Hawaiian Name: Hāhālua (Manta Ray); Hīhīmanu (Stingray and Eagleray).


Dark on the top and light on the bottom, the manta ray has a flat, saucer-shaped body that looks like a cross between a stealth bomber airplane and an alien life form.  Despite its daunting appearance, the manta ray is actually one of Hawai‘i’s gentlest sea creatures.

[Illustration: Manta Ray]


Rays are cousins of the sharks, and the only other ocean creatures besides sharks that have completely cartilaginous skeletons (no bones).  The evolutionary origin of rays has been traced to 150 million years ago.

There are five species of rays that inhabit Hawaiian waters, including manta rays (Mobulidae), eaglerays (Myliobatidae), and three species of stingrays (Dasyatidae).  Eaglerays and stingrays are bottom feeders, searching for mollusks and worms beneath the mud.  Manta rays are much bigger than stingrays.

Manta rays (Manta alfredi) feed on zooplankton, and may weigh more than 2 tons (1.8 mtons) with a wingspan of up to 22 feet (6.7 m).  The manta ray is considered the third largest creature in the sea behind the largest whale and shark species.

Manta rays are known for their incredible agility, and are able to maneuver their huge bodies within inches of divers without ever hitting them.  Sometimes manta rays jump completely out of the water and then briefly sail through the air using their aerodynamic “wings.”  The big rectangular mouth of the manta ray is well-adapted for inhaling plankton.

When a manta ray swims near the surface, its two wing tips may protrude above the water and are sometimes mistaken for shark fins.  Swimmers have run from the water in fright at the sight of “two sharks,” only to realize later that it was just one harmless manta ray swimming with its wing tips above the surface.

[Photographs: Manta ray, eagle ray, and stingray]