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Hahalua: The Hawaiian Manta Ray
Manta Rays are impressive animals that have the largest wingspan of any living creature known to man. Manta Rays' wings most often have a span around 12 feet to 16 feet, but giant mantas found just off the Kona coast of Hawaii's Big Island, have been discovered to span up to 22 feet.
The largest of the huhulua's ever discovered weighed up to 3,000 lbs and can live up to 25 years. You may have seen a manta in their natural habitat breaching at the surface of the water. Many people mistake them for sharks when the tips of their wings appear in the ocean. This article will give you the facts about Hawaiian manta rays and their behaviors.
Manta Ray Diet
Manta rays attract their food with cephalic lobes, which are described as flaps in this article. They use over 300 rows of small, microscopic fibers on their flaps that plankton stick to when they travel through the mouth of the hahalua. It is common for a small fish or crustacean to accidentally get stuck in the ray's mouth, at which point, the manta eats it instead of spitting it out even though it is not their occasional meal.
Remora's are fish that often swim next to sharks, feeding on its leftovers. Similarly, remoras hide in the flaps of the manta ray's mouth to catch the food that doesn't stick to the fibers. But the manta rays are not as kind to the remora as the shark. When food is scarce, the manta will attract a remora in order to eat it when it gets too close.
Manta rays often visit cleaning stations after eating, where they allow remora and other fish to eat off of their body to clean it. This symbiotic relationship allows the manta to stay protected from infections on its body as the fish get a free meal.
Manta Mating Rituals
The manta rays have 300 rows of teeth that they use to mate with other rays. The male manta dances with the female. They both get into position by swimming stomach-to-stomach with each other. The male manta then clamps onto the female manta and continues to swim below her.
Manta births are very rare to see. Pregnant females carry their offspring for 12 months within their womb and spend a year after giving birth before having another pregnancy. The most popular birth was at a zoo in Japan. The mother swims through the water and rubs herself along the bottom of the tank and then breaches before the baby manta ray comes out, rolled up like an old newspaper. The offspring then unrolls and begins to swim.
Manta's are usually born to be about 3 to 4 feet and live in shallow waters for the first year. After this period of time, they travel into deeper waters, gaining a darker skin color for extra protection.
Can I see or touch a manta ray?
You can see manta rays along the Kona coast in Hawaii, where numerous hotels illuminate the ocean at night so tourists can watch the manta ray feed. The manta ray are usually seen between the late hours of the night, generally between 11:00 pm and 2:00 am.
You should not touch a manta ray, because they have a mucus layer, much like eels, surrounding their skin that protects their soft tissue. When a human touches them, this mucus rubs off and the manta is susceptible to cuts and scrapes from the reef.