Canadian tourists on a sight seeing tour in the Galapagos Islands had a very unexpected surprise when they met up with a giant manta ray in the open ocean. Returning from an excursion that involved a walking tour and a snorkel tour, the boat made a brief stop to address a mechanical issue. Because it was a hot day and the tourists were very taken with the beautiful blue water, the guides allowed a brief dip in the ocean as they readied the boat to continue home. Moving mysteriously along the surface was a giant shadow and a tell tale fin that could be seen above the water like the dorsal fin of a large shark. Guides pointed excitedly and told the tourists to look under the water at what was coming toward them. Out of the blue, emerged one of the ocean's most magnificent creatures, the giant manta ray. It swam directly at the family in the water as if either curious or unconcerned. It appeared in front of the camera and smoothly banked to the right in an effortlessly fluid motion, carrying it away form the swimmers a few moments later.
Manta rays are the largest of the rays, capable of reaching wingspans of 7m (23 feet). They can weigh as much as 3,000kg (6,600 lbs). They are simply massive and an awe inspiring sight to see in the water. Although completely harmless to humans, and gentle in their behavior, their massive size is both intimidating and breath taking at the same time.
Manta rays are largely filter feeders, herding and feeding on plankton and krill. It was believed until recently that they were exclusively filter feeders, but observation of their behavior had been limited to their surface activities. It has been learned in more recent studies that they also feed in deeper waters on small fish. This new research contradicts long held beliefs that we have had and it demonstrates exactly how much we have yet to learn about the world around us.
The manta ray is capable of reaching speeds of 24km/h to escape predators. Only large predators such as tiger sharks, great hammerheads, bull sharks, and killer whales are able to prey on the giant rays.
Considered to be one of the smartest ocean animals, their brains are ten times the size of whale sharks, and comparatively larger (brain to body mass) than any other cold blooded fish. It is believed that manta rays exhibit self awareness, being able to pass a mirror test.
Swimming with ocean creatures and meeting them in their own habitat is one of the greatest thrills possible for scuba divers and snorkelers. This chance meeting with such a magnificent and beautiful animal is an experience that this Canadian family will never forget.