Found in temperate, subtropical and tropical waters, and seldom seen, it is uncharacteristic for manta rays to be breaching off the shores of Assateague. However, several visitors to Assateague have recently emailed and called seashore officials to alert them of their spottings, according to Assateague Island Science Communicator Kelly Taylor.
“I’m really surprised because they usually don’t come further than North Carolina!” Taylor said. “You usually hear of manta rays in Florida, so I was surprised when I heard that.”
Manta rays are filter feeders and eat large quantities of zooplankton, which they swallow with their open mouths as they swim. Gestation lasts over a year, producing live pups and much like whales, they breach, for unknown reasons.
Previous Maryland Coastal Bays Executive Director Dave Wilson was on Assateague this weekend when he saw manta rays breaching. He said there are a lot of cownose rays and butterfly rays that he has seen at night off of the Route 50, but to see a manta ray is remarkable.
“It was interesting, it’s not something I have seen in the past 21 years of living here, I’ve seen them offshore when I’ve been fishing in Delaware but never so close,” Wilson said. “I imagine there were more than 2 out there since there were multiple sightings of them.”
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, these species are vulnerable and threatened by pollution, entanglement in fishing nets and direct harvesting for their gill rakers used in Chinese medicine. In addition, slow reproductive rate exacerbates these threats. They are protected in international waters by the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals, but are more vulnerable closer to shore. Areas where mantas congregate are popular with tourists. Only a few aquariums are large enough to house them including the National Aquarium.
Although Assateague visitors were unable to snap any photos, Taylor confirmed these manta rays were spotted off the coast of the island.
Marine Life Spotted on Delmarva
- Kemp ridley sea turtles released off Assateague
- Shark sightings off the beaches of Ocean City
- Portuguese man o’ war on Delaware beaches
- Salps on Delmarva beaches
- Manta rays breaching off the coast of Assateague