A rare habitat of manta ray babies is discovered in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Texas at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.
Giant manta rays that are commonly seen swimming the ocean waters have taken years before they could achieve those sizes or reach certain ages. For one, female manta rays normally get pregnant when they reached the age of eight to 10 years old.
Until this present discovery, baby manta rays and information about their way of life have been extremely hard to pin down.
The manta ray nursery discovered off Texas coast becomes the first of its kind to be described in a scientific study.
Finding where the juvenile species thrived is instrumental in highlighting the significance of designated marine protected areas. In the case of the giant manta rays, they have already been listed as threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act 2018.
Manta Ray Nursery
Giant manta rays are known for their gentle nature despite their wingspan that could reach sizes of up to 23 feet. They are usually found in subtropical and tropical waters that are far from areas frequented by people. Because of this elusive nature, studies about their species lack information with regard to their biology, life history, and ecology.
"This discovery is a major advancement in our understanding of the species and the importance of different habitats throughout their lives," said Joshua Stewart, the marine biologist who discovered the nursery and the lead author of the study from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego.
Stewart first saw a baby manta ray at Flower Garden Banks sanctuary in 2016. He then observed more baby mantas swimming in the area and surmised that this was an unusual occurrence. Stewart and his team decided to examine 25 years of diving data collected by divers working for the Flower Garden Banks.
Indeed, their analysis, detailed in the journal Marine Biology on June 15, revealed that baby mantas make up about 95 percent of all the mantas swimming at the Flower Garden Banks. These baby mantas have a wingspan measuring of up to 7 feet and could either belong to the species of the oceanic mantas or the newly proposed third species of mantas, which were identified as Mobula cf. birostris.
Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary
Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is one of the 15 underwater protected areas designated by the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. It is located about 100 miles south of Texas. Ecosystem found in the region are said to be healthier and more diverse than any other reefs found in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.
Stewart and his team concluded that baby mantas are hanging out in the sanctuary to make their body temperature recover after they swam the deep freezing waters off the continental slope.
George Schmahl, superintendent of the marine sanctuary, now thinks that Flower Garden Banks should expand to nearby territories, reefs, and banks to accommodate more manta rays and protect other threatened species.
"Nowhere else in the world has a manta ray nursery area been recognized — which heightens the importance of the sanctuary for these pelagic species," Schmahl highlighted.