6. Something wondrous: Manta ray nursery
A nursery of giant manta rays (Manta birostris) was discovered in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Texas, marine researchers announced earlier this week in Marine Biology. This find is a rare feat considering how difficult it is to observe juvenile oceanic mantas in the wild.
“The juvenile life stage for oceanic mantas has been a bit of a black box for us, since we’re so rarely able to observe them,” said study author Joshua Stewart, in a press release.
Mantas are known to eat certain types of zooplankton that are mostly found in deeper waters, so it was a surprise to find the young mantas often circulating near the reef at NOAA’s Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, the authors said.
But, the study’s authors said they suspect the mantas established their nursery to take advantage of the relative safety of the banks after diving into cold offshore waters. To confirm this, researchers at the sanctuary began tagging juvenile mantas at the banks to track their movements and diving behavior..
“Identifying this area as a nursery highlights its importance for conservation and management, but it also gives us the opportunity to focus on the juveniles and learn about them. This discovery is a major advancement in our understanding of the species and the importance of different habitats throughout their lives,” said Stewart, who also serves as executive director of global conservation program Manta Trust.
Fun facts: This is thought to be only the second discovery of a manta ray nursery, per CNET. NOAA says grown mantas can weigh up to 4,300 pounds, but you can still watch these giant beings perform acrobatics in the air sometimes.
However, their numbers have been diminished by commercial fishing, which values their gills in particular, and they've been listed by NOAA as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Dive deeper: Watch a video of the nursery from the research team and read how Gizmodo says they are "more badass than we realized."