In a rare incidence in Australia’s Coral Bay, a large Manta Ray stopped near divers in what looked like a plea to be rescued from fishing hooks embedded under the fish’s right eye.
Divers Jake Wilton and Monty Halls were shocked to see Freckles- the manta ray so named owning to the unique pattern of freckles under its belly, approached them, as if asking for help. The freckles under the belly also indicates that the Malta ray is about 30-years old.
In his statement later, Wilton dived down several times, in an attempt to swim closer to the fish and to remove the hooks, as Freckles waited patiently until Wilton finished. Ever since the rescue incident, Wilton has checked on the fish and he alleged that Freckles might have even recognized him.
As quoted by Wilton, Manta Rays are perceptive of self-awareness and are also capable of recognizing individual manta rays. “I went down for a dive (to check up on her) and she stopped and hung around for about 30 seconds above me – it was pretty wild… so she could have recognised me,” commented Wilton.
As per experts, discarded hooks is a common problem observed in the Coral Bay. As predicted by Wilton, Freckles might have reached the sea bed in search of planktons, when she became victim to the many discarded hooks used for the purpose of recreational fishing which accidentally caught her eye.
Although the incidence of discarded hooks is common among marine life, Wilton reported, “this is the first time we’ve had one actually approach us and try and get (the hooks) out”.
In the same context, Wilton also stated the problem of boats which posed as another big danger to Manta Rays. Most of the injuries to Manta Rays were attributed to boat propellers.
Wilton and his colleagues are looking for areas to protect the commonly considered gentle species of the sea. He added that they are intelligent and have great memory strength. He explained this phenomenon owing to their migration pattern. Over certain time of the year, the manta rays visit certain areas of which they have a vivid memory. The team is hence drawing efforts towards protecting these areas, in order to provide manta rays a safe place to return to.
“All of the residential manta rays, who were already established here before tourism, are coming to the end of their lifespan. So the biggest worry now is, when these guys go, the new manta rays that are coming in… are they going to call this place home, or are they going to come here and think, ‘Oh this isn’t a very good place to get cleaned, there are too many boats, too many tourists’?,” Wilton adds in connection to constructing safe spots for the species.