Genetic and morphological analysis has now confirmed the existence of a second species of manta ray, and possibly a third one as well. Up until know, the scientific community only knew about one single species of manta ray and all encountered manta rays were viewed as variants within the same species. PhD marine biologist Andrea Marshall did however suspect that there might be more than one species of manta ray luring in the ocean and in 2003 she to a small coastal village located in southern Mozambique to be able to study the manta rays found off the African coast. During the last five years, she has been carrying out a manta ray study sponsored by the Save Our Seas Foundation and discovered a new species as well as collected invaluable information about the reproductive habits of the manta rays.

The two manta rays species have overlapping geographical ranges, but they have significantly different life styles. One species is migratory while the other one – the smaller and more commonly known species – is resident to particular costal regions where it stays year round. There are also noticeable differences in reproductive biology, skin texture and colouration.

The small, stationary species is commonly encountered by divers and researchers at coral reefs, while the larger, migratory species is much more elusive.

The pectoral fins of a manta ray can span almost 8 meters in width and the weight of this baffling shark relative can exceed 2000 kg. Unlike the stingray, the manta ray is not equipped with a functioning stinging barb, but one of the manta ray species actually has a non-functioning type of sting on its tail.

According to the Save Our Seas Foundation, Andrea Marshall’s new finding is the marine equivalent of discovering an unknown species of elephant.

You can find out more by visiting the Save Our Seas Foundation (http://www.saveourseas.com/manta-rays-a-new-species) and the Mozambique Manta Ray project page (http://www.saveourseas.com/manta-rays-mozambique).