Categorized | Environment

Fair Wind videographer records underwater manta courtship

Big Bertha glides effortlessly through the waters off the Kona coast. (Photo courtesy of James L. Wing)

MEDIA RELEASE

A manta ray known to frequent the waters in and around Keauhou Bay and fondly called “Big Bertha” recently gave birth. Progress during her 13-month long gestation period has been chronicled by Fair Wind Big Island Ocean Guides’ videographer James L. Wing.

To watch Big Bertha’s courtship by two male suitors and her monthly progress visit www.MantaRaysHawaii.com

Big Bertha, with a wing span of between 14 and 16 feet and weighing approximately 1,500 pounds, is one of the most well known and easily recognizable among the manta rays that frequent the western coastline of Hawaii Island.

In May of 2010 she was video taped being trailed by a male known as Miles. A few days later another male, Lightning, was also close behind. Wing and other researchers don’t know who the father is, but it wasn’t long before it was obvious that Big Bertha was pregnant.

Over the next several months more video captured Big Bertha’s progress. Sometime between June 8 and July 15, she gave birth.

Manta rays are not paternal so newborns are on their own immediately after birth. However, a pup with Big Bertha’s unique underbelly markings of black spots was soon among the population of manta rays often observed during Fair Wind’s nighttime manta snorkel and dive adventure just offshore from Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort & Spa in an area known as Manta Village.

“We have actually noticed two new pups that have similar marking to Big Bertha’s so we are entertaining the idea that she gave birth to twins,” Wing said. “Also, we have noted that another six females appear to have been pregnant and given birth. Those particular females are not regularly seen and thus far we have been unable to match pups to specific individuals.”

Wing said anytime adult manta rays are producing offspring in those numbers, the population is regarded as very healthy.

Big Bertha and other manta ray are attracted to feed by lights specially made for the purpose by Gates Underwater Products that cause planktonic marine life to concentrate. Over the past 20 years, manta rays have been conditioned to associate light with plankton at Manta Village. It is hoped that Big Bertha will lead her new pup(s) to these lighted areas so snorkelers and divers can observe them on a regular basis.

Wing has been diving the waters in and around Keauhou Bay and the Big Island for decades and has been video taping during the nighttime manta experiences with Fair Wind for three years.

He has also been a leader in documenting the area’s manta ray population so that more can be learned about these otherwise elusive and intriguing sea creatures.

Wing says that to large degree manta rays continue to be a scientific enigma. Much of what is known about them is speculation. Because their habitat is so large (approximately 90 sq. miles along the west side of the Big Island) and underwater, it makes them almost impossible to study.

In the Hawaiian home range, there are more than 180 individuals, but only about 50 of them are seen in Fair Wind’s theater of operations. Hawaii is home to one of the most accessible and robust manta populations in the world.

Within the last five years Wing and others have identified and named more than 25 new manta rays.

To learn more about manta rays including habitat, size, range, lifespan and statistics on individual manta ray sightings, visit the Manta Rays Hawaii web site.

Much of the data was compiled by Wing and his wife Martina who together have recorded more than 5,000 night dives with manta which equates to more than 5,000 hours of underwater filming, observing and chronicling the creature’s behavior.

— Find out more:
Ocean Wings Hawaii: www.MantaRaysHawaii.com
Fair Wind Big Island Ocean Guides: www.Fair-Wind.com
Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort: www.sheratonkeauhou.com

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