If you’ve ever seen a video of manta rays jumping out of the water (we linked the best ones below!), you may think they were attempting to fly – the spectacle is called “breaching”.
There are 3 types of jumps: forward-falling headline, forward-dropping tail, or doing flips.
It’s awe-inspiring, and at the same time, it raises one big question: why do manta rays jump out of the water? Because if there’s one thing scientists and manta ray experts worldwide agree on, it’s that they have no clue. However, many theories are floating around, some more believable than others.
Note: since we don’t currently own the rights for clear imagery of manta rays out of the water (we usually film them underwater!), the animal featured in the image above is a Mobula ray.
#1 Manta Rays Jump as Part of a Mating Ritual
Humans are in absolute awe of the beauty and grace of manta rays underwater… fellow mantas may be attracted to how high a potential partner can fly or how much of a splash they make when coming back down.
In other words, breaching could be part of a complicated mating ritual; showing off their jumps might be a way to seduce the most desirable partner.
#2 Manta Rays Breaching could be a Feeding Strategy
We know that mantas have a lot of different strategies for feeding on plankton; check out this page to read about the eight distinct methods that have already been identified.
Some think jumping out of the water could be a way for manta rays to disperse the plankton, so it’s easier for them to filter-feed.
In my opinion, it is the least believable explanation as there is no evidence to corroborate this theory.
#3 Flying Manta Rays could be Communicating with Other Mantas
When a manta ray breaches, coming back down on the water surfaces makes quite the splash.
So when a group of rays coordinates their activities and multiple rays jump simultaneously, the sound can be heard from miles away.
This may be a way for a fever (group) of manta rays to indicate their location so that isolated individuals can find their way back to the group.
This theory is also not very convincing as manta rays are generally believed to be solitary throughout their lives.
#4 Getting Rid of Parasites
Others say manta rays jump to eliminate parasites and suckerfish (remoras). Manta rays enjoy spending time at manta day spas (read more about that here!), but sometimes that’s just not enough…
Remoras use their suction cup to stick themselves to a manta – and spending a couple of seconds above the water’s surface may cause them to let go.
#5 Jumping Mantas Just Wanna Have Fun!
Sometimes, we humans come up with complicated theories for very simple things…
Who knows, maybe manta and mobula rays enjoy breaching out of the water for the sheer fun of it!
Watch the videos
Manta ray breaching in Mexico
Manta ray photobombing a surfer in Florida
Watch that “flop”!
Mobula rays breaching – Sea of Cortez