If you spend enough time snorkelling in Indonesian waters you are going to see plenty of manta rays, and sooner or later you will come across both species: the Pelagic (Oceanic) Manta Ray (Manta birostris) and the Reef Manta Ray (Manta alfredi). These massive elasmobranchs (the scientific term for all cartilaginous fishes such as sharks, skates and rays) can often be found around cleaning stations, where they get parasites removed by specialises fishes such as wrasse, and swimming on the currents feeding on plankton.
Pelagic Manta Rays in a chain, where they are feeding on plankton in the current. Image: Alamy.
HOW DO I TELL THEM APART?
Knowing where to find them is key, and they are a staple of many of Seatrek Sailing Adventures’ Komodo National Park and Raja Ampat National Park cruises, with sightings (and snorkelling encounters) being a regular occurrence. At first glance, they are quite similar in appearance, so once you are in the water and you see them swimming past, how do you tell them apart?
SIZE OF THE MANTA
Although all manta rays look like giants of the sea, one can be significantly larger than the other, and if you ever see them together it will be dramatic. Look at the size of the wingspan. Pelagic Mantas can grow up to seven metres from wing tip to wing tip, while Reef Mantas will grow to a maximum of five metres.
WHERE YOU SEE THEM
The common names of the two different mantas gives away a lot when it comes to identification, but not always. Oftentimes when you are snorkelling on a reef then you will be seeing the Reef Manta alfredi, although don’t let that dissuade you. Although the Pelagic Manta birostris, does prefer deeper waters, SeaTrek does see them from time to time in the shallows when we are cruising Komodo National Park or sailing through Raja Ampat.
A Reef Manta in Raja Ampat named 'Ombak Putih, after the SeaTrek Sailing Adventures boat in honour of the first sighting of this particular specimen.
Take a look at the dorsal side of the manta. Both species have white patches on their top sides, near the shoulder, but the Reef Manta tends to be a little less defined in its markings and can appear in a V or Y shape. If the markings are strong and in a T shape, then it’s probably a Pelagic Manta.
A Pelagic Manta replete with two remora and identified by the T-shaped markings on its back.
The Pelagic Manta tends to have fewer spots on its underside, except for a few spots found near the tail. Reef mantas can have many, so this is a good way to identify your species.
An easy comparison bewteen the Pelagic on the left and the Reef Manta on the right.
So there you have it, four simple ways to identify your manta species. Being in the water with one of these majestic creatures is a truly awe-inspiring event, one that you will never forget as long as you live. If you would like to experience it for yourself, then please get in contact with SeaTrek Sailing Adventures and let us take you to where the manta rays dwell.
HOW CAN I SWIM WITH MANTAS?
You can swim with manta rays on one of the following SeaTrek Sailing Adventures cruises.
Simply click on the cruise links below to find out more.
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