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Study: Key Environmental Factors, Moon Seen Influencing Manta Ray Behavior

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BRISBANE, Queensland -- Manta rays are more likely to gather together under either a new or a full moon, according to new research published Oct 3 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Fabrice Jaine and colleagues at the University of Queensland.

The research identifies environmental factors that predict the abundance and behavior of manta rays at Lady Elliott Island in the Great Barrier Reef. The authors comment that knowing these factors is important for conservation efforts, "especially in the context of a changing climate and with targeted fisheries increasingly threatening manta ray populations in various parts of the world."

Enlisting the help of volunteer SCUBA divers and tour operators on the island for a 'citizen science' approach, the authors monitored the relative abundance of manta rays indulging in three types of behavior: foraging for food, cleaning by smaller fish and cruising, and correlated these with various environmental factors.

Their results show that manta rays visit specific sites around the island for specific activities. Aside from cleaning at dedicated 'cleaning stations', known to be an important activity for manta rays, foraging was the predominant activity at 5 of the 7 sites surveyed, and was the only activity during which large groups of 80 or more rays clustered together. At other sites, rays were more likely to indulge in cleaning or cruising behaviors in addition to foraging. The overall number of manta rays at the island was higher in autumn and winter, around the new and full moon, and when wind speeds were lower, according to the study.

The authors suggest that these results could be applied to understand the distribution of manta ray populations around the world, and could be extended to other large species for which citizen scientists can be relied on to observe and gather data.

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Reader Comments

2 people have commented so far. cloud add your comment

Any authenticated data concerning aquatic life is highly advantageous and beneficial if only because of the abundance of the unknown in deep sea. Absolutely, documented facts from years ago have become lost and/or overlooked. I hail from a seafaring family from the 1700's and ancient stories of the sea have been passed down to me. One I remember is the abundance of Marlin feeding in waters around Cuba. At any one time, 7 or 8 marlins could be seen together with their heads and spears out of the water.A great-great grandpa drew what he would see and the picture of the marlins with their heads and spears out of the water, was amazing, as also were their fins which were used to trap the fish. Scientists recently went to study hippos and said they never knew hippos were carnivores, how they mourned their dead and their nightly outings to feed on land.All this information is documented in an article in Nat. Geo from 1926. Everything the scientists claimed were new discoveries were right at their fingertips in an article from 1926.I couldn't believe it when reading the new article and immediately ran to get the 1926 issue. Any information that is accurately documented, especially from the sea is necessary beyond words. Pollution, chemicals have eliminated species,etc and we need to know all we can. Thank you for this article.
   comment# 1   - Elissa San Giovanni · New York, New York USA · Oct 4, 2012 @ 2:56pm

Thank you Elissa, Nat. Geographic Jan'04 mentioned huge sub-oceanic methane pockets beneath or off the Pacif/N.W. shores. Do you know of any effects on sea-life due to these? - With environmental & climate changes there seems to be a very fragile point for our existence.
   comment# 2   - Constance Lal · Akron, OH, USA · Oct 5, 2012 @ 10:35am
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