Rare black manta ray spotted on the Great Barrier Reef

By Australian Geographic 28 July 2021
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See the mesmerising photographs of Lady Elliot Island’s black manta ray.

Turns out, Lady Elliot Island isn’t just home to Inspector Clouseau, the famous pink manta ray photographed for the first time in June last year, but also a newly spotted black manta ray. 

The manta ray’s fantastic black shade is an unusual and unique expression of the skin’s melanin.

According to marine biologists, only 10 per cent of the east coast Australia population of reef manta rays sport this fantastic black coat.

“There are also leucistic variations in existence, exhibiting a pale or white colouration, and let’s not forget our famous pink manta ray,” says Jacinta Shackleton, a marine biologist who captured these most recent images of the black manta ray.

“The frequency of these variations differs greatly between populations and locations.”

“Lady Elliot has a high number of these melanistic individuals, I believe our five most frequently sighted manta rays are all black which is very interesting.”

Related: Stunning photographs of the Great Barrier Reef’s pink manta ray

The southernmost island on the Great Barrier Reef, Lady Elliot boasts a number of melanistic rays.

“Four of Lady Elliot Island’s most frequently sighted manta rays are actually melanistic, including ‘Taurus’ who is, to date, the oldest manta ray from the Project Manta database, and believed to be the oldest-recorded manta ray globally,” says Asia Armstrong, a member of Queensland University’s Project Manta.

Jacinta is no stranger to the melanistic rays of Lady Elliot Island. She’s even had one individual named ‘Shackleton’ in her honour.

“It takes your breath away! You see this huge, dark shape moving towards you and it’s very exciting.

“These animals are around 3-4m wingtip to wingtip on Lady Elliot and this individual was on the larger end of the scale.”