Meet the Pink Manta Ray!

pink manta ray, manta ray Australia
Pink Manta Ray from Australia photo by Kristian Lane/Instagram

Yes, I’m really a pink manta ray

My belly is pink, whereas in “normal” manta rays their belly is white with black spots and splotches on it. I’ve been nicknamed “Inspector Clouseau” from the movies and tv program called the Pink Panther. You clever humans!

Why am I a pink manta ray?

I don’t know, I think I was just born that way. You intelligent humans have ruled out stress. From a small skin sample (a biopsy) they have ruled out a diet full of red food, it’s not an infection or a genetic mutation.

My pink pigments

So now you humans guess that it’s a “unique expression of melanin” or that my skin pigments are just “off”. Duh, I could’ve told you that! After all there are “strawberry blonde leopards,” and “fuchsia grasshoppers,” due to something called erythrism. That causes animals to appear reddish or pinkish.

I’m a boy!

I was first seen in 2015 off of Australia’s Lady Elliot Island. I’m now 11 feet wide (wingtip to wingtip) and yes, I’m a boy. I was last seen as part of a courting train, which is when a line of males (in this case 8) chase a female to try and mate with. Her pheromones are quite irresistible! If she’s looking for unique, I’ve got all the other boys beat–I’m a pink manta ray after all!

My biggest predator…

Even though as a pink manta ray I stand out in a crowd of manta rays, I’m relatively safe from killer whales and great white sharks due to my size. In fact, my biggest potential predator is you humans!

Devil rays

Yes, all manta rays are at risk at being targeted and hunted by humans. Fishermen nicknamed us devil rays because our curled up head fins look like devil horns. We would often get tangled in their fishing nets and ruin them. They really didn’t like that or us because of that.

What are gill rakers?

Now us manta rays are targeted for our gill rakers. They are thin, comb-like strings on our gills that capture all the yummy plankton from the water I strain through my gills. In other words, my gill rakers are what keep me alive!

Even pink manta rays can’t outsmart humans though…

Unfortunately, a new not-so-traditional and controversial formula of Traditional Chinese Medicine utilizes gill rakers and humans now target us gentle and giant beings. We manta rays have the largest brain-to-body ratio of any fish, but alas, even our intelligence cannot keep us from being hunted, possibly someday to the point of extinction. Coupled with our lack of defense (we have no stingers) we have little hope of surviving unless humans stop targeting and killing us faster than we can reproduce. Its no wonder females have a train of males trying to court them—they only mate every two years and have pups every 2-5 years.

Also see Moby the Manta Ray: Happy Manta Ray Day!

For more on how you can help manta rays, visit these ocean conservation non-profits:

Manta Pacific Research Foundation

Manta Trust

Marine Megafauna Foundation

Wild Aid’s Manta Ray Program

Articles used in this blog post:

Rare pink manta ray spotted near Australia’s Lady Elliot Island

How manta rays gill rakers filter water without clogging

Manta ray reproduction

Mirror Self Recognition Test and Ocean Animals

dolphin mirror test, mirror self recognition test, self aware animals
Dolphin reacts to own image in mirror

With recent news that the cleaner wrasse might have mirror self-recognition (MSR), I thought I’d write about the ocean animals that have MSR. Bottlenose dolphins and killer whales have MSR for certain. Possible mirror self-recognition ocean animals include manta rays and cleaner wrasses. An ocean animal that failed the mirror self-recognition test is the octopus.

So what is self-recognition? With a mirror, self-aware animals such as chimpanzees and bottlenose dolphins recognize themselves and don’t react as if the image is another animal of the same species. Some animals that don’t have self-recognition react to their image in a mirror with aggression or other more positive social behaviors.

The mirror self-recognition test is when a human researcher places a mark somewhere conspicuous on a captive animal. With human babies, they place a paint mark on their foreheads. Starting at 18 months, human babies investigate the mark when they see themselves in a mirror.

Then the researchers place the test animal in front of a mirror and judge from their actions (usually curiosity) if they recognize themselves or not. Here are some examples from the ocean:

Bottlenose dolphins in captivity react to a mirror image by “opening their mouths, sticking out their tongues and showing novel behaviors.” When marked, they investigate the mark on their bodies by moving the marked area towards the mirror.

Killer whales in captivity were shown themselves unmarked in a mirror. Then they were marked. The whales behaved like they expected their appearance to be altered. This showed that they have self-recognition.

Manta rays possibly show mirror self-recognition. When captive manta rays had a mirror placed in their tank, they blew bubbles, which they normally don’t do. They also appeared to investigate their image in the mirror by turning their belly towards the mirror and swimming by the mirror repeatedly.

Cleaner wrasses were injected with a mark, which is how scientists mark fish in their studies. When their throats were marked and a mirror placed in their tank, the cleaner wrasses would rub their throats against the tank. Throat rubbing is not behavior seen in wild cleaner wrasses. When the mirror wasn’t in the tank, the wrasses didn’t rub. So seeing the mark in the mirror caused the throat rubbing and hence cleaner wrasses possibly have self-recognition.

As a side note, the inventor of the mirror self-recognition test, Gordon Gallup of the State University of New York, doesn’t think cleaner wrasses have self-recognition and that the study was flawed. What do you think?

Octopuses haven’t passed the mirror test, but in studies they do orient themselves towards the mirror. Octopuses rely on their sense of touch and don’t rely on vision as much as mammals do, so it makes sense they don’t show mirror self-recognition.

On a personal note, I have gone on scuba dives with manta rays off the coast of Hawaii. I looked them in the eye and saw straight into their soul. It was no different than looking into a dog or cat’s eyes. I knew something was going on behind them. I don’t doubt that manta rays are thinking beings and that they may be self-aware.

Websites consulted:
List of Animals That Have Passed the Mirror Test
Article, “Is this Fish Self-Aware?”

What Is Bioluminescence and Why Do So Many Deep-Sea Animals Have It?

bioluminescence, bioluminescent ocean waves, bioluminescent waves, bioluminescent plankton
Bioluminescent ocean waves Photo credit: Phil Gibbs on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

What is bioluminescence?


Bio = biological, or life, Lumen = light (unit)
Bioluminescence is the biochemical emission of light by living organisms such as deep-sea fishes. It produces the “glow-in-the-dark” look of certain animals such as fireflies and the “fireworks” show when plankton are disturbed in the ocean(see photo of bioluminescent ocean waves).

What percentage of animals in the deep-sea are bioluminescent?


90% of animals in the deep-sea (below 1,640 feet or 500 meters) are bioluminescent (according to NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration]).

How do animals and plants produce bioluminescence?


Two chemicals are mixed together with oxygen and the reaction produces light. The chemicals are luciferin and luciferase and together they produce oxyluciferan.

Bioluminescence is made up of what colors?


Mainly blue-green as red is absorbed the further you go down in the ocean. There are species that emit infrared and red light and one group of organisms that produce yellow light.
from Causes of Color website

What kinds of ocean animals are bioluminescent?


Bioluminescent ocean organisms include bacteria, jellyfish, starfish, clams, worms, crustaceans, squid, fish, sharks and more to be discovered! (list according to NOAA)

Why are animals bioluminescent?


Animals are bioluminescent for protection as the light will scare some predators away. The vampire squid has bioluminescent mucus that they eject (like ink) towards predators. Animals can use bioluminescence to find mates (which is hard when in the dark, deep sea with no other light). They also can use it to find food (like Dory in Finding Nemo being drawn to the anglerfish lure. Fortunately Dory wasn’t eaten!). Also it can be used in communication, and for illumination.

What questions do you have about bioluminescence? Leave a comment below.

10 Fun Facts About Opah Fish, or Moonfish

Opah fish, Moonfish, opah fish facts, opah fun facts
Opah fish or Moonfish photo by: NOAA Fisheries

1. The opah, or moonfish, is a fully warm-blooded, deep-diving flat and round fish.

2. The opah has a silvery gray body, red fins and mouth, and white spots all over.

3. Opah average 100 pounds (but can weigh up to 200 pounds) and is the size of an automobile tire-about 3 feet in diameter-but oval shaped.

4. Scientists have discovered recently through DNA testing that there are 5 distinct species of opah.

5. Opah eat fish, krill and squid.

6. Opah dive to depths of 165-1300 feet (50-400 meters).

7. Opah swim using their pectoral (side) fins and swim quickly like tuna.

8. Predators of opah include humans and large sharks such as great white sharks and mako sharks.

9. Scientists have tagged opah and found that they migrate thousands of kilometers.

10. Opah are caught as by-catch—by accident—by the tuna and swordfish fisheries. Off the United States, 30,000 opah were caught by the Hawaiian longline fishery in 2015 and the fishery is worth 3.2 million US dollars.

Also see a similar looking fish, the Mola Mola or Ocean Sunfish: 10 Interesting Facts About the Mola Mola or Ocean Sunfish

Articles used:
Opah, the first warm blooded fish identified: 7 facts you should know about it

Sleuthing Leads to New Findings About Peculiar Ocean Fish

Opah on animalspot.net

Meet the Comical Opah, the Only Truly Warm-Blooded Fish

Plastic Bits are Food? An Anchovy’s Perspective…

anchovy, anchovies, anchovies and plastic
Anchovies:Photo credit: Erik Sorenson via Visual hunt / CC BY

Anchovies can smell plastic pieces in the ocean and mistake them for food.

Plastic bits or food-they all smell the same to me. Hi, I’m Annie, and I’m an anchovy. You may have seen my colleagues in a tin can (may they RIP), or in the ocean in a large shimmery school that’s hopefully not being eaten by large predators such as sharks and dolphins, eek!

You might also wonder how we can smell in the first place, as we live underwater. Chemicals travel through the water and into my nostrils, just like they do in the air for terrestrial animals. Sharks can smell blood from very far away or in low quantities. Salmon use their sense of smell to navigate back to their birthplace spawning ground upstream.

Back to the plastic bits-humans have found that over 50 kinds of fish mistakenly eat plastic, thinking that it’s food. That includes my friends and I. A neat study by humans using an anchovy school in an aquarium (Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco, California) found that by measuring our schooling behavior (how tight we schooled and our body position relative to water flow) that we:

1. Use odors to locate food

2. Plastic pieces are confusing to us due to their similarity to food in appearance and smell

So what can you do to help? Avoid single use plastics (SUP) whenever possible and recycle if you do buy them! Less than 7 percent of plastic in the U.S. gets recycled. Thanks for recycling, every little bit helps! Fortunately I won’t be around in 2050 when there is more plastic in the ocean than fish…

I used information from these articles:
Bait and Switch: Anchovies Eat Plastic Because it Smells Like Prey

The Numbers on Plastics

10 Interesting Mola Mola Sunfish Facts

Mola
Mola mola, or Ocean Sunfish picture from Wikimedia Commons

10 Mola Mola, or Ocean Sunfish, Facts: The fish so nice they named it twice!

1. Mola mola are known because of their unusual shape: an upright flattened disk, tapered top and bottom fins between body and tail, and small black eyes halfway between its small pectoral (side) fins and round mouth.

2. Mola Mola Sunfish got their name because they like to lay down on their sides and sun themselves at the surface. They do this to stay warm and to get rid of parasites (seabirds eat those).

3. Mola Mola are related to pufferfish, porcupinefish, and filefish (same Order Tetradontiformes).

4. Mola Mola lack a swim bladder so they swim constantly (or move fins side-to-side to hover).

5.Mola Mola are the largest bony fish in the ocean!
Average length 5.9 ft (1.8m), 8.2 ft (2.5m) fin-to-fin
Max length 10.8 ft (3.3m), 14 ft (4.2m) fin-to-fin
Weight range 545 lbs (247kg) to 5,100 lbs (2,300kg)

6. A single Mola Mola can host up to 40 species of parasites. It gets rid of them by sunning at the surface and having seabirds eat the parasites, or by cleaner fish and other fish eating the parasites at cleaning stations, or by breaching up to 10 ft (3m) out of the water.

7. Ocean Sunfish eat mainly jellies, but also eat salps, squid, crustaceans, small fish, fish larvae and eel grass.

8. Mola Mola can swim to depths down to 2,000 ft (600m).

From Wikipedia http://www.amonline.net.au/fishes/fishfacts/fish/molalav.htm
Mola fry: notice the spikes all around it: photo by G. David Johnson


9. Ocean Sunfish can grow to 60 million times their birth size (0.1 in, 2.5mm), a record for vertebrates! As fry (babies that are part of the plankton), sunfish have spines all around their body that they outgrow.

10. Enemies as young include bluefin tuna and mahi mahi, as adults sea lions (who often bite off their fins and play with them), killer whales, sharks and humans (caught to eat or as by-catch).

Also see: 10 Fun Facts About Opah Fish, or Moonfish

See article from: Oceana’s Ocean Sunfish page

What Type of Fish is Dory in Finding Dory?


What type of fish is Dory from the Finding Nemo and Finding Dory movies?

What type of fish is Dory and her parents?

Dory and her parents are Yellow Tail Blue Tangs or Blue Hippo Tangs or Pacific Blue Tangs or Palette Surgeonfish. Her Mom’s name is Jenny and her Dad’s name is Charlie.

What type of fish are Marlin and Nemo?

They are Ocellaris or False Percula Clownfish or Clown Anemonefish.

What kind of sea turtles are Crush and Squirt?

They are Green Sea Turtles, one of 7 species of sea turtles. Green sea turtles were named green for the fat on their body, not the color of their shells or skin.

What kind of ray is Mr. Ray?

He is a Spotted Eagle Ray. Fortunately he’s not the type of Stingray shown migrating in the movie or else he’d be leaving his students behind! There is a specific kind of ray known as the Golden Cownose Ray that may migrate in groups of up to 10,000!

What kind of whale is Bailey?

Bailey is a Beluga Whale. Belugas are often called the “canaries of the sea” because of their vocalizations. Their (squishy) fat-filled melons (heads) are supposed to help with echolocation, the sonar that many whales use in the ocean.

what type of fish is Dory, Finding Dory, Destiny, Dory, Whale Shark
Dory and Destiny the Whale Shark from Finding Dory Photo: © Disney Pixar 2016

What kind of fish is Destiny?

Destiny is a Whale Shark. It’s cute that she and Dory knew each other and can speak whale, but Destiny is a Shark, not a Whale! She’s the largest shark in the ocean, but only eats tiny plankton with her cavernous mouth. Whale Sharks do have poor eyesight because their eyes are so tiny compared to their bodies, but they are not clumsy. Anyone who has snorkeled with Whale Sharks know they can turn on a dime to avoid swimming into you!

What kind of octopus is Hank?

Hank is a generic octopus. Octopuses are masters of camouflage and many can turn orange like Hank. He is actually missing an arm, so he’s a “septopus.” In real life, the octopus would grow any missing arms back. There are so many neurons in a severed octopus arm that it can move and hunt on its own!

What kind of Sea Lions are Rudder and Fluke?

Sea Lions are probably California Sea Lions. I’m guessing they are California Sea Lions because part of the movie takes place off of California. If they were both male, then they could be found off of Pier 39 in San Francisco where bachelor males hang out and entertain tourists.

What kind of Sea Otters are the baby Sea Otters?

The baby Sea Otters are oh so cute! They are probably Southern Sea Otters, mainly found off the California coast. Sea otters don’t stand up on their hind legs like river otters do, and they couldn’t climb up the poles to the freeway! In some press pictures, it looks like there are baby sea otters in a group. There would never be a group of babies together because a wild Sea Otter pup stays with Mom 24/7 and they rarely socialize with other mother/pup pairs. Even surrogate Sea Otter Moms at the Monterey Bay Aquarium only take care of one pup at a time!

What type of bird is Becky?

I speculate Becky is a Pacific Loon. Loons may mate for life! They eat mainly fish, crustaceans, and insects.

I loved seeing Finding Dory and here is my review!

For more images of the movie visit Finding Dory Images at collider.com
or
side-by-side (Finding Dory image vs. real animal images) at Mother Nature Network’s Meet the Real Animals Behind Finding Dory

Click here for The Real Fish of Finding Nemo
Click here for The Real Fish (and Sharks!) of Finding Nemo Part 2

Sex in the Sea: Uncovering the Mating Behavior of the Giant Sea Bass

Sea Bass
The Giant Sea Bass: photo by Orange County Register

Brian Clark is a graduate student at California State University Northridge. He is currently crowdfunding his research project “Sex in the Sea: Uncovering the Mating Behavior of the Giant Sea Bass” Here is more from Brian (aka JR) Clark:

The GIANT SEA BASS, Stereolepis gigas, is the big and beautiful goliath of the eastern Pacific. This is a fish that is not only important to its ecosystem, but has been seen as a trophy to fisherman up and down the California coast. Over the years they have been fished to almost extinction and no one was ever able to do scientific research on them. Recently, they have started being spotted in southern California so I thought it would be the perfect time to finally learn a little something about GIANTS. I’m part of Dr. Larry Allen’s Ichthyology lab at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) but we have picked up the nickname as the “Giant Sea Bass Lab.” We are trying to get a well-rounded view on the basic biology and increase the conservation efforts for this endangered fish.

I am looking into the reproductive behavior of this fish and I believe that this study is critical to their preservation. This study will be the first to look at the behavioral aspects and strategies for the fishes within their family, Polyprionidae. Giant sea bass are thought to breed in shallow waters where other species in their family are thought to spawn at extreme depths, making observations not feasible. If you are interested, you can learn more and donate to research here: experiment.com/savethegiants

JR Clark
Brian Clark

A little about myself, I grew up living close to the beach and couldn’t get enough of it. I was always in the water but never really knew what was going on beneath the surface. In school we were only taught about the “beautiful” tropical fishes and never really learned about the beauty of the temperate water fishes, but it was something I was always curious about. So I decided to dedicate my time to studying the temperate waters of California. I started my career as a Marine Biologist at San Francisco State University. While I was there I worked in an evolutionary development lab that focused on fish where I found out that genetic work is not the life for me. I was then given the opportunity to do some research out on Catalina Island and studied dominance behavior of leopard sharks, Triakis semifasciata. It was an awesome project and during the study I realized that I wanted to do observational research on marine organisms, mainly fishes and sharks. Currently, I am a graduate student at CSUN and am extremely excited to be studying Giant sea bass behavior.

As a grad student I don’t have much free time, so when I can, I like to spend the afternoon playing disc golf or just bumming around at the beach. I also recently moved to the Valley and I have made it a mission of mine to try every taqueria in the area (there’s about 10 within a mile of my house). Tacos here are cheap and really really good, so it’s been a fun adventure that my friends and I can partake in!

The Fastest, Heaviest, Largest, Longest, & Oldest Ocean Animals

oarfish Smithsonian
The longest fish in the ocean: Oarfish photo of oarfish model taken at Smithsonian Institution

Now that the Winter Olympics are over, I thought I’d list some record-breaking ocean animals:

1. The fastest fish in the ocean is a sailfish clocked at 68.18 mph (miles per hour)or 109.73 kph (kilometers per hour).

2. The fastest shark is a mako shark measured at 60 mph (96.56 kph).

3. The heaviest bony fish is a Mola mola (ocean sunfish) that was 10 feet long and weighed 4,928 pounds.

4. The largest fish is a whale shark that was 41.5 feet long (12.6 meters) and weighed 66,000 pounds (21.5 metric tons).

5. The largest, heaviest, and longest ocean animal is a blue whale female measured at 109 feet 3.5 inches(33.27 meters) and 190 tons.

6. The longest fish is an oarfish that was 56 feet long (17 meters)

7. The longest colony (of more than one animal) of animals is a siphonophore (similar to a jellyfish) named Praya dubia that is 100-160 feet long (30-50 meters)

8. The oldest ocean animal was an ocean quahog clam named Ming who was 507 years old.

9. The oldest mammal is a bowhead whale estimated to be at least 211 years old.

10. The deepest swimming air-breathing animal is a sperm whale, which can dive to depths of 9800 feet (3 kilometers)

Some facts based on Biggest, Smallest, Fastest, and Deepest marine animals

Lionfish: An Introduced Species Gone Awry

lionfish: introduced species gone awry
Lionfish: Public Enemy #1? Photo by Cherilyn Jose

From Lionfish POV: Psst, humans. First they capture lionfish for their home aquariums and we are considered deadly beauties. Then a few aquarists let us go (accidentally or on purpose) in the Atlantic and Caribbean Oceans and poof! We have become the scourge of the oceans. That is because we reproduce prolifically and can eat anything that fits in our mouths. Lionfish hunts are regularly held, and some humans have even tried to condition wild sharks to eat us. That saddens me because we haven’t done anything other than what our biology tells us, and now we are public enemy #1 in the oceans.

From Human POV: Lionfish hail from the Western Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean, but in the last 20 years have literally taken over the Atlantic and Caribbean Oceans. The main reason why is because humans have overfished the natural predators, such as grouper, of the lionfish.

Introduced species have been studied intensively throughout the terrestrial world, and especially on islands where the invasive species are more apparent. In the ocean however, it is much harder to study introduced species due to fact that there are no real boundaries there.

The main tactic to reduce the unnatural lionfish population has been to kill them. Dr. Sylvia Earle, known as “Her Deepness” for her pioneering Jacques Cousteau type exploration and passion, says of that, “Kill kill kill…is not the solution, Lionfish have replaced a void created by the loss of apex predators, the best way to protect the ocean reefs is to create more Marine Protected Areas (MPA) to bring back healthy numbers of predators, that will in turn bring balance back to the reef.”

Creating Marine Protected Areas has been shown to increase fish that are fished in the areas surrounding the MPAs, so MPAs are really a win win situation both for humans and ocean denizens.

Author’s note: The Lionfish is one of my favorite fish to take care of in aquariums. I always stayed clear of their venomous spines, and they were quite fun to feed. They have the potential to eat until they burst, but there is something very satisfying about feeding an animal. In the lionfish’s case, feeding them until I hoped they were satiated. The particular tank I used to take care of also had a porcupine pufferfish, which is another favorite aquarium fish of mine. Porcupinefish are truly the “dogs of the ocean.”