Can you eat manta rays?

In this brief article, we will provide an answer to the question, “Can you eat manta rays?”. We will further elaborate on the appearance, behavior and habitat of manta rays along with their relationship with humans.

Can you eat manta rays?

Yes, you can eat manta rays. Along with humans, large sharks and whales also consume manta rays. Although nowadays, the manta ray is not consumed frequently. But in some cultures, it is still considered a delicacy. The grill plates of manta rays are utilized in Chinese medicines.

The taste of manta rays

The meat of manta rays tastes like a mix of fish and lobster. Most of the meat from manta rays can be extracted from fins. Although the meat of manta rays is flaky, it is dense and can be easily chewed. 

However, the meat (consisting of wings and the posterior part of the body) of manta rays is said to have a texture considered too “grainy” or “sandy” for commercial consumption and is generally dried and sold as low quality dried fish to be used as animal feed (chicken and shrimp farms) (4). 

The appearance of manta rays

Talking about the appearance of manta rays, they have broadheads. The fins of manta rays are triangular pectorals while on one side of their mouth, horn-shaped cephalic fins are present. 

Manta rays have two distinct color types: chevron (mostly black back dorsal side and white ventral side) and black (almost completely black on both ventral and dorsal sides). Most of the chevron variants have a black dorsal surface and a white ventral surface with distinct patterns on the underside that can be used to identify individuals (3).

The eyes of manta rays are on the side of their heads because their bodies are horizontally flattened. The tails are devoid of skeletal support and are of small size as compared to their disc-like body. The manta attains a size of at least 6.7 m in disc width and a maximum size of 9.1 m disc width (1).

The behavior of manta rays

The swimming behavior of manta rays is dependent on their habitat. The swimming rate is constant in case manta rays are traveling over deep water. Manta rays can travel either alone or in a group of many. S-shaped, U-shaped and omega-shaped swimming styles have been recorded. Jumping behavior is often observed. It appears In the rays do this for fun (1).

They have the potential to interact with some other fish species and sea birds. It has also been observed that sometimes mantas breach, leaping partially or entirely out of the water.

During the day, manta rays migrate from feeding stations to cleaning stations. At their feeding stations, manta rays swim slowly at the surface layer and are occupied in feeding. At their cleaning stations, manta rays hover just above the bottom layer and wait to be cleaned by a wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus) or small shrimps. While many manta rays stay near the Yaeyama Islands all year round, sorne migrate annually to another island such as Kerama Island, which is about 350 km east of the Yaeyama Islands. (1).

The nutritional content of manta rays

Following nutrients can be obtained by eating the meat of manta rays.

  • Protein
  • Calcium
  • Fiber
  • Magnesium
  • Selenium
  • Phosphorus

Relationship of manta rays with humans

In contrast to some species of fish, manta rays are a bit more friendly towards humans. Although there is not sufficient evidence about this. But all the present evidence supports this fact. Manta rays do not have a contagious stung so these are harmless for humans to a large extent.   

It was estimated that at least 14,000 snorkels aimed at observing manta rays were made annually in the Maldives. The large numbers of snorkelers and divers at popular and normally productive manta dive sites have caused mantas to move to other sites. However, studies found the majority of tourist interactions with mantas were passive and caused little to no response from the manta (2).

Manta rays are also unable to hide in sands or beaches so can’t attack humans secretly. In today’s time, there is much need of developing an association with manta rays so you may understand the biology and the behavior of manta rays.

Benefits of manta rays

Aside from the provision of grill racks, there are also some other benefits of manta rays.

Economic impact: A lot of economic benefits are provided by manta ray watching tourism. This economic impact was estimated to be about 140 million dollars on an annual basis. Ecotourism offers a sustainable alternative for generating income from manta rays. It has been found that they are worth significantly more alive than dead (2).

Regulation of nutrient cycling: Manta rays are very essential to maintain the nutrient cycle. This nutrient cycle is not regulated properly in the absence of manta rays.

The reason behind manta rays being endangered

Out of all the threats manta rays are facing, the most prominent one is commercial fishing. Both the species of manta rays are being targeted and caught by commercial fisheries all around the world. The reason behind this much targeting of manta rays is their grill raker. These gill rakers are traded on an international level.

Manta ray faces many other threats, including environmental contaminants (microplastics, marine debris, petroleum products, etc.), vessel strikes, entanglement, and global climate change. Overall, the predictable nature of their appearances, combined with slow swimming speed, large size, and lack of fear towards humans, may increase their vulnerability to threats (4).

Can you eat manta ray raw?

The raw manta ray is known as a stingray. You can eat stingrays. The parts of stingray which hold much importance are the fleshy wings, liver and cheeks. Raw manta rays have a very strong taste. In recent years however, with the increased demand for the dried gill plates, the fishing of these species has significantly increased. These cartilage filaments that filter plankton from the water are by far the most valuable part of the ray (4).

Issues regarding conservation of manta rays

Following are some issues that are being faced while conserving manta rays.

Status: After noticing the inclusion of manta rays in the CMS, these were limited to international waters. Although many initiatives have been devised on an international scale, some countries are taking their actions.

After the initiation of the Wildlife Act in 1953, New Zealand banned the taking of manta rays. Trading of all species of manta rays was banned in the Maldives in June 1995.  Two marine protected areas have also been inaugurated by the Government.

Threats: Overfishing is the main threat to manta rays. As the lifespan of manta rays is long the local population of manta rays can drastically decrease as the reproduction rate of manta rays is low. Manta rays are being targeted by commercial fisheries for the purpose of meat and fins. Even the flesh of manta rays can be eaten (4).

The grill racks of manta rays are in much demand because of their utilization in Chinese medicines. Therefore a huge number of manta rays are being killed every year.

Demand for the gills of giant manta rays and other mobula rays has risen dramatically in Asian markets. With this expansion of the international gill raker market and increasing demand for manta ray products, estimated harvest of giant manta rays, particularly in many portions of the Indo-Pacific, frequently exceeds numbers of identified individuals in those areas and are accompanied by observed declines in sightings and landings of the species of up to 95% (3).

Conclusion

In this brief article, we have provided an answer to the question, “Can you eat manta rays?”. We have further elaborated on the appearance, behavior and habitat of manta rays along with their relationship with humans.

References

  1. HüMMA, Kimiya. Biology of the manta ray, Manta birostris Walbaum, in the Indo-Pacific. ishConferenCe, 1997, 209.
  2. Garrud, Ella. Does tourist behaviour affect reef manta ray feeding behaviour? An analysis of human and Manta alfredi interactions in Baa Atoll, The Maldives. Diss. Master Thesis. University of York, 2016.
  3. Crabtree, Roy E. Endangered Species Act-Section 7 Consultation Biological Opinion. 2020.
  4. Manta Fisheries. Manta Trust. 2011.

Hi, I am Charlotte, I love cooking and in my previous life, I was a chef. I bring some of my experience to the recipes on this hub and answer your food questions.