Manta Rays are one of the oceans most beautiful animals. Sadly though the gill raker trade continues to lead to more and more mantas being killed on an annual basis. Despite being so large that virtually nothing in the Ocean will eat them, man continues to decimate their numbers. So what would the world be without manta rays? Honestly, the effects of losing manta rays would be nowhere near as devastating to the oceans as losing sharks would be, but it is a safe bet that the local seascapes would drastically change as other animals rush in to take the missing mantas place. So the ultimate question becomes why save mantas then?
For one, mantas are gentle giants. They are a miracle of science or God, whichever you believe in is your choice obviously, but take a closer look at them.
Now this animal looks like a massive stingray, but it's not. It has no barb to sting with. The tail is just a tail. With a body that size one would think it takes a lot of effort for them to move. Watching these animals swim in real life, I can honestly say that is not the case at all. With just one flap of their wings, these animals are able to glide for a long distance. These animals literally look like jets soaring through the water as opposed to the sky. It was really something incredible to see. If you haven't seen it before, check out videos of mantas swimming to get just a taste of what I'm talking about. There is one downside to these animals though. They are not cuddly and fuzzy like say panda bears. Many people wouldn't even say that manta rays are cute. Sadly looks do seem to mean something in the animal world when it comes to people wanting to help them. That's a topic for a different blog though. Most people would say that the fact that these animals are so majestic isn't enough to warrent saving them when the gill raker trade can bring in so much money to impoverished areas over a short period of time.
As much money as the gill raker trade brings in though, it is absolutely dwarfed by the amount of money that manta ray tourism brings in. For example. Data from just seven different locations around the world states that annual revenue from manta ray tourisim is roughly $27,000,000. Yes that is twenty seven million dollars U.S.. That is a ton of money and that is just from seven locations around the world. Imagine what the worldwide revenue of manta ray tourism must be. The number has to be astronomical. Now for the value of an entire manta ray in a market place. On average a manta ray is worth roughly $500 U.S.. The number of mantas being killed annually is roughly 97,400. Unless my math is wrong, and I do admit math is not my strong suit... On average worldwide about $48,700,000 is made every year from manta rays in markets. Yes that is a large number, but again. Look at the tourism number of just seven locations. Common sense would say that chances are good that if that data included fourteen locations, the number would be right there with that 48 million. That's fourteen locations versus the profit of the world's manta fishing. Sure, harvesting manta rays for their gills can earn people a quick buck, but once those mantas are gone then what? The tourism industry dies and in some cases, some of those small towns and villages could see an economic collapse. Mantas have so much more financial value to the world, but due to false medical claims these animals are being wiped out.
As with shark fin soup, many people think that consuming manta ray gill rakers will give them some kind of miracle. Just a few of these supposive miracles include curing the common cold, chicken pox, swine flu, bird flu, SARS, and cancer. As great as it would be to have an all in one cure for those things, manta ray gills are simply not the answer. Despite these eastern claims, there is literally no scientific proof of any of it. Gill rakers are sold as part of traditional Chinese medicine, but nowhere in the 6,400 articles of traditional Chinese remedies is there any mention of manta rays let alone gill rakers. In short, they are not truly part of traditional Chinese medicine, rather they are advertised as such to try and increase sales and value. As with many other sneaky moves that have been discovered in commercial fishing, gill rakers are normally labeled as Peng Yu Sai which translates to Fish Gills. Therefore many sellers and consumers are not even aware that they are selling or buying manta ray gill rakers. While on the topic of traditional Chinese medicine, Peng Yu Sai does not appear in the the Traditional Chinese Medicine reference manual either.
It is painfully obvious to see that once again commercial fisherman are exploiting an animal that can make them a quick dollar. Very similar to the people who go out and fin sharks or kill dolphins and whales, these people are looking to make a fast dollar and it works. They label their products with a questionable and very broad label to trick the general public into buying or selling the product. They hae no regard for the animals they are hunting and will hunt them to extinction if nothing is done about it. Manta ray protections are starting to increase, but it is not yet anywhere near enough. Far more sharks are being killed every year than mantas, but to give you an idea as to just how in danger manta rays are I'll give you all a true statistic. Throughout the entire course of a female manta ray's life, she may give birth to less pups than a great white shark would give in a single litter. It is currently thought that great whites give birth to anywhere from 2 to 10 pups in each litter. That means that manta would give birth to less than 10 pups throughout her life. That is a very, very slow reproductive rate that cannot withstand serious fishing pressure for any length of time. The time to save manta rays is now, but the question is will enough people rally behind these amazing animals before they vanish forever?