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Summer can only mean one thing: the return of manta rays (Manta alfredi) to Baa Atoll in the Maldives. At Milaidhoo Maldives, we were happy to come across the first mantas to our area a few days ago.
We’re now running daily diving trips to known manta ‘cleaning stations’ and regular visits to Hanifaru Bay – a protected marine reserve – which is famous for the high number of reef manta rays in any one place.
What are manta rays? Not to be confused with the much more common sting rays, manta rays are peaceful, large (from 4m up to 8m in size) filter feeders, sucking in plankton. Listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, they’re not always easy to find in the wild. Hanifaru Bay, and certain ‘cleaning stations’ within the Baa atoll offer some of the best places in the world to see manta rays from June to November.
Manta rays are also called the gentle giants of the ocean and this name perfectly describes their character. Being in the water with a reef manta that can grow up to 3.5m in wingspan is truly a unique experience. Mantas are naturally curious animals and when approached respectfully and slowly, they may come very close to you.
Did you know that every manta ray has a unique spot-pattern on their underside by which they can be identified? In the Maldives, more than 3,000 individuals have already been identified and these data are used to study population size and migration patterns.
We can’t wait to name our first manta ray.