship. video credit: Dean De Mouilpied.
We are seeing massive aggregations of males and females coming into the cleaning stations to find a mate, which means we are not only treated to the usual cleaning behaviour, but also to some spectacular breeding behaviour!! Statistically, female Mantas spend more time grooming at the cleaning stations than males do, but during breeding season these ratios shift, and we see higher numbers of males showing up at the stations looking to meet a mature female. Once the female is ready to mate, we believe she releases a pheromone signalling the males, who will start to follow her. She will then lead these males on a mad chase around the reef, testing their fitness, which we call a 'mating train'. This involves all manner of high speed twists and turns, and can even include breaches out of the water! At our local Manta Point we are even seeing the larger females, who are more used to seeing divers, using us and our bubbles as part of their obstacle course, trying to determine the fitness of her suitors by testing which of the males is brave enough to come close to the divers and swim through our bubbles! This can be a pretty spectacular sight- being dive bombed by around 10 mantas all in a train! Check out the video above which documents some fantastic courtship behaviour at Sunlight Thila. Video credit goes to Dean De Mouilpied, one of our lucky divers who was treated to not one, but several insane Manta dives last week! 
Josie has submitted over 100 Manta IDs this season alone! 

You may remember that taking a simple photograph of the unique spot patterns on Manta bellies helps us to track each individual Manta ray. Because of the unusually high number of males at our cleaning stations at the moment, which are usually more elusive, we have been treated to some brand new encounters where we have managed to identify 5 brand new male Mantas over the last week! This important data helps to give a more clear picture of Manta demographics in the Maldives. 
Working closely with the Manta Trust and Manta Ecology Project, we submit these ID's along with vital data about the dive including abiotic factors and behavioural notes. This information is helping researchers unravel the mysteries of Manta ray biology and ecology, and can help inform policy and protective strategies for these majestic animals, so if you have a beautiful belly shot, don't hesitate to send it to us, or to the above websites, where you can help our research! If you're really lucky, you may even get to name your very own Manta!!

Stay tuned to meet this months brand new Mantas, and discover how many Mantas we have seen so far this season! Spoiler alert: We have smashed last year's total of 233 already! 

See you soon,
Debs

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