Scientists have identified off the coast of Ecuador a distinct population of oceanic manta rays that is more than 10 times larger than any other known subpopulation of the species.
"It's clear that something different is happening here," said Joshua Stewart, an assistant professor with the Marine Mammal Institute in OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences and a co-author of a new research paper.
"This is a rare story of ocean optimism. In other regions, we typically have population estimates of 1,000 to 2,000 animals, which makes this species very vulnerable. In this area, we've estimated that the population is more than 22,000 mantas, which is unprecedented."
Oceanic manta rays are the largest species of ray, with wingspans that can reach more than 20 feet. They are filter feeders that eat large quantities of krill and other zooplankton and tend to live in small subpopulations in tropical, subtropical and temperate waters, spending much of their time in the open ocean.
Each manta ray has a unique spot pattern on its belly, similar to a human fingerprint, which allows researchers to identify individual animals and track their movements and locations over time.
With a population of at least 22,000, it's "significantly larger than what we've seen in oceanic manta ray populations elsewhere," said Guy Stevens, chief executive and founder of The Manta Trust. "This is by far the largest population that we know of."
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