New research published in the journal Royal Society Open Science suggests that the giant manta ray, which is known to feed on surface zooplankton, is, in fact, a deep-sea predator with a diet that could extend to fish and other animals.
The gentle giant—the world’s largest living ray, with a wingspan of up to 23 feet—might just be “snacking” at the surface, according to the study’s lead researcher, Dr Katherine Burgess. “Their main source of diet comes from somewhere else—most likely the deep sea,” says Dr Burgess.
For the research, scuba divers collected tiny muscle biopsy samples from mantas in waters off Ecuador, which were then biochemically analyzed. It was found that almost three-quarters of the animals’ food came from 650–3,300 feet below the surface. In addition, evidence was found of some individuals also preying on small deep sea fish, although the scientists believe that the rays mainly feed on zooplankton.
The finding has conservation implications for mantas, already listed as “Vulnerable” to “Extinction” on the IUCN Red List, since fisheries are targeting species in deeper water as surface stocks run out.
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