The Manta ‘whisperers’

At S.E.A. Aquarium we are fortunate to have three fascinating Reef Manta Rays (Manta alfredi). The Mantas range in size from 2 metres to over 3 metres.

A large team of specialists is responsible for the health and well being of these magnificent animals, as well as all the other animals that live in S.E.A. Aquarium.

Currently, the Mantas are learning to interact with our aquarists in the water, and to swim and feed in different areas of the Open Ocean Habitat.

Reef Mantas
The largest of the three Reef Mantas, at approximately 3 metres wingspan.

These graceful animals have the largest brain to body mass ratio of all fish. They are known to have a high degree of social interaction and curiosity towards humans, which suggests there is a lot more going on behind those captivating eyes than has been typically presumed.

At S.E.A. Aquarium the Mantas do not shy away from human interaction, and this is in part due to their close contact with our dedicated aquarist team, dubbed the ‘Manta Whisperers’.

The Manta ‘Whisperers’

At S.E.A. Aquarium the care and health of our animals is our top priority.The Manta “Whisperers” team consists of nine aquarists who provide daily care of the Mantas.

The team is led by Ramon Barbosa (Curatorial Assistant Director), Alfonso Lopez (Director of Animal Health) and Akira Yeo (Curator). The team also includes behaviourist Jim Hudson, who provides insight to the team regarding the behaviour and interaction of the Mantas and the aquarists.

How we interact with the mantas

The team has at least 6 programs every day with the Mantas, which allows them to get close and interact with the Mantas.

We are developing the interactivity with the Mantas for animal health and husbandry reasons. In doing this, it will allow us to conduct veterinary checks, such as voluntary sample collection or an ultrasound examination; similar to health checks you receive from your doctor.

The familiarity gained from these regular programs and interactions allows the team to build trust and a strong relationship with the animals, while also allowing them to learn more about each Manta’s unique individual behaviour or ‘personality’.

  • Our youngest Manta (approximately 4 years old) is extremely curious and cooperative.
  • The slightly larger Manta (approximately 5 years old) is almost as curious, but exhibits more of a shy ‘personality’.
  • The largest Manta (approximately 6 years old) is the most vigilant regarding his surroundings and interaction with the team.
Aquarists Edgar David (left) and Ramil Bentillo (right) wearing their striped and spotted vests ready to interact with the Mantas.
Aquarists Edgar David (left) and Ramil Bentillo (right) wearing their striped and spotted vests ready to interact with the Mantas.

It is believed that Manta rays can recognise different shapes and patterns. In the picture above two of our aquarists, Edgar and Ramil, are preparing to interact with the Mantas by wearing different vests.

Each vest is designed specifically for an individual Manta. By having a striped pattern on his vest, Edgar can help our smallest manta recognise him when the interaction begins.

At the same time, aquarist Ramil wears a black vest with a white spot. This vest pattern is recognised by our second largest manta, indentifying Ramil as his aquarist.

Having these two completely different patterns allows the mantas to learn quickly who their assigned aquarists are.

An aquarist signals to the Manta to come closer.
An aquarist signals to the Manta to come closer.

In the manta interactive program the aquarists signal for the Mantas to swim towards them by holding a hand out.

When the mantas behave correctly, they receive a pat or tap on the back, a positive action that they recognise as encouraging. Many human parents, teachers and work mates will show this the same type of encouragement in recognising and rewarding children for completing their homework, or praising a colleague for a job well done.

Such interactions with the Mantas will establish positive social and cooperative behaviour that will repeat itself again and again.

The aquarist makes a physical connection with the Manta by gently caressing its head.
The aquarist makes a physical connection with the Manta by gently caressing its head.

Look for these majestic manta rays at the Open Ocean Habitat at S.E.A. Aquarium.

For the month of September, join the S.E.A. Aquarium Manta Instagram contest to win unique underwater experiences.

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