Story by Brad Rose
At Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters in Marathon, we are home to many unique animals; the Mobula ray is certainly no exception. Currently these gentle gliders can only be found at 7 facilities worldwide! The Mobula ray is a slightly smaller cousin of the giant Manta ray. These beautiful and majestic creatures go by several names including the “Lesser Devil Ray” and the “Atlantic Devil Ray”. The name “Devil Ray” actually came from a description of the animals face. The Mobula ray actually has what are very specialized fins or lobes on the front of its face which look similar to horns. These fins are called “Cephalic Lobes” and are highly specialized for feeding; even the larger Manta rays have these fins. Mobula rays and Manta Rays are filter feeders; they unfurl these fins and fly through schools of small fish, krill or plankton, using these fins to guide the food into the animal’s mouth. While feeding, these animals are known for their incredible grace and even acrobatic like movements, often performing back flips in the water column while feeding! When we compare the 2 species, we find far more similarities than we do differences, both filter feeders, both have spineless tails and both have those horns or Cephalic Lobes used for feeding. Both species are found in warm tropical waters and both species employ “counter shading” to help them elude would be predators (sharks and humans). But, with doubt it’s the one major difference that separates these two…size! The Manta has a wingspan of more than 20 feet from tip to tip while the Mobula ,only reaches about 4 feet (hence the prefix Lesser). We all have a “bucket list”, a wish list of things we would love to do/accomplish during our lifetime. For many of us(myself included) a good many of these things are probably out of reach…going to South Africa and cage diving with Great White Sharks is just NOT in the budget! For those who dream of swimming with the huge and graceful Manta Ray, which are often found in the warm waters off the coast of Hawaii, this may also be cost prohibitive. Luckily there is now a fantastic option much closer to home. Don’t let size stand in your way of experiencing something really special, here at Aquarium Encounters you have the opportunity to see these amazing animals up close, watch them feed and play or go a step further and cross of that “Bucket list” item and get right in our tank and swim with them!
Aquarium Encounters is open 365 days a year from, 9 am to 5 pm, mile marker 53.1. If you would like more information about exhibit sponsorship contact: Dolores@floridakeysaquariumencounters.com. We are located on the west side of the Vaca Cut Bridge at 11710 Overseas Highway in Marathon; phone 305.407.3262, on the Web @www.floridakeysaquariumencounters.com