Manta Rays have Names! So Who’s Naming Them and How?

by | Apr 14, 2021 | About Manta Rays

Most people are surprised to learn that manta rays have official names. 

It may seem not easy to differentiate between mantas as they share similar characteristics from an outsider’s perspective. However, there are several ways to tell individual manta rays apart.

We’re in the water to swim with the mantas (almost) every night – which means we form close bonds with the animals we swim with. Giving mantas a name allows us to track both their behavior and well-being. 

Note: I have also recorded a video about this topic. Click play to watch & listen; if you prefer reading, read on below! 

What is the Purpose of Naming Manta Rays?

When naming manta rays, registering their unique identification markings is useful for any data collected on the species. It helps us track both population trends and migration patterns.

Submitting a fitting name for a manta ray is usually a reflection of the animal’s unique personality. This instantly creates a bond between humans and marine life and a sense of responsibility and protection.

Do Other Marine Animals Also Get Names?

All aquatic animals fall into categories such as type, family, class, and species. It makes sense to further differentiate these groupings with a specific name for each animal to tell them apart.

Alike with the manta rays, dolphins, whales, and even sharks receive names.

Interestingly, new research has found dolphins actually ‘name’ themselves. Dolphins have high intelligence and develop a signature whistle to identify themselves in the vast ocean. 

Many charities offer programs where you can adopt larger oceanic animals. In exchange for a donation, you hold the naming rights and receive updates on the animal’s well-being.

How do Manta Rays get their Official Name?

Over the last 10-15 years, a lot more attention has been given to manta rays. More research is being created, and more non-profits are founded worldwide. 

The Kona database started in the ’90s. Around 2005, the Manta Pacific Research Foundation created the official website and asked for submissions. 

You can also submit new manta ray discoveries to Manta Matcher, Marine Megafauna Foundation, the Manta Trust, or your local non-profit.

What is the Process of Naming Manta Rays around Hawaii?

When you first encounter a new manta ray along the Kona Coast, the “unwritten rule in town” is to capture a picture of their belly side (showing their unique markings). You’d then submit that photo to the Manta Pacific Research Foundation

The picture is compared to over 300 manta rays in the database. If the pattern concludes as unique, you (the person who submitted the application) now hold the naming rights. 

Once you have decided on a name, you will be able to recognize the manta next time it visits you.

How do We at Manta Ray Advocates Contribute to Naming Manta Rays?

Connecting people with animals is our main goal when choosing a name for the manta rays. We create Facebook competitions, where advocates select names for new manta rays, which successfully generates interest in marine animals and hopefully future ocean preservation.

Our team has been lucky enough to name over 50 different manta rays over the years, and we try to think carefully about names and often look for a connection with Hawaii. 

Here are a few examples: 

  • In 2007, I experienced a 3.8 earthquake underwater (a big rumble!) while diving with manta rays. If this isn’t exciting enough, a new male manta made his first appearance. I chose the name Ola’i Ray, which is Hawaiian for ‘earthquake.’
  • Two mantas are very special as they were given names after family members who have passed: Shirley Ray and Hans Ray. Both rays symbolize the spirit and memories of our loved ones. Their names are now attached to a mysterious creature who roams the ocean depths in perpetual motion for 40-80 years.
  • Darth Ray-der is the most unique manta ray for the Star Wars Enthusiast. The name was chosen by divemaster Christian Redman a.k.a. Flipper. He brings a lot of fun and joy to every charter he is on, and yes, he is a BIG BIG Star Wars fan. Darth- Ray-der was shy at first, but he became more and more comfortable with us. Eventually allowing us to take this incredible image with Christian in his Darth Vader mask.
Underwater Picture of a manta ray swimming with a snorkeler
Just having a bit of fun with Flipper (the diver) and Darth Ray-der (the manta ray)

Just for Fun…

Since time began, humans have given names to lifeforms, which has helped us understand and familiarize ourselves with them. If you identify and name a new manta, consider the surroundings, markings, and circumstances that bring you together. 

Now, just for fun – if you got the chance to name a manta ray, what name would you give them – and why? Let us know in the comments!



Also – if you want more manta rays in your life (and in your inbox), download the Manta Ray Guide below. You’ll get an email from us every couple of weeks with interesting facts and fun stories about manta rays and other marine life around Hawai’i! 

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