While they might look like giant dopey kites, manta rays are among the smartest fish in the sea. As this footage highlights, these oceanic titans are capable of some incredible levels of social intelligence and sensitivity.
The stunning footage appears to show a giant manta ray "asking" for help, as they say, to save her life.
The 3-meter-wide (9.8-foot) ray, named “Freckles”, was spotted by a group of snorkelers from Ningaloo Marine Interactions off the waters of Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. The ray began edging closer to Jake Wilton, a wildlife guide who was leading a group of divers, before she flipped over onto her back and revealed a fish hook caught under her right eye.
“You could see she trusts us because she was rolling and showing us the hooks,“ Wilton said in a short film by Seadog TV & Film Productions.
“I went for a few dives down just to see how she reacted to us being close to her.”
Video courtesy of @westernaustralia / @montyhallsfamily / @ningaloomarineinteractions / @jakewiltonphoto
Despite numerous dives down and failed attempts to remove the hook, the manta ray stayed still. Eventually, Jake was able to carefully remove the hooks and Freckles peacefully drifted into the crystal clear sea.
“I went down again just to say goodbye and she actually stopped, and just waited there,” he added.
Manta rays are exceptionally intelligent fish. They have the largest brain of any cartilaginous fish, despite their body being considerably smaller than large sharks. Some of their brain cells are also physically comparable to other animal species, such as birds and mammals. This extra brainpower means they are communicative, playful, and emotionally sensitive. As behavior tests have shown, manta rays even show signs of self-awareness – the gold standard of animal intelligence.
“In the water with these guys, you get the sense there’s a lot more going on in there than your average fish,” ecologist Josh Stewart, associate director of the conservation charity Manta Trust, said in 2007. “Mantas will go out of their way to come interact. They’re much more like a mammal.”
However, the intention of the manta ray, despite how it appears, cannot be stated for certain. Being brainy for a fish also doesn't mean they're safe from the dangers of humanity. The IUCN Red List states this species is vulnerable to extinction and that their global population trend is on the decline. Their main threat is fishing, both targeted or accidental, although they are also susceptible to pollution, increasingly busy shipping lanes, and the surge of industrial development.