How Can You Tell Individual Manta Rays Apart?

by | May 8, 2020 | About Manta Rays

For most visitors, all manta rays look alike. For the trained eye, however, there are several ways to tell which manta rays we’re observing; over thirty years of experience now makes it possible for us to recognise most of the local gentle giants without too much difficulty.

Telling Manta Rays Apart by Color Pattern

The manta rays we regularly encounter along the Kona Coast of the Big Island are reef mantas (Mobula alfredi) with the common coloration pattern of a dark (grey to black) dorsal side contrasted with a white ventral.

Dorsal side of a reef manta ray
Dorsal side of a reef manta ray

The white underside has randomly distributed (more or less) dark pigmentation which makes every manta ray’s pattern unique. Compare it with the human fingerprint, it makes it easy to distinguish between individuals. To make the comparison even easier, we focus on the spot pattern between the gill slits.

Comparing spot patterns gill slits enables us to tell manta rays apart
Comparing spot patterns between manta rays

Telling Manta Rays Apart by their “Personalities”

Besides the identifying marks, we’ve also learned that manta rays have individual “personalities.” Here are some of my favorites.

Koie Ray

Koie Ray - manta ray ID 2001
Koie Ray – ID 2001

I smile every time I see Koie. She is between 12 and 13 feet (fin tip to fin tip) and awes everyone with her size and boldness. She is one of the most regular manta rays we encounter and I always say “Hi” and send air-kisses to her through my regulator LOL. It is really exciting to see this majestic fish.

Fun Fact: Koie Ray has overcome several fishing-line and hook injuries! Way to go Koie Ray!! So proud of you.

Big Bertha

Big Bertha - manta ray ID 1992
Big Bertha – ID 1992

Our team has watched this lady through several pregnancies. We’ve seen her belly as it grew and then 13 months later (WOW!), a new miniature manta was born and ready to go.

Fun Fact: Big Bertha is one of the largest Kona rays estimated at 14-16 feet wide. It feels like a ‘747’ is landing at the dive site when she arrives!


Lefty - manta ray ID 1979
Lefty – ID 1979

We love this female because she was the first manta ray identified on the Kona Coast in 1979; over 40 years ago! Until 2016 she was a regular visitor with 150 to 200 sightings annually and taught us as to how long mantas might live.

Fun Fact: Lefty has a damaged left cephalic fin. She’s living proof manta rays can overcome anything!

Jolene Ray

Jolene Ray - manta ray ID 2017
Jolene Ray – ID 2017

This stunning swimmer is beautiful and pristine and she is still a “toddler” in size. She is only 5 feet wide but size doesn’t matter for the little performer. Jolene Ray is already a regular act at the nightly show.

Special Manta Rays: Shirley Ray and Hans Ray

Over the years we have identified and named over 50 new mantas. Two are very special as they were named after family members who have passed away.

Shirley Ray - manta ray ID 2010
Shirley Ray – ID 2010

SHIRLEY RAY is a lovely lady, while she was shy at first, she is now a regular show off!

Hans Ray - manta ray ID 2005
Hans Ray – ID 2005

HANS RAY is a special manta that frequents both dive sites and he isn’t afraid to “visit” with divers and snorkelers.

Heartwarming Fun Fact: Both Shirley Ray and Hans Ray 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.

A unique manta ray for the Star Wars enthusiast

DARTH RAY-DER needs no introduction, right? 🙂

Darth Ray-der - manta ray ID 2012
Darth Ray-der – ID 2012
Darth Ray-der meets Darth Vader - manta ray ID 2012
No caption needed!

Can’t get enough? Then we invite you to discover our entire Manta Ray Library, or learn more about manta rays and become an ocean advocate with our (free) downloadable guide to manta rays.


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