Manta rays are one of the most beautiful and unique animals in our oceans that have been on earth for millions of years. Like underwater birds or bats with a wingspan up to 25 feet or more, and a weight of 3,000 pounds, they practically glide as if weightless through the water in a graceful dance. Another name given to the Manta Ray is ?Devil Fish? due to their Cephalic lobes on either side of their mouths. But these are not horns. The lobes are used like our hands to direct plankton-rich sea water into their open mouths as they swim. Manta Rays are not evil creatures and don?t even attack humans. They don?t even have a stinger barb like its cousin the Sting Ray. These gentle giants are simply harmless filter-feeders with gills that act as a sieve, allowing seawater to pass through them as the plankton can be passed down to the stomach. Manta Rays do have 300 rows of tiny teeth but only in their lower jaw which are not used for eating. In fact they are blunt, and only used in courtship.
Sadly, besides natural threats such as Tiger Sharks and Orca Whales this misunderstood creature?s main threat is us. Being easy target mostly due to their massive sizes and slow swimming speed, Manta?s are highly fished by the thousands every year for their Gill Rakers, the feathery part of the gills that strains out the plankton from the seawater. The Gill Rakers are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and the demand of these Gill Rakers has risen dramatically within the past 7-10 years. The Rakers are an ingredient for soup claimed to boost the immune system by reducing toxins and enhancing blood circulation. Other medical benefits include cancer, chicken pox, throat and skin ailments, male kidney and fertility issues. None of these medical claims are supported by science, and not even supported by Chinese Medical Texts. Many TCM doctors are unaware of this remedy which is not listed in the official TCM reference manual that contains at least 6,400 remedies. As you can see, there is no scientific proof that Gill Rakers work.
These animals reproduction rate and sexual maturity is slow, giving birth to a single pup or 2 pups every 1-3 years. They produce up to about 14 pups in their 20 year lifespan. Manta Ray Tourism brings in more profits worldwide than the amount per kilogram of Gill Rakers. Manta Rays are worth more alive than dead! We actually should avoid touching these animals since they are covered with a mucus membrane that protects them from UV damage, and skin and parasitic infections. It also aids in reduction of friction so it can glide through the water more freely.
We must put an end to these useless killings by getting governments to protect them in international waters and more heavily-fished countries such as creating preserves and sanctuaries. Instead of Gill Rakers, we should use the many other alternative remedies available. If we continue not to care, I?m afraid to believe that there may be no more of these fascinating animals left in the future of our oceans.