Hi, my name is Shark Stanley and I am a Hammerhead Shark. My friends, Reina the Manta Ray, Pierre the Porbeagle Shark, and Waqi the Oceanic Whitetip Shark, and I live on a coral reef. We are not only featured in a new (free!) children’s book called The Adventures of Shark Stanley and Friends, but we have been traveling all around the terrestrial world. People all around the world want to help keep all sorts of sharks safe from shark finning.
Shark finning is a brutal fishing practice that is very wasteful. Only the shark’s fin is hacked off, and most often the rest of the shark is thrown back into the ocean to die a slow and agonizing death. Shark meat needs to be treated and frozen right away, and most fishing boats don’t have that capability or are targeting other higher priced catches like tuna instead.
Humans around the world also would like to keep manta rays from being killed almost solely for their gill rakers. A specific part of a manta ray’s gill is used in a controversial new Traditional Chinese Medicine formula. Again, like finned sharks, most of the manta ray is not used after their gill rakers are cut off.
If you would like to help, print out a picture of me here (scroll down page) and take a picture with me anywhere in the world.
Shark Defenders would like to collect 5000 photos from all 177 CITES countries, and partner with at least 50 organizations or celebrities. CITES is the abbreviation for the “Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora” and is an international treaty that regulates the trade of endangered wildlife around the world. There is a meeting of CITES scheduled for March of 2013 in Bangkok, Thailand.
My earlier posts ended pretty grim because I wanted to share how manta rays are being overfished. But today I just want to share one really cool fact about us manta rays. Did you know that manta rays have the largest brain/body ratio of any fish in the sea? Yup, that includes all other rays, elasmobranchs (sharks and rays), and any other fish you can think of. I’m surprised it took humans so long to figure that out, but it is not like we are the easiest of the marine animals to study.
There is one human, Dr.Csilla Ari, who is running experiments on two of my buddies living at the Atlantis Aquarium in the Bahamas. She recently put a large mirror into the manta rays’ tank to test their ability to recognize themselves. Self-recognition in a mirror has only been shown in very large-brained and “smart” species such as dolphins, higher primates, and elephants. In those experiments a mark is placed on the animals’ forehead, and when the animal sees themselves in the mirror they soon investigate the mark. Animals without self-recognition may charge at the “intruder” or show their normal social behavior towards another animal of the same species.
Unfortunately the mark that the scientists placed on the manta rays did not stay, but maybe in the future I should loan them some of the remoras that are forever stuck to me to use as markers! The two manta rays did spend a lot more time than usual in the area where the mirror was. They also blew bubbles in front of the mirror, which manta rays don’t usually do. They also turned their underbellies towards the mirror. It will be monumental when humans finally figure out how smart we manta rays really are!
Please visit Dr. Ari’s blog for more information on her research.
It has been brought to my attention that even though I am a very fascinating animal, many humans do not understand why us manta rays need their help to gain protection worldwide. Here are the reasons why:
1. Manta rays are now being targeted by fishermen and killed for their gill rakers, as opposed to being killed by “accidental” by-catch.
2. Gill rakers (the feathery part of my gills that helps me sieve out microscopic food from the seawater around me) are used in a controversial new formula of Traditional Chinese Medicine. That formula is not listed in the classic textbooks.
3. The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) reports that the worldwide catch of manta rays has quadrupled in 7 years.
4. As the IUCN (International Union for Conserving Nature) states, we “are easy to target because of (our) large size, slow swimming speed, aggregative behavior, predictable habitat use, and lack of human avoidance.”
5. In short, we are highly migratory due to the seasonal and geographic variability of our food source, plankton. We are not protected in international waters, nor off the waters of many heavily fished countries.
6. One of the most important reasons we are vulnerable to extinction is that female manta rays only give birth to one pup every 2-3 years, and over her lifetime will only produce as many pups (14) as a great white shark does in one year (16).
7. The good news is that manta ray tourism worldwide brings in $100 million in revenue versus $500 per kilogram of gill rakers. We are worth more alive than dead, duh!