Are Manta Rays Dangerous?

Sep 21, 2020 | About Manta Rays, Swimming with Manta Rays

At Manta Ray Advocates, we refer to mantas as the ‘gentle giants of the sea’.

There are many misconceptions when it comes to these marine animals, mainly due to the sheer size and shape of their body. Noticeably, the mantas possess wide cavernous mouths and a large wingspan of up to 12-14 feet (reef mantas) / 22 feet (pelagic mantas).

Nonetheless, manta rays are harmless. Let’s dive into this a little deeper and answer all your questions – like do mantas have teeth, stingers, or barbs? How dangerous are they really? Are Manta rays dangerous?

Note: I have also recorded a video about this topic. If you would prefer to look & listen, click play to watch the video. If you prefer reading, read on below.

 

“Wasn’t it a Manta Ray that Killed Steve Irwin?”

This is one of the most frequently asked questions we get asked before we take people out to swim with mantas.

The answer to that question is: “No, it wasn’t a manta ray.”

Steve Irwin died in 2006 after he accidentally got stung directly into the heart by a short-tail stingray. The poisonous dagger-like stinger killed him, and his death was most likely almost instantaneous. Steve was a great Australian conservationist and died way too young.

Stingrays have the ability to bury under sand and perfectly camouflage themselves. They are able to breathe and push water over the gills. It is certainly a worry if you would step onto a stingray, as they use their deadly stinger as a defense mechanism.

How stingrays defend themselves

The stinger is strong enough to pierce through the skin of an attacker and releases a complex venom that can cause intense pain at the puncture site. It is worth noting however, the stingray will only use this if they feel threatened, so always watch out for these guys.

In Hawaii, we only have the Hawaiian stingray which lives at depth over 50+ feet. It is an extremely rare sight; in over 20 years of scuba diving along the Kona Coast, I am still waiting to see one.

 

Do Manta Rays have Stingers, Teeth, or other Scary Attributes?

Contrary to stingrays, manta rays don’t have stingers.

Mantas do have teeth – however, these can’t bite you. Mantas have a long tooth band on the underside along their lower jaw. It looks just like sandpaper. Mantas can’t even use their mouth to suck in their food: they gather plankton by perpetually swimming forward.

The mouth of a manta ray may look intimidating from the sheer size, however, mantas do not have the ability to swallow anything other than plankton. They cannot even swallow small fish, and in some instances where a fish mistakenly gets taken into a manta’s mouth, the manta will immediately spit the fish back out.

Although manta rays have a wide gaping mouth, this cannot be used to defend against predators. The manta ray must rely on other learned techniques in order to survive in the ocean.

Underwater picture of a manta ray, with closeup of the tooth band.

Manta ray tooth band

How manta rays really defend themselves against predators

A manta’s defense mechanism is flight. They can swim very fast and outrun their main predators, which are large sharks like a tiger or hammerhead shark. Adding to the speed, they are very acrobatic, just like fighter planes.

Amazingly, did you know that aerospace engineers study manta ray movements to use their maneuvers in their designs?

 

 

 

Want more?

Do you want to know more about all the things that are unique to manta rays, and learn about these gentle giants of the sea? Download the Manta Ray eBook with fascinating Facts & Figures below:

 

Comments

2 Comments

  1. Alondra

    Thank you for this! we’re getting ready for a trip to Hawaii and I’ll be learning to scuba dive with my husband, I’m so excited! And eager to learn about these gentle giant. Thanks again!

    Reply
    • Martina Wing

      Mahalo Nui Loa! Happy Diving – Aloha~

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More things you’ll love!

Movement Patterns of Reef Manta Rays

Movement Patterns of Reef Manta Rays

Introducing the Top 10 “Regulars” on the Manta Ray Swim

Introducing the Top 10 “Regulars” on the Manta Ray Swim

Decoding The Life Cycle of Manta Rays – and Our Role in Their Survival

Decoding The Life Cycle of Manta Rays – and Our Role in Their Survival

A Guide to the Different Types of Rays in Hawaii

A Guide to the Different Types of Rays in Hawaii

How Behavioral Conditioning leads Manta Rays to Feed at Manta Viewing Sites

How Behavioral Conditioning leads Manta Rays to Feed at Manta Viewing Sites

8 Essential Safety Tips for Snorkeling with Manta Rays

8 Essential Safety Tips for Snorkeling with Manta Rays

We participate in referral programs, and this website contains affiliate links. If you buy something after clicking a link on this website, we may get a commission – at no extra cost for you.

We only include products we love and wholeheartedly recommend. Read more here.

Free Downloads

Manta Ray Facts & Figures Ebook

Amaze your friends and family members with your knowledge of the gentle giants.

→ GRAB YOUR COPY

Guide to Swimming with Manta Rays

All the things you need to know before you embark on this adventure of a lifetime.

→ GET IT NOW

10 Tips for Marine Photography

Learn to capture life-changing moments underwater.

→ I NEED THIS

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share this post with your friends!