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World’s First Known Manta Ray Nursery Discovered!

New discovery in the Gulf of Mexico underscores the importance of long-term data collection.

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© G. P. Schmahl / Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

Science Friday from the Gulf of Mexico! Earlier this week, a research team published findings of the world’s first known manta ray nursery and it is in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (off the coast of Texas).

This new discovery not only highlights the importance of the Marine Sanctuary—but also how crucial science and long-term data collection are to understanding the ocean and protecting species and habitats.

Biologist Joshua Stewart, a doctoral candidate at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, noticed several juvenile mantas (Mobula birostris) while conducting research at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. According to the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, “Finding baby mantas is very rare, so Stewart decided to do more research. He teamed up with sanctuary staff and scientists to look through 25 years of dive log and photo identification data collected by sanctuary research divers. They found that roughly 95 percent of the mantas visiting Flower Garden Banks were juveniles. Stewart’s team confirmed the area as a nursery by comparing the young mantas’ use of the Flower Garden Banks habitat to known indicators of shark and ray nurseries.”

Manta rays are often called the acrobats of the sea. These animals are famous for their acrobatic feats. With a “wing span” of up to 25 feet, manta rays use their powerful fins to leap out of the water or barrel roll backwards.

The Gulf of Mexico is one of those places—astoundingly beautiful, biologically diverse and teeming with life–that captures your heart and your imagination. As one of the most staggeringly productive places on this planet, the Gulf is home to fish, coral, whales, sea turtles, manta rays, dolphins and thousands of bird species. It is also a never-ending place of discovery.

We hope to see even more science and monitoring in the Gulf, as scientists continue to study manta rays and other species in the Gulf of Mexico. All of the new information we gather through research is crucial restoring and maintaining the productivity of the Gulf of Mexico.

As someone who loves science, this discovery is exciting not just because we now know that the Gulf is a unique place for manta rays, it is exciting because we get to see how decades of  meticulous data collection can lead to new discoveries.

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