Stricken giant Manta ray asks snorkellers for help

Stricken giant Manta ray asks snorkellers for help, by Rhys Blakely.

Freckles, a giant manta ray, is about 30 years old. … As the ray, which measures 3 metres across, swept through the water she seemed to recognise Jake Wilton, a wildlife guide who was leading half a dozen other swimmers, and approached him.

When the animal rolled over and hung still, Mr Wilton was able to spot the problem: three fishing hooks were snagged under her right eye. …

Manta rays have the largest brains of any fish and the manner in which they co-ordinate their feeding in large groups suggests a social intelligence.

They are one of the few species that appear to recognise themselves in a mirror, a feat that eludes cats and dogs. This ability puts them in rarefied company alongside great apes, bottlenose dolphins and Asian elephants. …

Mr Wilton spent several minutes swimming alongside Freckles before trying to get a closer look at her injury. The ray unfurled her lobes, two horn-like protuberances on the side of her head. It was only then that he could see the three hooks.

“She had to unroll her lobe to show me where the hooks were embedded,” Mr Wilton said. “She knew exactly what was going on. She had to show me, give me access. It’s incredible for an animal to work that out so quickly.” …

Rays rely on their vision. Concerned that Freckles’s injury would become infected and blind her, Mr Wilton set about trying to extract the hooks with a pair of pliers. …

Freckles would stay still until the last moment. Just as the pliers approached, she would flinch and pull away.

“The interesting thing is that, again and again, she kept on returning to Jake,” Mr Halls said. “I’m sure that manta knew that he was trying to get the hooks out.” …

To his relief Mr Wilton finally managed to remove them. …

Two weeks later Mr Wilton was overjoyed when he saw Freckles again. “She was feeding and she stopped right on top of me and sat there for probably 20 seconds. It was as if she recognised me,” he said.

At last, some good news. Read it all at the link.