Pelagic vs Reef Mantas

by | Mar 10, 2018 | About Manta Rays, Manta Rays, Manta Rays in Hawaii

A frequently asked question about manta rays is what is the difference between a pelagic and a reef manta.  This post highlights 3 main distinguishing characteristics between these two different manta rays:

  1. Size
  2. Habitat / Distribution
  3. Coloration

3 Main Characteristics between Pelagic and Reef Mantas

1. Size

The manta rays we encounter during the manta experience are the reef mantas. Big Bertha is one of the grown-up females with about 14 ft (5m) wingspan which is actually wider than a basketball loop is high! She is one of the biggest and most regular-seen mantas along the Kona Coast. But you can find bigger or actually wider mantas that roam the pelagic zones of the ocean. A pelagic manta’s wingspan can reach up to 22 feet (7m).

2. Habitat / Distribution

The common name for the manta alfredi is reef manta and its habitat is the reef. Along the Kona Coast the reef is right along the shoreline which makes sightings a frequent event.

Pelagic means that the fish lives neither close to the bottom nor near the shore, although they may also swim inshore. You are super lucky if you encounter the manta birostris. I have seen plenty of reef mantas but only a handful of times pelagic ones.

Both mantas live in the tropical and subtropical, although the pelagic mantas might also be found in moderate waters.

3. Coloration

Pelagic mantas have more dark black-greyish topsides with more dark on their underside and on the cephalic fins. You might run into a “Black Ray”; here is an awesome example of one filmed by Justin Summers. The picture above shows the pelagic manta ray with a lot of black around the eye and the inside of the cephalic fin versus the reef mantas which is all white on those areas.

If you want to enjoy more imagery on this topic, then click here and check out one of the latest FB lives. It also reveals the story how two pelagic mantas got their names St. James Ray and Martina Ray 🙂

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With Aloha
Martina

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