the lifespan of manta rays

Manta rays are some of the most fascinating creatures on the planet. Their distinct form and sheer size also make them some of the most impressive, and ancient sightings of these denizens of the sea are steeped in legend and superstition. 

But manta rays are surprisingly gentle and solitary creatures, feeding only on plankton. Despite their somewhat imposing size and fearsome appearance, they are quite harmless. 

Over the years, manta ray sightings have become less and less common as humans increasingly encroach upon their natural habitats. Nowadays, they can still be seen in oceans around the world, although in smaller numbers and fragmented groups. You can also learn more about different animal and manta ray seasons.

How long do manta rays live?

Manta rays can live between 50 – 75 years old. But most probably don’t live that long because of environmental conditions that affect their routines and well-being. 

Although it is relatively easy to determine how long manta rays can live‒at least in theory‒it is much more difficult to trace their development and reproduction cycles. This is because their lifestyles and habits make it extremely challenging to observe them in the wild. 

What scientists do know is that the mating cycle begins with the males following females closely in a sort of pre-mating ritual. These creatures have also been observed mating in groups known as “trains”. Some scientists believe that this behavior most frequently occurs during the full moon.  

The reproduction process involves the fertilization of the female’s eggs. This typically results in the birth of a single live pup, typically after a 12- to 13-month gestation period.

It is interesting to note that newborn manta ray pups are practically smaller versions of full-grown creatures. This means that they can pretty much live on their own immediately after birth without having to rely on their parents. 

How big are manta rays? 

There are actually two species of manta rays: the giant manta ray (Birostris), which is more common in open water, and the reef manta ray (Alfredi), which tends to stay fairly close to the coast. For many years, it was thought that these creatures were part of only a single species. It was only recently that the two distinct varieties were identified. 

As you may have guessed, the giant manta ray is the larger of the two varieties. It is also one of the largest fishes in existence, growing up to 29 feet in width. 

What do manta rays eat?

Despite their formidable size, giant manta rays subsist primarily on plankton and other small food sources. This makes them similar to other large fish, such as whale sharks and basking sharks. They also share this diet with the largest sea mammal in existence, the blue whale. 

Manta rays keep their mouths constantly open while swimming. This allows them to filter plankton and other food sources without having to stop and feed. They have special flaps in their mouths called cephalic lobes that enable them to take in large volumes of water, and consequently, ingest more food. 

Manta ray habitats 

Manta rays can be found in tropical, subtropical, and temperate waters around the world. They can often be seen at a short distance from shore in ocean waters and are frequently spotted near busy coastal areas. 

Giant manta rays frequently go on long migratory journeys. Although they mostly prefer to stay in warmer waters, they may visit colder areas at certain times of the year. 

Social habits of manta rays

As mentioned earlier, manta rays are generally solitary creatures. However, they do gather in groups for feeding and mating. These tend to be small groups of about 100 to 200 individual rays. Some groups can consist of as many as 1,500 creatures, but these are relatively rare. 

The largest population of manta rays to have ever been spotted is in the waters of Ecuador. Here, they usually gather in the vicinity of the Machalilla National Park and the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

Unlike many other large fishes, manta rays don’t produce offspring very often. They usually give birth to a single pup once every two or three years.  Remember though, even if they look friendly you should not touch manta rays when snorkeling.

Threats to manta ray populations 

Both manta ray species are classified as “vulnerable”. Although there are global initiatives in place to prevent their extinction, their numbers continue to dwindle due to commercial fishing. Catching these fish has been banned in Ecuador, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, the Philippines, and in international waters since 2011.

Experience Manta Rays with Kona Style

Hawai’i was the first state in the United States to ban all fishing, killing, or trading in manta rays, which is why it is one of the few places in the world where you can actually snorkel with these majestic creatures on a regular basis.  If you are looking for a unique adventure that can only be experienced in a few places around the globe, consider joining us on KONASTYLE for one of our nightly manta ray snorkels.  

We at KONASTYLE offer a variety of ways to experience the beauty of manta rays. You can dive with these animals during sunset or at night. If you’re left wondering if it’s safe, we’ve explained in depth why it’s safe to go snorkeling with manta rays.