by Katia Silva, Marine Biologist and Guide at Cabo Trek
A comprehensive study of the DNA of the rays that were known as mantas and mobulas (or devil rays), has seen the taxonomic reclassification of mantas into the genus mobula.
The primary physical difference between mantas and mobulas is the location of the mouth, which is terminal in mantas, (that is at the front of the body), and subterminal in mobulas (positioned slightly behind the front of the body). However, the specific study concludes that this very distinctive physical difference does not warrant the separation of the genera, as the genetic makeup of the species is otherwise very similar. For this reason, genetic studies are very important to determine the identification of species.
According to fossil records it’s believed that mobula rays have been around for around 25 million years. They are closely related to stingrays, although only the spinetail mobula has a stinger at the end of its tail.
Every year you can watch an incredible experience snorkeling in Los Cabos. May is the time to see large schools of mobula rays in this area. You don’t need any special certification for snorkeling with them. In one of the most spectacular wildlife performances on Earth, they can be seen swimming close to the surface and leaping from the water.
Another incredible natural phenomenon occurring during the mobula rays season is the constant presence of Orcas in the area. Orcas are positioned at the top of the chain, being apex predators. mobula rays are their prey and sometimes we are so lucky finding both species.
These animals can dive to depths of nearly 6,000 feet for around 90 minutes, at speeds of 22km/hour while feeding. This makes them some of the deepest, fastest divers in the ocean.
Devil rays are under threat from fishing, boat traffic, habitat decline and pollution at varying levels of concern. In recent years, fishermen have begun targeting mobula rays with modern fishing gear while expanding fishing range and season. The emerging market for dried gill rakers is the primary driver of mobulid fisheries. However, shark population declines also have boosted mobulid fisheries: the rays provide a cheap substitute for shark cartilage used in nutritional supplements.
The good news is, the ecotourism with this species is increasing around the world, swimming with these animals is a unique and special experience. Ecotourism has great potential as a conservation strategy, if properly designed and managed, it can provide alternative direct and indirect economic benefits to local economies.