|The ventral side of manta 11 (nicknamed “Manta V” because of its distinctive markings).|
Today was day 1 of Team Manta, and what a day it was. In total, we saw 11 manta rays. We were able to deploy acoustic tags on three of those rays and got video footage of 6 of them. Making all this manta spotting happen requires quite the production. We deployed in the ship’s rescue boat with a team of five: our chief scientist, our expert tagger TA, our bosun who piloted the boat, and two students. Once we arrived at the channel, all eyes turn to the water where every dark shape looks like a manta. To get an underwater view, we take turns hanging on to the side of the boat while snorkeling. Onboard, we have acoustic tags and GoPro cameras at the ready.
“MANTA!” the shout goes up and we spring into action. GoPros start rolling, tags are passed over the side and everyone dives for the manta. We only have a few split seconds before the ray will disappear again into the murky waters. Confusion and coughing up seawater are common occurrences, but by the end of long hours of motoring back and forth along the channel, we had been wildly more successful than I had imagined we possibly could be on our very first day.
Tomorrow, we will deploy acoustic receivers that detect the specific frequency emitted by the tags we deployed today. This will give us real-time data about manta movements through the channel. All of the mantas we observed today appeared to be transiting out of the channel, so I am especially curious about when the mantas enter the lagoon. We also plan to deploy more acoustic tags and continue to photograph the ventral (underside) of the manta. Like a whale’s tail, a manta’s ventral spots are individual to each ray so capturing footage of the bottom of mantas is helping researchers around the world to identify the mantas they see.
We head out again bright and early tomorrow and then will have a few more manta spotting sessions before we depart Palmyra on Friday evening. Check out the pictures below for some stills from today’s Team Manta deployment!